Qatar renews focus on development-orientated research

Arab-world scientists must forge partnerships to act on the world R&D stage Copyright: Flcikr/TEDxPhotos

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[DOHA] Qatar has launched a national research strategy to facilitate its transition to becoming a knowledge-based economy.

The Qatar National Research Strategy aims to support the objectives of the Qatar National Vision 2030, which was launched in July 2008 to address the country’s future economic, social and environmental development.

The new research strategy was unveiled last week (21 October) by Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, chairperson of the Qatar Foundation, at the opening of the foundation’s 4th annual forum (21–23 October).

In her opening speech, Nasser highlighted the importance of building upon Qatar’s human resources and scientific knowledge. She also stressed that Arab nations should work together to stand equal with their international counterparts in research and innovation.

"We have funded, so far, 78 research projects for 53 institutes in 12 Arab countries, with more than US$68 million," said Nasser. She added that since 2009, the Qatari government has been allocating 2.8 per cent of its GDP (gross domestic product) to promote research, technology and innovation.

Faisal Mohammed Al Suwaidi, the Qatar Foundation’s president of research and development, drew attention to Qatar’s plan to be "an international centre for research and development (R&D) excellence and innovation".

Al Suwaidi said that the new strategy aims to guide R&D investments in Qatar. It also provides a national framework, he said, to align objectives with national priorities, as "it defines five pillars to achieve the country’s aspirations: energy and environment; information and computing technology; health and related life science and technologies; social sciences, arts and humanities; as well as enterprise-wide interdisciplinary R&D".

Magdi Yacoub, professor of cardiothoracic surgery at Imperial College, London, saidthat the new strategy "covers a wide range of areas across multiple paths […] so the major challenge […] is its need for a large number of scientists and researchers to achieve its goals".

Yacoub told SciDev.Net: "It is important that there is a focus to achieve specific goals, and flexibility in the implementation of the strategy to achieve valuable results".

The lack of scientists in Qatar is another challenge, Al Suwaidi said. He compared the country with Norway, which is similar in terms of economy and geographical size, but has 11,000 scientists, whereas Qatar has just 1,000.

If Qatar hopes to be an international R&D centre, Al Suwaidi said, "bridging this gap will be a big challenge".

Abdelali Haoudi, vice president for research at the Qatar Foundation, told SciDev.Net that in order to address the "clear challenge" of resources, discussions were taking place with foreign research institutions, with the goal of forging formal partnerships.

Qatar must "attract Arab and international scientists" to the country, and nurture partnerships with them, Haoudi said.