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EIU Report: Female Integration Key Element in Region’s Knowledge Economy

ATIC-sponsored Economist Intelligence Unit report highlights crucial opportunity loss between women earning science degrees and those integrating into the workforce


The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) today announced the findings of their report Fast forward: Women in science and technology in the Arab Middle East at the Abu Dhabi headquarters of the Advanced Technology Investment Company (ATIC). The ATIC-sponsored report examines the role of women scientists among Arab nations; the state of science education in the region; and the prospects for women scientists in the workplace.

“Our main goals in commissioning the Economist Intelligence Unit are to better understand the R&D environment in the region and key contributing factors to a knowledge economy,” said Laurie Doyle Kelly, Head of Communications at ATIC. “The report’s findings are tremendously significant in this regard, underlining female integration as a necessary element for any nation seeking to maximize returns on their human capital investment.”

Based on desk research and on in-depth interviews with experts including policy makers, academics and business people, the report highlights the key discrepancy between women earning advanced degrees, and those able to integrate effectively into the workforce.

Quoted within the report, His Excellency Sheikh Nahyan Mubarak Al Nahyan, the UAE’s Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research said:  “The bottom line is that we need every individual in the country to participate in the development of the country, especially when Emiratis make up such a small percentage of the actual workforce.”

Also quoted in the report, Dr. Savaş Alpay, director general, Statistical, Economic and Social Research and Training Centre for Islamic Countries, Turkey added: “If educated women cannot find suitable jobs, none of the investment in their human capital will benefit themselves or their societies to the extent that it should. In countries where resources are limited, the opportunity-cost of this could be considerable.”

Generally, female students perform at least as well as their male counterparts in science and math, and in many instances are outperforming. Grade 8 girls across the majority of countries in the Arab Middle East, for example, score consistently better than boys in math and science.

This initial high performance is reflected in the number of women seeking higher education. In Palestine, 56% of undergraduate enrolments in 2010 were by women, compared to 47% a decade earlier. This is especially pronounced in science: in Saudi Arabia, 65% of all enrolments in science degrees in 2010 were by women, versus 40% a decade earlier.

Conversely, women account for just 1% of researchers in Saudi Arabia, 19% in Palestine, and 22% in Libya. More young women are studying science, technology, engineering and mathematics, but many are choosing not to pursue careers in these fields. The report finds the bulk of efforts must go towards removing this sticking point and increasing female participation in the fields of science and technology.

 According to the findings, one way to eliminate this sticking point is to lift barriers to greater participation of women in science. Employers can introduce policies such as parental leave and flexible shifts. The Abu Dhabi Company for Onshore Oil Operations has promised flexible working hours to female graduates, for example. Collaboration between industry and academia, mentoring initiatives, and conferences and workshops can also play an important role.