Background and Purpose

The authors of the 2010 UNESCO Science Report for the Arab States boldly state, “Research is considered the most salient example of a country’s intellectual resources, economic strength and global competitiveness,” (Badran & Zou’bi, 2010). To grow both economic strength and global competitiveness, Lebanon must develop and improve infrastructure to support high-impact research that can link science, technology and innovation to industry. The 2010 UNESCO Science Report for the Arab States details many of the challenges facing research and development and innovation (RD&I) for the MENA region, of which Lebanon is no exception. The first challenge is the problem of financial inputs. Extremely low gross domestic expenditure on research and development (GERD) has created a multitude of problems that can be seen in low outputs. A 2007 study entitled, “Lebanon: Evaluation of Scientific, Technology and Innovation Capabilities in Lebanon,” commissioned by the French-based Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD) shows that the R&D budget for Lebanon, as a percentage of GDP is approximately 0.22%, which as a total dollar amount translates to approximately 5.5 million dollars annually (Gaillard et alt., 2007). Developed nations such as the UK have GERD as a percentage of GDP at levels near 2% (Badran & Zou’bi, 2010).

Such meager funding leads to an insufficient number of full-time equivalent researchers and thus low output in papers published, inadequate post-graduate programs, an almost non-existent patent culture, and very minimal high-technology production (Badran & Zou’bi, 2010). In 2007, the number of FTE researchers in R&D in Lebanon was slightly over 700, in other words, slightly under 200 R&D staff for one million people. This is approximately 18 times less than in Europe, and slightly under the regional average (Gaillard et alt., 2007). Regarding patents as an output of R&D, it is noteworthy that in 2008, the US Patent Office registered only 2 patents for Lebanon. This unfavorable RD&I environment encumbers high-tech production, which as a percentage of Lebanese GDP is a dismal 0.3%. Compare this figure to a country like Malaysia that has over 55% of its exports in high-tech goods, which stimulates superior economic growth and improved standard of living (Badran & Zou’bi, 2010).

An effective way to strengthen both funding and governance systems for RD&I is to improve capacity at higher educational institutions (HEIs) to support research. In Lebanon, expenditures in RD&I are dominated by institutions of higher education. In 2006, for example, RD&I expenditures from institutions of higher learning comprised over 79% of total Lebanese RD&I spending (Gaillard et al., 2007). Given that they control such a significant portion of expenditures for RD&I, it is critical that universities develop capable research support systems to support researchers and academics in their work and assist them in transferring their ideas into innovation technologies to help boost industry productivity. However, the serious shortage of public funds available for research means that institutions of higher learning must be adept at securing other sources of funding in order to work to achieve these as objectives. Unfortunately, most of the academic institutions in Lebanon lack the basic infrastructure necessary to secure and manage research funding. Furthermore, these institutions need not only capacity to obtain funding for RD&I, but also need capacity in facilitating research, specifically in increasing awareness of intellectual property and the transfer of intellectual property to enterprise.

A recent study carried at Lebanese University (LU), the largest and only public university in Lebanon serving over 50% of students in higher education, shows that LU is lacking clear institutional rules and mechanisms that promote the management, funding, evaluation, and dissemination of research activities in the LU as well as research policies as a whole (Gaillard et alt., 2007). The example of LU is not a peculiar case. The challenges it faces are paramount al all other Lebanese HEIs in varying degrees. The objectives of IDEAL project are well-suited to address all of these challenges. The HEIs involved in the project will all greatly benefit from enhanced systems to support research and networks to transfer research to enterprise. Furthermore, the system of higher education in Lebanon will benefit as the participating schools represent over two-thirds of the landscape of higher education. Additionally, the Lebanese Ministry of Education and Higher Education and the National Council for Scientific Research (CNRS) have joined the project, not only as a measure of endorsement, but also because the objectives align with their priorities for higher education and RD&I for Lebanon. Their participation on the project ensures that it remains national in scope of execution and dissemination of results.

The IDEAL project, addressed as a national structural measure within higher education and society and aligned with the Tempus priority of “developing partnerships with enterprises,” seeks to augment inputs and outputs for RD&I in Lebanon to improve its economic strength and global competitiveness.

The project targets Lebanese HEIs to achieve the following objectives:
1. Develop systems capable of supporting and promoting innovative and relevant research
2. Create networks to transfer innovation from academia to industry
3. Establish professional structures between government, academia and industry for the long-term management of RD&I outcomes for Lebanon

The target beneficiaries of this project are Lebanese researchers and students, as well as society at-large who will benefit from improved systems for innovation management, as these systems can create products that improve economic indicators and raise quality of life.