Masdar Institute and MIT can meet big goals through teamwork

September 21, 2018

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), known globally for its role as a wellspring of innovation, is celebrating its 150th year with a renewed commitment to international collaboration.

In an increasingly crowded, flat and interconnected world, with unprecedented global challenges, we believe that connecting some of the best talent in the world – the brightest minds and most creative problem-solvers – is an important element of MIT’s future.

Through international engagement MIT strives to succeed in its core mission “to advance knowledge and educate students in science, technology, and other areas of scholarship that will best serve [the US] and the world in the 21st century.” Our mission statement commits MIT to “working with others to bring this knowledge to bear on the world’s great challenges … We seek to develop … the ability and passion to work wisely, creatively, and effectively for the betterment of humankind.”

To that end MIT is selectively pursuing a few major international initiatives that reflect a formal commitment on an institute-wide level. These initiatives offer our faculty and students access to talent in the form of other students, postdoctoral staff, faculty, and researchers, and ideas and collaborations, facilities and research infrastructure, research and educational funding, opportunities to educate future global leaders and opportunities to work on the world’s great challenges.

Each such initiative requires the deep collaboration and support of a university (or group of universities), foundation, or government agency, and includes a strong expectation of lasting benefits to MIT as well as to our international partners. These are among MIT’s most significant institutional commitments.

The recent completion of the first phase of MIT’s collaboration with Abu Dhabi’s Masdar Institute, and the October start of the second phase, are consistent with those principles and values. Since 2006 MIT has been collaborating with Abu Dhabi to start a graduate research university focused on alternative energy, sustainability, and advanced technology.

The resulting Masdar Institute, has in its first five years succeeded in attracting outstanding faculty and students, building a state-of- the-art campus and laboratories, and launching many collaborative research projects bringing together Masdar Institute and MIT researchers. Going forward, we can expect the continued fruition of our mutual efforts to educate and inspire a new generation of young scientists and engineers in the UAE. Though much work remains to be done, MIT is excited to continue and deepen our relationship with Masdar and Abu Dhabi.

We believe that Masdar Institute’s collaboration with MIT is particularly important to support Abu Dhabi’s goals of developing the human capital for a diversified knowledge-based economy. By ensuring high-quality graduate education tightly coupled to advanced research, Masdar Institute will help develop a high-calibre workforce, focused on research and development, that can keep pace with ever-increasing technological changes. Masdar Institute, working with its sister universities in Abu Dhabi and with MIT, is providing the platform for Abu Dhabi to build a diversified economy.

In pursuing MIT’s institutional-level international commitments, like this one, we must choose carefully where, and how, to engage. Engagements of this kind must offer intellectual content of high interest to the faculty and students of both institutions; expectation of long-term commitment and effect; scale of engagement that involves multiple disciplines; and engagement in a current and/or future hub for innovation.

MIT undertakes international activities only after a careful evaluation of their potential rewards, risks, consequences and precedents. In all cases, these activities must be consistent with MIT’s mission, principles, and values; be guided by a coherent strategic vision that strengthens MIT and our partner institution(s); and be consistent with the entrepreneurial nature of our community.

In these respects, Masdar Institute’s mission and vision are consistent with MIT’s. We believe that the Government’s commitment to supporting this engagement is consistent with Abu Dhabi’s strategic goals and is not only beneficial to Abu Dhabi and the UAE but to the entire global community.

As we look further into the future, MIT is exploring the establishment of a global network of research and educational institutions focused on science and technology and sharing MIT’s values and principles. These institutions would be located in present or potential regional hubs of innovation, such as Abu Dhabi.

This strategy allows MIT to strengthen local institutions in diverse regions, to interact with and participate in the education of student talent, to provide unique opportunities to prepare MIT students to understand the world and to compete globally, and lastly to collaborate with complementary expertise and in complementary facilities, to meet the world’s great challenges. All these activities, when properly funded and administered, strengthen MIT as well as our partner institutions.

We envision a science and technology network connecting such institutions in key regions of the world. We believe that this approach is an exciting and important part not only of MIT’s future but that of Masdar Institute as well; a future in which MIT and its partner institutions work in a collaborative, creative and fruitful way, strengthening the core values that underlie MIT’s excellence and that of its partner institutions.

Dr. L. Rafael Reif is Provost of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology