Time to find answers within

Researchers are knowledge generators, and hence crucial in a knowledge economy.
“Without researchers, it is not possible to generate effective knowledge,” says Secretary- General of The Research Council, Dr Hilal al Hinai.
“We need to develop researchers, support and at the same time challenge them. Researchers need to be given the right resources, equipment, time and opportunity to have collaborations with the outside world,” he said.
The National Research Strategy has looked at 20 best countries in research around the world. The average for the best 20 countries has around 7,000 researchers per million. Some countries have 9,000-10,000 per million.
According to the TRC Secretary-General, there are 450-500 researchers per million in Oman.
“You can see a significant gap there. Without spending more on research and innovation, we will not be effectively able to close this gap,” said Dr Al Hinai.
So what are the areas that require more researchers?
“When we developed the National Research Strategy, we asked ourselves, ‘What is it that is required for Oman with limited human resources and natural resources? What is it that would make the country number one in the world? Something that would relate to Oman immediately’.”
The country’s needs — energy, renewable energy, water, food — was also looked at. Can we be number one in renewables? With limited resources, it will be a big challenge.
“When you think of Oman, one of the first things that come to mind is its strength in oil and gas sector, especially Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR),” he said.
That is because the Sultanate has been successful in applying technology and developing human resources in the sector. So we decided to focus on EOR.
What is EOR? It is injecting steam into the ground to produce more oil. This steam is currently produced by burning gas. Instead, if we use solar energy to produce this steam, we can save a large amount of gas to be used for other applications.
If we have developed capabilities by owning the technologies, then we are actually fulfilling other needs. So it is like a vehicle for achieving other objectives.
There is a market for it and that market, in a way, is in our hands. “Let us look at ICT (information & communication technologies) and focus on smart oil needs to see where there is a niche area. The expertise that can be developed in a particular niche area could make us a leader in the region,” Dr Al Hinai said.
The National Research Strategy has teams from Petroleum Development Oman (PDO), Oil and Gas, and the Energy industry in general.
“The vision was clear from the beginning. Today we have one of the biggest projects in oil sector. Tomorrow it can move to power, desalination or air-conditioning. Omani companies own the know-how.”
However, there is a gap between academia and industry. The strength of research and development in a country is based on gross expenditure for research & development.
According to Dr Ali al Shidhani, Director of Research Centers at The Research Council, from 2011 to 2015 the average expenditure on R&D in Oman has been .2 per cent of Oman’s GDP. The world average is about 1 per cent of GDP.
“We are one-fifth lower than the world average in R&D expenditure. The Research Council is following the National Research Strategy, which was launched in 2008. It will be followed until 2020,” Dr Al Shidhani.
According to him, Oman the current expenditure on R&D is just one-tenth of the requirement. “If we look at the Global Innovation Index, Oman is ranked 85th out of 127 countries. That is not a very good position. We would like to change that.”
On an average, 75 per cent of expenditure is from the government and 25 per cent from the private sector. New statistics will be established by the end of 2018 as the exercise of collecting data is conducted every two years. More than 50 institutions are involved in R&D in Oman.
“We would like to see more from the private sector,” he added.
But there is another challenge for the TRC: the gap between academia and industry. It is trying to smoothen it out to ensure “knowledge transforms into money just like money transforms into knowledge”.
In terms of collaboration with the private sector, Dr Al Shidhani is involved with three projects and they are Upgrade — a programme to transform graduation projects into start-ups. The second programme is called the Smart City platform and the third, Ijad.
The hope is to see more research in projects connected to the fourth industrial revolution, which means projects that integrate. So the research projects could be Big Data, Smart City, Artificial Intelligence or Information Security, but also to apply this know-how in sectors like logistics, tourism and heritage.
According to Dr Al Shidhani, traditionally the industry used to seek solutions from outside of Oman. At the same time, the academia used to find solutions for international problems.
Now it is time to localise R&D as well as solutions. It is time to find answers within Oman.