RDO ensures higher education is up to international standards

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Saudi Gazette

RIYADH
— RDO (Research and Development Office) was established in March 2018 and the initiative has been approved within the National Transformation Plan (NTP) to support research and development in Saudi universities and to make sure that R&D in higher education is up to the international standards to contribute to the economy and community. RDO priority fields are water desalination and reuse and Red Sea studies, renewables energy and storage oil and gas, information technology, petrochemicals, life sciences and health, and environment.

“We are connected to 28 public universities as well as some private universities. We are also working with the R&D ecosystem in the country and we are trying to facilitate our activities with other government entities who are related to R&D or some of the semi-governmental and private sector that are working in specific areas such as oil & gas, energy, water, etc,” said Dr. Hisham Alhadlaq, Director-General of the Research and Development Office at Ministry of Education in an exclusive interview with Saudi Gazette.

“Being in the Ministry of Education, we highlight maintaining R&D infrastructure within higher education institutes and enhancing our human capacity. This initiative should have a long-term impact in terms of technology transfer, commercialization and partnerships. That would make the country more competitive on the long term and will make it leading regionally and to have its impact globally.” Alhadlaq said.

“Moreover, we align all our R&D activities with national priorities set in Vision 2030 and to emphasize the economic transformation on the long term, such as renewable energy, increasing the capacity of water desalination and the reuse of water as well as more fields like health, information technology and environment. From the science and technology perspective, our program also emphasizes research on social sciences.”

On women participation in the workforce, Alhadlaq confirmed that the participation of women is very important to the ministry and highlighted that nearly 40 percent of assistant professors in Saudi Arabia are women, 40% of PhD students in UK are females and about 25% in the United States. In some research fields, female researchers are leading and can have contributions like in health and information technology.

“This initiative is in high priority with SR6 billion till 2020. Our programs have high-level governance and a steering committee chaired by minister of education and with a participation of universities’ presidents and rectors and other government entities and private sector like SABIC and Aramco. The steering committee is the one setting up the agenda, strategy and approving high-level initiatives. RDO activities could prove crucial for achieving the goals of the Vision 2030 program, which seeks to reduce Saudi Arabia’s economic dependence on oil and move to a more knowledge-based economy.”

“R&D is aligned with Vision 2030 as the Kingdom has identified the development of its science, technology and engineering skills as a top priority of Vision 2030 transformation programs. Vision 2030 defines two specific objectives that require a significant upgrade of Saudi Arabia’s R&D capacity; to raise our current position on the global competitive index to top 10 and to have at least 5 Saudi universities among the top 200 universities international ranking by 2030. We think the push to R&D would be a great contribution to these goals.”

On spending, Alhadlaq said: “In our strategy, there are 24 initiatives for the program, with 6 pillars for the approach, some of which are focusing on human resources, attracting, retaining and developing talents, developing partnerships and enabling entrepreneurships, ensuring the appropriate funding and to measure the effectiveness of R&D on the long term to focus on the economic outcomes.”

“In our funding approach, universities are encouraged to sustain funding and obtain external funding outside the government. Spending in infrastructure is very important for R&D, however to make sure that we do not waste money, we are working now to maintain the existing infrastructure that they are up to the standard. We are not going to invest in new infrastructure unless all universities have maintained the present infrastructure. Also, we encourage local universities to share facilities among themselves.”

“RDO is to oversee the implementation of the initiatives and the performance of the universities. The RDO reports directly to the minister of education, Also, KPIs are set for each initiative to monitor the universities implementation and performance.”

“The impact of R&D initiatives will be regional as well as global. R&D activities are to tackle some challenges in science technology and social challenges that will have huge impact on local economy and community. We know that some countries face the same challenges and are looking for sources of energy and others are looking for clean water and reliable source of water, so whatever we invest will have impact regionally and globally as well.”


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