H.M. Sultan Qaboos bin Saeed – may Allah rest his soul in peace – had shown dedication and determination to achieve a better future for the Sultanate. In one of his speeches to the nation, H.M. stated: “When we get to higher education, we are required to add to that knowledge in the light of new knowledge. We have to discuss, devise, and think. We also have to correct before us the knowledge that was based on earlier theories as these theories are renewed. We do not say that what we have received in the past is not knowledge; rather, knowledge is not absolute: Knowledge is renewable.”
Indeed, building a knowledge society is one of the priorities of research communities, as it is the foundation on which the advances of developed countries are based. Various nations have made sustained efforts to acquire a great deal of cumulative, fruitful know-how.
The University has always believed in and encouraged the use of research results to sustain national development plans and find solutions to the issues facing society. In this context, the University had set plans to hold an international conference on research management later this month.
In this regard, Tawasul sheds light on the University’s efforts to promote research through devising a strategic vision for scientific institutions. It looks into the reality of research activities in the University and across the Sultanate, and tries to identify the challenges and issues facing research management and how they are addressed
Utilizing research to achieve Vision 2040
Dr. Salem Al-Abri, College of Economics and Political Science, speaking about the importance of research for institutions and society in general, pointed out that: "Research is an essential part of the work of any academic institution, and its beneficiaries expect to see some practical and immediate solutions to the socio-economic issues of society, as well as innovative techniques to achieve progress and prosperity.”
Dr. Jamila Al-Hinai, from the Research Council (TRC), shared her opinion that: "The National Strategy for Research and Development 2040 is based on strengthening the transformation to a knowledge society and contributing to achieving the goals of overall development in the Sultanate, in line with the future vision for producing research that can lead to building a knowledge society and increasing competitive national capacities. In this way, research will be used in the socio-economic development of the country and thus help to achieve the Oman Vision 2040."
Jamal Al-Ghailani, Director of the Department of Academic Publication and Outreach (DAPO), Deanship of Research, underlined the growing importance of research. He said: “The world has gone into a frantic race to apply useful research and market its products in order to contribute to promoting the national economy and achieving comprehensive and sustainable development for societies."
The aim is to turn Oman into a regional hub for creativity and innovation
In her reference to TRC’s vision, Al-Hinai stated that: “The Royal Decree has assigned to TRC the tasks of organizing scientific research affairs, drafting an integrated research strategy, and creating programs to implement and supervise the priorities of scientific research. TRC has prepared the National Strategy for Research, 2020, according to a vision that sees Oman becoming a regional hub for creativity and a pioneer in creating ideas, with a focus on establishing a system that responds to local needs, global trends and the principle of promoting social harmony, as well as being based on innovation and excellence in research. In other words, these strategic goals are research capacity building, excellence in research, research links and knowledge transfer, as well as a stimulating research environment.”
She added: "The strategy defined three phases for establishing an innovative system, which are enabling research, alignment with national requirements, and building for the future so that Oman strengthens its position on the world map of science and technology. TRC has introduced a set of programs related to the four strategic goals that contribute to enhancing research capacity and enabling an innovative environment that stimulates knowledge production."
Using different platforms for marketing research
On the University’s role in marketing research findings, Al-Ghailani said: “Promoting research and utilizing its results in the national development plans are part of the reliable criteria for measuring the extent to which research and development institutions achieve their goals. The University has set guidelines for marketing research and promoting social responsibility in transferring it to the community. Also, marketing research products is not confined to a specific period. It is a sustainable process aimed at finding marketing outlets such as digital media, TV, radio, and social media, among others."
He went on: "The Deanship of Research, represented by DAPO, makes considerable efforts to commercialize and publish research in international journals, as well as bringing out various publications itself such as the quarterly bulletin, Tawasul, which features various articles, including dialogues, features, studies, and news on research findings, innovations, and student achievements. We publish news reports in local newspapers about the activities of both research centers and the Deanship; we produce short videos on YouTube (research minute), broadcast documentaries on TV highlighting research efforts at the colleges and centers, and a scientific radio program to interview SQU researchers and inventors, both academics and students."
Challenges facing the growth of this sector
Dr. Salem mentioned some of the obstacles facing research at the University: "First, there is a weakness in the extent of the business sector's involvement in research projects at the University, which could be facilitated by providing the data that researchers need for their projects. Some institutions have raised the issue of data confidentiality, even though researchers provide guarantees that the data will be dealt with quite confidentially and that the identity of such institutions will not be disclosed. Another point has to do with the gap between the research projects that researchers are working on and the community’s needs for solutions that address different socio-economic issues. Such research is often theoretical in nature and so cannot be converted into practical solutions for the society, which therefore does not gain much benefit from such projects, nor does it see them as responding to its needs, which means that some institutions hesitate when it comes to funding such research projects.”
