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University Leadership Council’s Innovation Forum Calls for A Consortium of Academic, Industry and Government Organizations

Speakers Stress on Vital Role of Education, Regulations to Further Support IP and Need to Translate New Ideas into Commercially Viable Ventures

 

Abu Dhabi-UAE: 18 February, 2012 – The role of higher education institutions in fostering research, the support of the government with appropriate regulations to assist R&D through education, the industry’s role in helping to translate new ideas into commercially viable ventures, as well as the need for a consortium of academic, industry and government bodies to support knowledge creation were highlighted at the forum on research and innovation.

Organized under the patronage of His Excellency Sheikh Nahayan bin Mabarak Al Nahayan, UAE Minister for Higher Education and Scientific Research, the forum titled ‘Bridging the Knowledge Economy’ was held at the Zayed University campus in Abu Dhabi. The event was hosted by UAE University Leadership Council (ULC), a platform for academic leaderships to share creative ideas, foster common interests and spearhead new initiatives for innovation and technology transfer in the region.

Experts from the academia, industry and government as well as students from various higher education universities totaling more than 350 attended the forum. Panelists from the academia, government and the industry collectively emphasized the need for quality education to drive innovation, regulations to facilitate creativity and protect IPs, as well as partnerships with industry sector to instill the culture of research and innovation among the youth.

In her welcome address, Dr Lamya Fawwaz, Executive Director of Public Affairs, Masdar Institute, said: “This forum is certainly timely to further spur investment in R&D in light of the concerted efforts by the UAE leadership, to move towards a knowledge-based economy. We believe the event will provide us not only essential knowledge but also a great opportunity to share ideas and experiences on major topics crucial to R&D projects and opportunities.”

Dr. Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, CEO of Masdar and Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees of Masdar Institute, was present in the morning session.

Moderated by Dr. Fred Moavenzadeh, President of Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, the Academic Panel had ULC Executive Council members Dr. Peter Heath, Chancellor of American University of Sharjah (AUS), Dr. Tod Laursen, President of Khalifa University, Dr. Rory Hume, Provost of the United Arab Emirates University (UAEU), and Dr. Larry Wilson, Provost of Zayed University (ZU).

There was consensus among the panelists who voiced their support for the partnerships among the government, industry and academic institutions to progress towards achieving a knowledge-based economy through focusing on research and innovation.

Dr. Tod Laursen said: “Partnerships among the academia, industry and government remains vital to inspire youth towards creating new concepts and contribute to the economic development of the country. Effective collaborations can help bring about promising changes to the mindset of the students and youth, encouraging them to reach the next stage of research, which is innovation. Faculty does play a key role in engaging with the students, mentoring them and guiding them on the right path towards creating innovative solutions.”

Dr. Peter Heath said: “ There is no place better in the MENA region than the UAE for innovation.  In acknowledging the accomplishments of the UAE over the past 40 years, you can glimpse the atmosphere of openness to new ideas and a willingness to take risks. Building on that spirit, we need to create partnerships with active involvement by government and the private sector, to establish a research culture. “The spark that will inspire this transformation is competition. Students compete naturally and success is measured by graduating with distinction. For faculty, they are recognized by excellence in teaching and research. Journal articles and citations are marks of excellence but how are they going to further the economic health of the UAE? We need to align universities’ research to the needs of industry and the ULC is the beginning of that process.”.

Dr. Rory Hume said: “Fundamentally strong education, evaluation and competitive funding, appropriate intellectual property laws, easier and simpler access to venture capital as well as networking with various institutions are some of the key points that will help achieve our R&I objectives.”

Dr. Larry Wilson said: “Students, practitioners, industry and government have come together to exchange ideas on this most important subject. The fact that the leading universities are actively engaged in research, innovation and creativity clearly demonstrate their commitment to the development of this country. In fact, research has shown that 1% increase in the number of graduates from universities result in 2% increase in economic activities. The investment the Abu Dhabi Government has made in education is already beginning to show results.”

Summarizing the discussions, Dr Fred Moavenzadeh said: “Education at all levels is necessary for development not only for the knowledge but people have to get accustomed to what type of innovation they are looking at. The corroborative nature of this activity is vital, as all the industry, government and academic need to come together. Then comes the technology rewards system – the IP rights in terms of the regulatory system that has to contribute to encourage venture capitalists and development of ideas and applications. Lastly, the relevance to need, especially the work we do has to reflect on the needs of the economy. There must be a balance between the research and applications to reflect the needs of the society.”

