Research and innovation strive for renewed renaissance

Muscat, Nov 17
Research and innovation in the Sultanate is inspired by the speech of His Majesty Sultan Haitham bin Tarik on February 23 when he said, “On top of our national priorities is the education sector. It will receive full attention, and it will be provided with the supporting environment, which motivates research and innovation. We will also provide it with all means of empowerment, since it is the base upon which our children will be able to participate in meeting the requirements of the coming phase of development.”
In line with the other sectors, the research and innovation sector at the Ministry of Higher Education, Research and Innovation (MoHERI) continued its efforts in building research and innovation capabilities. It contributed to the efforts exerted to deal with COVID-19, through various research and academic institutions.

In March, the COVID-19 Research Programme was launched. The programme funded 28 research proposals with a total cost of RO 280,000. Once completed, these projects will provide scientific research information and facts on the local situation of the pandemic, as well as innovative solutions to fight coronavirus.

FOR R&D 2040
Efforts towards the preparation of the National Strategy for Research and Development 2040 (NSRD 2040) have been recently focused on preparing the plans for the strategy, which are expected to be operational by the beginning of the next year.
The MoHERI has reaffirmed the harmony between the vision of the National Innovation Strategy (NIS) with the Oman Vision 2040, reinforced by a political will and continuous institutional integration, which has resulted in various initiatives in all fields, and is evident through its innovations, institutions and efforts.
As research and development are some of the main components of the innovation system, MoHERI has also updated the NSRD 2040 to align with the Oman Vision 2040’s perspective that research leads to the development of a knowledge-based society and capable national cadres, which focuses on transferring knowledge into economic revenue.

During 2020, MoHERI funded 248 research projects through the Block Funding Programme, covering research support grants for holders of PhD, Master’s and bachelor degrees, as well as undergraduate and postgraduate students who are studying abroad at their own expense.
A total of 28 governmental and private institutions in the Sultanate benefited from the support for this year, including various the communications and IT sector, the environment and natural resources sector, the health and community service sector, the energy and industry sector, and the education and human resources sector.
The financial aid provided to support and finance the approved research projects has amounted to RO 1.2 million.

There are currently nine strategic research programmes of national priority that the research and innovation sector is working on in cooperation with the relevant institutions. These include the Social Observatory Research Program, Undergraduate Research Grant Program, Strategic Research Program on Smart Cities, Omani Cultural Heritage Strategic Research Program, Integrated Pest Management for Dubas Bug Research Program, Renewable Energy Research Program and Strategic Program for Water Research.
The steering committee of the strategic grants programme approved the five-year plan for the strategic research programme to tackle harmful algae which cause red tide, protect fisheries and the marine environment and spread public awareness with the participation of various governmental and private institutions.
The ‘Omani Medical Heritage’ project addresses the Omani doctors who made great contributions to the development of medicine across the historical eras. Work is also underway on the strategic research programme on the ‘Omani Figures involved in Trade and Industry’.
The Smart Cities Ambassadors Initiative, one of the initiatives of the Strategic Research Program for Smart Cities, made a remarkable achievement by winning the2020 Innovation Challenges competition of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).
The National Innovation Strategy (NIS) guides the country’s institutions to place the NIS’s initiatives as the top priorities to achieve Oman Vision 2040. This has led to the increase in the number of indicators of the Sultanate on the Global Innovation Index (GII), despite the decrease of the overall ranking of the Sultanate on the GII.
The Innovation Park Muscat has been officially approved as a science park in June 2019, after the issuance of the Royal Decree No 27/2019, concerning the exemption and incentives offered by the Science Parks and Other Specialised Zones. More than 90 per cent of the construction of the IPM building has been completed.
The IPM is a larger initiative designed to nurture and develop research talent in order to power innovation and create economic benefit for Oman and to help ensure our national prosperity and international competitiveness.
IPM seeks to provide an enabling environment for researchers, innovators and entrepreneurs by providing them with the services that help them to develop their soft skills and focus on scientific research.
It also strives to build on their ability to utilise knowledge, develop products based on scientific research, and turn ideas into commercial products.
This will promote and contribute to the efforts made by the government to diversify sources of national economy.
IPM focuses on food and biotechnology, health, water and environment, and energy and renewable energy that may contribute to achieving sustainable development.

