Sci & Tech

Scientific Progress in Post-Sanctions Era

Scientific Progress in Post-Sanctions Era
Scientific Progress in Post-Sanctions Era

Researcher Masoud Mozaffari discusses how Iran's scientific research sector will thrive after the complete removal of sanctions.

After Iran and a group of six western countries (the US, Britain, France, Russia and China, plus Germany) signed a landmark nuclear agreement in July 2015 with the aim of lifting sanctions imposed on Iran for a decade, the future of science research in Iran has become a major topic of interest among academics and policymakers worldwide.

It is interesting to explore and understand what can be expected of scientific development in Iran now that the sanctions have been lifted.

Although the sanctions might have led to national advancements in some research fields, they have also had serious side-effects on higher education in Iran. In the past decade, damaging restrictions were imposed on Iranian researchers—such as restrictions on academic exchange between professors and students, import of modern laboratory equipment and access to and publication of research papers.

With the lifting of the sanctions, Iranian academics are now on the verge of a new era of cooperation with major universities, research centers and publishers worldwide to better introduce and disseminate knowledge from Iran to the rest of the world.

Although some Iranian researchers have found it challenging to publish papers in US-owned journals, researchers have, surprisingly, made great strides in terms of quantity and quality of articles in the past few years, despite the sanctions.

For journals indexed in Scopus, the most up-to-date statistics show that the number of articles from Iran constantly increased even under sanctions.

Conversely, the Iranian government's spending budget for science is far lower than that of countries leading in research. The target for science spending in Iran is 3% of the gross domestic product, but in reality is only 0·5% (about $1·75 billion in 2014).

By contrast, roughly $30 billion of research funding are available annually through the US National Institutes of Health. This budget indicates that productivity in the higher education sector is mainly due to the large number of young, talented, self-motivated and ambitious scientists.

Scientific research in Iran, like in other developing countries, is mainly done through graduate programs, in which the key objective is publication of results for curriculum vitae improvement. This motive for scientific publishing does not have a tangible impact on real life and is not compatible with sustainable development in science.

In the post-sanctions era, Iranian scientists are hopeful that the sanctions removal will at least enhance their engagement with international scientific communities. To ensure that Iranians can take advantage of this historic opportunity, the government should make needs-based investment in the higher education sector to promote scientific progress.

The government should initiate official and international scientific collaborations for exchange programs, organize joint scientific courses and establish foreign university branches in Iran.

Most importantly, the government should increase the science funding in line with demand for education and training to better develop the higher education sector and deal with the issue of transforming knowledge into wealth.

These changes would represent an educational reform that could potentially reduce high rates of brain drain in Iran and might even turn into brain gain by motivating leading Iranian academics to return home.