Following the academic panel discussions, Dr Rafic Makki, Executive Director, Office of Planning and Strategic Affairs and interim Executive Director of Higher Education, Abu Dhabi Education Council (ADEC), moderated the government panel. The panelists included Ghaniya S. Bin-Dhaaer Al-Yafei, CO2-EOR Strategy Advisor, Abu Dhabi Company for Onshore Oil Operations (ADCO), Dr. Richard Perry, Executive Director of Environmental Information, Science & Outreach Management, Environment Agency Abu Dhabi (EAD), and Noura Ibrahim Al Marri, Special Education Department Director, UAE Ministry of Education.

Stressing on the role of government organizations in chalking out the right ‘policies and regulations in promoting innovation, Dr Rafic Makki said that scientific papers published in prestigious journals by faculty from universities based in the UAE have tripled over the last few years. He added that the Abu Dhabi Strategy on R&D that was implemented in 2009 has helped the average citations per university in the UAE to go up significantly during 2011. The partnership among the ADEC, DED and the technology development committee (TDC) have helped drive policies in science and technology, he pointed out. Emphasizing the government organization’s role, he said various funding bodies such as the Khalifa Foundation, Emirates Foundation, National Research Foundation and Abu Dhabi Research Foundation have contributed to furthering the role of research and innovation in the country. He also gave examples including the work conducted by Masdar Institute, Abu Dhabi Technology Investment Company (ATIC), ADCO and Mubadala Aerospace in the research arena.

Pointing out the high level of participation from the community to submit research project proposals in semiconductors, he said a total of 54 proposals were received when the call went out for research projects, out of which seven were taken up for funding by ATIC.

Ghaniya S. Bin-Dhaaer Al-Yafei pointed out the various collaborations ADCO has with academic institutions including Masdar Institute, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Petroleum Institute of Abu Dhabi, Rice University, Heriot Watt University and Stanford. She added that the collaborations cover several key areas that help Abu Dhabi in carbon capture and storage mechanisms, and enhanced oil recovery (EOR).

Moderating the panel on industry Dr. Eesa Bastaki, CEO of ICT Fund, said the country does have innovation but lack the mechanisms to take the new ideas to the next stage of the evolution. The youth has enough ideas to support the country’s future but it is a question of adopting them and turning these into successful ventures. Dr. Bastaki said only education and developing human capital would ensure that the UAE could sustain today’s lifestyle in the post-oil era and added that government support would significantly facilitate the success of budding entrepreneurs.

The panel members included Sultan Al Haji, Vice-President – Institutional Development, Total UAE, Suhail Mahmood Al Ansari, Executive Director of the Mubadala Healthcare, Yousef Al Bastaki, Vice-President of Projects, Emirates Aluminum (EMAL), Osman Ahmed, Head of the Centre of Excellence for Smart Buildings at Siemens.

The panelists each dealt at length the contributions their respective organizations continue to make in developing human capital. Sultan Al Haji spoke about various capacity building programs for the UAE nationals at Total, while Suhail Mahmood Al Ansari spoke about harnessing the power of innovation and motivating the passion among the youth to find creative solutions. In this context he pointed out the aerospace cluster Mubadala has set up for better exchange of knowledge and ideas.

Yousef Al Bastaki highlighted the new technologies are being deployed at EMAL and added that continuous innovation and improvement in existing technologies has helped the collaborative venture with Dubai Aluminium (DUBAL) to remain competitive globally, exporting to 200 customers in 30 countries.

Interpreting that the Siemens’ DNA is structured on the ideals of its founder, who wanted the company to be innovative and global, Osman Ahmed said that established the company’s mindset and became the lifeline for its growth globally today. He also cited Apple Inc as an example for continuous innovation that has maintained the company’s status as a leader in the technology sector.

The UAE University Leadership Council’s ‘Bridging the Knowledge Economy’ forum was the first in a series of initiatives and events being developed to advance research and innovation and promote the economic development in the UAE.

Acting as a link for faculty and students to interface with both the public and private sectors, the University Leadership Council aims to seek industrial, government, and private individual financial support for the academic and research activities of the universities. It is also mandated to advance the educational goals of the UAE-based universities and align their policies with the government with regard to meeting the requirements of the economy and the industry.
 

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