Are these the dark ages in the Muslim world?

Scroll.in: It is a well-known fact that 1.6 billion Muslims contribute a disproportionately smaller share to the world’s knowledge. This global community – forming the majority population of 57 countries and spanning virtually every single country of the world – has had only three Nobel laureates in science in the history of this prestigious prize. The number of universities from the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation member countries in the top 500 universities of the world is only a little better than that.

Clichés aside, there is a widely shared view that science in the Muslim world is significantly lagging behind the rest of the world. This view is partly based on indicators, such as global university rankings, research spending, researchers per million people, performance of pre-university students etc. The causes of this bad performance and potential remedies are hotly debated.

In recent years, a number of Muslim-majority countries have made strong efforts, particularly with respect to directing scarce resources for improving science, in general, and universities, in particular, to change this status quo of decades, if not centuries, and it is important to see how effective these efforts have been.

Universities are the bedrock of a knowledge society. In the developed world, these have evolved over hundreds of years into institutions that specialise in creating and disseminating knowledge. In the Muslim world, particularly the Arab world, universities are a relatively recent phenomenon: three quarters of all Arab universities were established in the last 25 years of the 20th century.

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