Thinking outside the box: There is an increased emphasis on developing new ideas to spur the sector and economy forward

The focus on research and development (R&D) at universities and higher education institutions bodes well for Abu Dhabi’s education system and economy. Educators and public officials recognise the importance of investing in R&D projects. “A major component to economic development is building research capabilities,” said Wael Ibrahim Al Anqar, the chairman of Emirates College of Technology (ECT), an Abu Dhabi-based institution. “More local universities are making this a priority when approaching the government for funding.”

IN PRACTICE: A collaboration between Abu Dhabi University (ADU) and AccuVis Bio, a medical research and product development firm sponsored by the Khalifa Fund for Enterprise Development, led ADU and AccuVis Bio to set up a biotechnology incubator in 2012 to encourage research among Arab innovators. The incubator is located on ADU’s campus at the university’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship Centre and receives funding from the Khalifa Fund, as well as from the Sharjah-based Arab Science and Technology Foundation (ASTF).

Based on a two-year contract, R&D efforts at the incubator will support work in engineering, public health, biomedical and veterinary medicine. In addition to cooperative research and providing student training, the incubator will help researchers create prototypes that can be commercialised into marketable products.

ASTF also plans to recruit new researchers through marketing efforts at centres across the region. Prospective researchers will be required to demonstrate that they will create a biotechnology-related invention capable of attracting funding. A committee connected to the incubator will make acceptance decisions.

ENTREPRENEURSHIP: In an effort to help innovators and entrepreneurs transform ideas into marketable products, ADU partnered with the Khalifa Fund and the Abu Dhabi Chamber of Commerce and Industry to create the ADU Enterprise in late 2010. The initiative has so far held several entrepreneur training courses, and hopes to facilitate further innovation through the creation of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

ADU Enterprise and the new biotechnology incubator at ADU signify an attempt to link academia and industry. “Incubation initiatives and support for SMEs should be a major focus for all tertiary education facilities,” said Nabil Ibrahim, chancellor of ADU. “Transforming local patents into marketable products is becoming more prevalent.”

Khalifa University of Science, Technology and Research (KU) is working to strengthen its R&D capabilities and establish specialised research centres for information and communications technology, energy, health sciences, nanotechnology and aerospace. “We would like to see even more emphasis on scientific research,” Tod Laursen, president of KU, told OBG. “R&D is critical to economic advancement, and local universities have a large role to play in this.” KU offers several PhD specialisations in engineering, including: mechanical, aerospace, nuclear, biomedical, robotics, communication, computer and electronic engineering. These are the first PhD of their kind offered in the UAE, and reflect human capital requirements outlined in Economic Vision 2030.

ANKABUT: A network linking over 25 higher education institutions in the UAE, Ankabut (“spider”, in Arabic), was set up in 2006 with KU as one of its first members. Also a member, ADU hosted a conference in Abu Dhabi in June 2012 aimed at facilitating further collaboration on scientific research among UAE-based researchers. The event included the presentation of 56 recent research findings by over 120 students and faculty. Research covered several disciplines, including urban development, biochemistry, IT, linguistics, engineering management, and environmental health and safety.

Conference organisers’ expectations rested in that the event would enable students to share their research and knowledge with others, as well as to connect with influential industry leaders. This second objective is significant due to the business opportunities that can be created. “Research in the UAE is moving towards innovation and is promoting entrepreneurship,” said Ibrahim. “This is crucial to the future economy”, he also added.

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The Report: Abu Dhabi 2013

Education chapter from The Report: Abu Dhabi 2013

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