On the other hand, Al Hinai said: "Looking at the 2018 analysis of research and development indicators and comparing them with the performance in 2007, there appears to have been development in the key performance indicators during the implementation of research strategy’s plans and programs. In order to identify the reality of research in the Sultanate, the performance of research systems must be analyzed. The results of the SWOT analysis showed a set of strengths, as a national system for research and development was established, with some challenges in terms of research capacities and knowledge investment. There is also a research infrastructure that includes various research centers and programs (such as the Muscat Innovation Complex) and a solid digital infrastructure."
She continued her remarks by saying: "As for the internal challenges, there are factors related to the components of the research system such as the small number of researchers most of whom are not full- or even part-time researchers due to their affiliation with academic education (their career), as well as the lack of applied research projects and initiatives directed to investment in the sectors that assume national priority in the Sultanate. There are no attempts to utilize scientific knowledge in developing companies and technologies capable of contributing to the national economy. Another point concerns the duplication of work between institutions, which affects spending on both research and development and undermines research output."
A unified database is required
As for the expectations of researchers to overcome the barriers to delivering research, Dr. Mdahir Al-Ajmi, College of Science, stated that: "One of the major challenges facing research is how to convince the private sector to support and engage in research projects. Also, there is a lack of diversity in funding sources for researchers, like research agreements with more international research centers and universities. We need to spread a culture of research in society and strengthen it by educational means, since most people think that the university has only one function, which is to provide education."
He then explained the importance of basic research and its benefit to all groups of people. “It covers such areas as Arabic and non-Arabic studies, sociology, medicine, pure mathematics, and cosmology, among others. He argued that it would be possible to promote development in such areas through providing adequate support, in terms of purchasing software and updating it annually, creating a joint database between researchers and institutions to achieve better results, and increasing exchange visits by researchers. The departments in each college should develop ideas through joint collaborations and research projects. Colleges such as the Colleges for Medicine and Health Sciences, Agriculture and Marine Sciences, and Science, should cooperate in areas of common interest with regard to biology and human, animal and plant diseases, medicine plant science, and environmental and applied sciences. We also need to establish contact with other academic institutions linked to ministries or companies that may serve common areas."
Al-Abri stressed the need to address the question of poor marketing of research output through raising awareness in the business sector about the added value of research, i.e. through producing new products and various practical solutions to existing problems. He also called for conducting joint studies to increase the quantity and quality of research.
On the data infrastructure, he said: "We need a comprehensive database at the University level, through which we can have an idea about the type and number of research projects, the researchers involved in such studies, and the kind of data used. Currently, there are efforts to develop databases at some colleges, but we need a standardized database which enables specialists to measure and track research productivity in a timely, continuous and accurate manner for each academic, college and center. We also want to see a mentoring system that encourages experienced researchers, such as professors and associate professors, to help those less experienced, such as assistant professors and lecturers, to develop necessary research skills."
We need a law that obliges the private sector to contribute to research
Dr. Al-Hinai shed light on the important role played by TRC in building a national system for innovation and research in the Sultanate. She said: "The breadth and depth of TRC’s tasks could be seen in the number of programs that cover all stages of research and innovation to enhance research capacity and result in a stimulating research and innovative environment. Previous efforts resulted in supporting the technology industry chain up to the fifth level of technological readiness, and the next stage requires focusing on the higher levels that are equivalent to levels 5-7, while continuing to support knowledge production for levels 1-4 according to the technological readiness description TRL."
Referring to the goals of the National Strategy for Research and Development 2040, she said: "We seek to strengthen the system of research and development in order to support development based on knowledge and innovation, promote the interdependence and complementarity between all actors in the system of research and development with a focus on industrial academic cooperation, achieve research excellence in a way that leads to a desired economic and social impact, and finally spread a culture of research and development to support intellectual capital."
Al-Hinai underlined the importance of enacting legislation that obliges the industrial and private sector to allocate a portion of their annual net profit to finance research and development in exchange for benefiting from the know-how and activities of universities and higher education institutions in developing their production programs. That could also make it possible to hold and attend conferences and seminars in which future trends and challenges are discussed; academic publishing is encouraged; a minimum annual number of scientific reports and research is set to ensure researchers remain active and creative; and contact channels, intellectual exchange and relations with regional and international research centers institutions are enhanced."