Posted on June 25, 2011

Qatar has embarked on an ambitious plan to develop a knowledge-based economy. It goes without saying that innovation and research and development (R&D) are key elements in the evolution of any knowledge-based economy. And the country has invested heavily in R&D with establishment of the Qatar Science and Technology Park (QSTP) as well as the Qatar National Research Fund (QNRF) and other funding programmes.

It has also initiated fundamental reforms in school education as well as higher education with a view to cultivate a new generation capable of innovation and critical thinking. But how far such efforts have succeeded in developing indigenous research projects, and more importantly in creating a research culture in the country?

Several researches have been conducted in the country, especially in the field of education and health, but how much was the involvement of Qatari researchers in such projects? And how much the country has benefited from them. These are some of the concerns that come up in conversations among the educated. There is littttle doubt about the vision of the leadership, as enumerated on numerous occasions by H H Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, for developing Qatar as the new centre of Arab scientific development.

Policymakers are aware of these concerns. But few, barrring the academic community, know the full scope of Qatar’s research and development strategy. They have failed to communicate the vision fully to the people. A critical study prepared by the Planning Council in 2007 on Qatar’s knowledge economy project had identified the challenges facing the progress of R&D in Qatar.

“Qatar’s innovation strategy is primarily based on “importing” human capital and technology through the investments in the Education City and the QSTP. The investments in the Education City and the QSTP will be a success to the extent they develop indigenous innovation and research capacity through knowledge transfer to the Qatari economy,” said the study.

“To fully benefit from foreign know-how and technologies, it is however crucial that Qatar builds up an appropriate technical culture and establish incentives to support and stimulate entrepreneurship. An innovation policy with strong focus on S&T investments without a strong effort on building capacities in science and engineering education and entrepreneurship will most likely not be successful in Qatar,” it added.

The report had also pointed to the poor role of the private sector in research initiatives. “A main characteristic of MENA countries in general, and of Qatar in particular, is that few private companies have the incentives, capacity and skills to innovate,” said the study.

Four years later, the recently-released National Development Strategy 2011-2016 report admitted the gaps in developing world class research projects that are also relevant to the country. “Gaps in research and development support, particularly in prioritising research funding and establishing mechanisms for commercialization, are hindering scientific innovation. As a result, productivity indicators are low compared with international benchmarks,” said the report.

To address this challenge, the government will define national priority areas for research and partnership opportunities, it added. Be it as it may, policymakers need to educate the public on R&D efforts through the media and other sources.

source: The Peninsula