OBG talks to Princess Sumaya bint El Hassan, President, Royal Scientific Society, and Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Princess Sumaya University for Technology (PSUT)

 Princess Sumaya bint El Hassan, President, Royal Scientific Society, and Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Princess Sumaya University for Technology (PSUT)

Interview: Princess Sumaya bint El Hassan

How is policy being developed to drive a more robust knowledge society? What role is the private sector set to play?

PRINCESS SUMAYA BINT EL HASSAN: Jordan’s policymakers know that they have to start at the beginning to have a real and lasting impact. That means starting work at the early stages of our children’s education in order to produce critical thinkers who have a sense of belonging to the “Information Age”. In this regard, Jordan has been making great strides in primary and secondary gross enrolment, as well as gender equality in literacy and full gender parity in primary and secondary enrolment. We have a proud literacy record with one of the lowest illiteracy rates in the region, which was at 7% in 2010. However, crucial challenges remain. Jordan is now tackling qualitative as well as quantitative deficiencies in the education system. The challenging transition from ensuring access to education to guaranteeing quality of education is crucial to establishing our own enduring knowledge economy. Programmes such as the Jordan Education Initiative have ensured the proliferation of e-learning in public schools, which is a fundamental part of growing a knowledge society. The ratio of students to computers in 2013 stands at approximately 14 to 3 and some 85% of public schools are currently connected to the internet. At the tertiary level, there is a strong awareness that our system must focus on nurturing the research skills of both students and faculty. Currently, our greatest and most pressing challenge is to create a research-based learning system. This is something that we are very much aware of at PSUT. We have seen first-hand how our students are able to learn so much more when they are actively involved in developing their own knowledge. Empowering young adults with a stake in the Information Age is the first key step toward building high-quality educational and research institutions.

To what degree do you see fostering research and development (R&D) by industry and universities as a hallmark of a maturing economy?

EL HASSAN: I firmly believe that R&D in industry and universities encourages local growth, while at the same time supplying appropriate products and services to meet local needs. In Jordan R&D’s link to the economy is not very strong currently, which is a great challenge. This is related to the nature of research at universities, which is geared more towards basic research for the purposes of promotion rather than applied research for development.

Unfortunately, there is a strong perception within our society that R&D belongs only to the realm of science. For this reason, R&D is the weakest link in our efforts to develop a knowledge economy organically. The best way for us to expand R&D activity across a multitude of sectors involves going back to basics, by encouraging excellence across the board, localising solutions and ensuring the relevancy of research into local challenges.

Research offers the hope of long-lasting and productive financial rewards for a country like Jordan, by embedding benefits that include royalty payments, finance for start-up companies and the wealth-generating effects of new technologies on our economy. There is little realisation that a strong university-based research programme has the ability to have enormous indirect effects on private firms within the kingdom and the region.

To ensure that this sort of dynamic is created on Jordan’s campuses, it is vital that we retain and attract talent. Jordan is in desperate need of a focused research agenda for mentorship and talent recruitment. In addition, we need to provide incentives for applied R&D that can be commercialised. The government now has the opportunity to play an increasingly active role in this regard by facilitating and encouraging an applied research agenda through both legislative support as well as real seed money.

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Princess Sumaya bint El Hassan

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The Report: Jordan 2013

Education chapter from The Report: Jordan 2013

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