Funding, new coordinating council provide platform for research and development in Qatar

 

Qatar National Vision 2030 (QNV 2030) aims to improve the country’s sustainable development and increase the standard of living. The blueprint identifies four pillars of development: human, social, economic and environmental. Research and innovation have the potential to spur tangible results in each of these areas, whether through improving the efficacy of health care, or technological innovations to help strengthen environmental protection. “Qatar has been focusing on research and development (R&D) for many years, and going forward the focus will be on innovation in key sectors such as health care, energy and ICT,” Abdul Sattar Al Taie, executive director of the Qatar National Research Fund (QNRF), told OBG. Accordingly, Qatar has launched efforts across a range of public bodies to ensure that R&D is championed and well funded.

Flagship Initiative

Established in 2006 by the Qatar Foundation (QF), the QNRF plays a major role in financing a variety of research programmes, as well as offering grants of up to $5m. The QNRF’s largest funding initiative is the National Priorities Research Programme (NPRP). In addition to offering funding for research projects, the NPRP encourages partnerships between the public and private sectors and a more interdisciplinary approach, helping promote research with a direct benefit to the country. “It is important to encourage the private sector to fund research projects. To this end, the NPRP has been redesigned to allow co-funding,” Al Taie told OBG. “The increased role of private sector funding will enable more focused research related to specific issues.” Proposals for the 12th cycle of the NPRP were accepted from research offices between January 15 and April 9, 2019, with successful candidates to be announced in October 2019.

Current Opportunities

In February 2019 the QNRF invited members of the public and stakeholders in research and academia to attend an information session about the types of funding available. As well as the NPRP, the QNRF briefed attendees on a series of other initiatives taking place in 2019, including the Path Towards Precision Medicine, which is jointly funded by the Qatar Genome Programme and aims to support research into genetic profiling for more effective disease prevention and treatment; the OSRA research grant, which awards up to $50,000 for projects investigating family issues and has financial backing from the Doha International Family Institute; a smart manufacturing initiative conducted in partnership with the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey with the goal of enhancing cooperation between academia and industry in the two countries; and an international call open to Qatar-based research efforts into disaster risk, reduction and resilience.

SPECIAL PROGRAMMES: The QNRF provides funding through special programmes, such as the Technology Development Fund, which aims to finance early-stage technology with commercial potential. The QNRF also offers funding under its capacity-building and development programmes. For example, the Undergraduate Research Experience Programme (UREP) gives students the chance to build skills through hands-on experience as part of the QNV 2030 plan’s broader goal of human capital development. The current UREP cycle has been launched in cooperation with energy major Shell.

University Support

The higher education system also plays a major role in funding research. The Qatar University (QU) Office of Research Support sustains activities through five types of grant: seed, student, collaborative high impact, concept development and national research capacity building. A public university, QU was awarded $212m in the 2017/18 academic year and undertook 80 research projects backed by financing from the QNRF. Hamad bin Khalifa University (HBKU) plays a similarly influential role in national R&D and was founded in 2010 as a research-focused publicly funded institute with a mission to develop domestic human capital. HBKU is home to three national research institutes: Qatar Environment and Energy Research Institute, Qatar Biomedical Research Institute, and Qatar Computing Research Institute (QCRI). Ahmed Elmagarmind, executive director of the QCRI, highlighted how entities such as these are being encouraged to cooperate to enhance outcomes.

“Qatar is entering into a phase in which different research institutions are more emphatically encouraged to collaborate with each other in order to create innovative and disruptive technologies at a local level,” he told OBG. “With new technologies at hand, start-ups will be able to access better support and have more impact on the local economy.”

HBKU is located in Education City – a multi-billiondollar complex on Doha’s western outskirts, designed as a centre for knowledge and innovation, and spearheaded by the QF. The close proximity of operations at the various campuses of foreign universities and R&D centres allows collaboration to flourish, and stakeholders note the progress that has already been made in this regard. “Education City is producing excellent talent; there is a principle of complementarity, without fully eliminating productive overlaps,” Hend Al Muftah, vice-president of administration and finance at the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies, told OBG. “In the last decade, the government has put more emphasis on the education and research sectors, which form an important part of the QNV 2030.”

Entrepreneurial Spirit

Ensuring new graduates have the tools to establish a stronger entrepreneurial ecosystem is also seen as key to achieving the goals of the QNV 2030 pertaining to R&D. Qatar has a strong foundation to build on in this regard, it ranked 14th out of 140 countries for its entrepreneurial culture in the World Economic Forum’s 2018 Global Competitiveness Index 4.0. This put Qatar above every MENA country for this metric – one of two subcategories forming the business dynamism pillar, for which Qatar was 40th due to a lower ranking of 83rd in the administrative requirements subcategory. The 12th and final pillar of the index is innovation capability, under which Qatar placed 37th, with relatively high scores in the commercialisation and interaction and diversity subcategories, putting it 28th and 26th, respectively. The overall ranking under this pillar was brought down by the R&D metric, for which Qatar was 56th, suggesting there is scope for improvement in this area.

Targeted R&D

A raft of research institutions and programmes and a commitment to raising R&D spending to 2.8% of GDP under the QNV 2030 put Qatar on a strong footing for R&D growth. The authorities have also recognised the need to align R&D efforts with national priorities, creating the Qatar Research, Development and Innovation Council for this purpose.

The council was first held in November 2018 and is chaired by Khalid bin Mohamed Al Attiyah, deputy prime minister and minster of state for defence affairs. It seeks to leverage output at R&D institutions by creating opportunities for innovation on a local and global level.

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