Makers Oman – The Prototyping Center is an integrated work environment that includes 3D printers of different sizes and equipment in the fields of metal and wood formation. It provides access to beneficiaries to transform ideas into innovative porotypes, with the supervision from competent youth Omani engineers.
Oman Animal and Plant Genetic Resources Center (OAPGRC) aims to spread awareness of the importance of genetic diversity of Oman.
OAPGRC, with a number of partners, work on twenty-eight basic and supplementary programmes developed specifically to achieve the center’s objectives that include research, data collection and preservation, awareness and community engagement.
OAPGRC has recently organised the Manafa’a Ideathon Program, which is one of the programmes organised with the aim of motivating young people to innovate and develop, attracting young talents to participate in the field of unique genetic resources as well as developing skills through knowledge exchange. The programme also serves as a distinct platform for Omani innovators and entrepreneurs to create environmentally friendly products and services that benefit from the natural wealth of the Sultanate of Oman, and to transform great scientific ideas and innovations into viable products and services.
Achievements of the OAPGRC includes the establishment of the Gene Bank, in cooperation with the University of Nizwa, which is equipped with the latest equipment. A field gene bank has been established by the Agricultural Research Station of Sohar and the Algae Laboratory at Al Sharqiyah University for preserving 99 species of banana.

EJAAD acts as a bridge between the academic and industrial sectors through industrial research cooperation. More than 63 industrial challenges have been presented through EJAAD, while their joint research projects have reached 20 projects. The total funding from the industry for the research projects on EJAAD has reached RO 1 million, while affiliated members have so far reached 60 members.

EJAAD has also begun to study the feasibility of hydrogen energy and the way it can be integrated with the industrial sector to diversify the national income sources.
As a result of EJAAD efforts, the Sultanate has joined the Green Ammonia Consortium becoming the second Arabic country in this consortium, which has members representing 60 countries, companies and research institutions.

The 4th edition of the Upgrade programme has continued to attract student projects from various academic institutions inside and outside the Sultanate to transform them into successful startups in the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sector. Since the programme’s establishment in 2017, nine projects have been incubated on topics such as Smart Cities, Internet of Things, Information Security, Artificial Intelligence, Big Data and Blockchain.

The idea of OMREN is to create a high-speed online network linking research and academic entities. The number of affiliated members of the network has reached 50 members from various academic institutions.
In 2020, OMREN has launched a new service called ‘Mirsal’ that allows authenticated users to securely and easily send and receive large data. The launch of this service was to provide a new space for researchers and members of the network in light of the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

Masader recently joined the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) and added the global publisher (IEEE) within their electronic research sources. Masader provides seamless and affordable access to a wealth of global research material among academics, university students, and other public and private sector researchers.

Shuaa is a digital repository that helps in organising, managing, and representing the outcomes of academic research to increase the exposure and impact of Oman’s scientific research contribution. The project is a collaborative agreement between the Research and Innovation Sector and Sultan Qaboos University.
In 2020, a cooperation agreement was signed with the Public Authority for Social Insurance to enhance the culture of social insurance and highlight its importance to individuals and the society as well as making reports and audio-visual materials available as scientific references in the field of social security for students and researchers.
The Ministry of Higher Education, Research and Innovation will continue to raise awareness of the importance of research and innovation, and to familiarise the public with the most important research and innovative programmes and projects of the sector through various mediums.
In March 2020, the ministry celebrated the 25th jubilee edition of Scientific Insights in Arabic and English, which is a quarterly scientific journal published every three months that explores various scientific, research and development topics. Moreover, Dialogue with a Researcher, the weekly radio programme, has continued to introduce researchers and innovators in the Sultanate and the outputs of various research and innovative projects.