Recently, the UAE Cabinet approved the 2007 budget, which will be about Dh28.4 billion including 33 per cent or Dh7.110 billion for the education sector.

This development preceded the decision of the Ministry of Education to promote more than 8,000 national teachers and administrators all over the country for the first time in many years. The new budget includes expenditures on salaries, maintenance of the schools and other fields.

However, the key observation here is that the budget, like all previous ones, did not state any clear allocation for educational research in either the Ministry of Education or the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research.

In the case of the UAE, where the private sector does not contribute to any research and development (R&D) activity, it is essential for the government to initiate research in general and educational research in particular.

In most developed countries, research in general is accompanied with development and innovation through networks created to promote innovative inputs in order to develop successful economies.

In education, research could be viewed as the major contributor to economic development and also, it is an essential part of research and development (R&D) in general.

Research institutions, universities and other organisations involved in innovative and educational activities cannot function and contribute to socio-economic development without the ability to exchange information with their counterparts on a timely bases.

What is educational research?

According to the Higher Education Funding Council of England (HEFCE), the term educational research is "an original investigation undertaken in order to gain knowledge and understanding" (HEFCE, 1999).

The scope of educational research is always described as broad, covering various techniques and methodologies and several characteristics of the educative process in formal and informal ways.

Educational research could examine various areas including the conditions of the instructors, curriculum, the outcomes of high schools and their suitability to the higher education requirements, teaching methods, exams and accreditation, the outcomes of higher education institutions and their suitability to the labour market and the relation between education and economy.

Educational research has four major tasks:
"To observe and record systematically;
"To analyse and draw out implications;
"To publish findings; and crucially, to attempt to improve educational processes and outcomes." (Mortimore, 2000)

Educational research initiatives in the UAE

In the UK, educational research has covered many issues including large-scale longitudinal cohort studies to powerful individual case studies; to studies of differential effectiveness, school organisation, curriculum and assessment, inequality and discrimination.

Many of these studies have influenced policy and practice.

In the UAE, it is still hard to identify any sort of educational research on the official level.

However, at some higher education institutions, there are several examples. At Zayed University (ZU), research is organised into four priority programmes to build focus, critical mass, and depth and sustainability within the university's research activities.

Research is also undertaken to support college priorities.

The four research programmes are:
Culture and society;
Economic development;
Education and health;

In culture and society, ZU research is a multi-streamed research programme that addresses contemporary issues of relevance to the UAE as it continues its transformation to a modern international nation.

In economic development, the focus is applied economic research that highlights policy questions of importance to the prosperity of the UAE.

Activities within this area are primarily organised through the Economic and Policy Research Unit (EPRU), which is recognised for its research outcomes and its contributions to the UAE economic policy process.

In education, search is essential for continuing economic and social progress in the UAE. The learning and teaching of UAE students and teachers must be understood and used to enhance future students' success.

Research studies are frequently carried out in collaboration with the Ministry of Education.

For example, recent research included study of primary education, secondary education, libraries, and private schools in the UAE.

In health and environment, applied health research focuses on contemporary public health issues of the UAE, including nutrition, maternal health and special needs.

Applied environmental research at ZU focuses on desert and marine biodiversity and conservation, and natural resource management.

At the United Arab Emirates University (UAEU), the situation is almost similar to that at ZU, and the Center for Externally Funded Research (eFORS) facilitates, through well-established mechanisms, the externally funded research contracts at the university.

However, the key questions are: how much this research and its findings have benefited both policy and practice in the UAE?

How many knew about the research issues conducted at those higher education institutions?

How would the research activities at those institutions contribute to the economic and social development in the UAE?

I believe education needs comprehensive, objective, well-funded and organised educational research in order to establish strategic policies based on scientific actions.

Broad educational research in the UAE could be the essential key to many economic and social challenges and, thereby, it is essential for the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research to take the lead in conducting nation wide educational research and to adopt the appropriate processes to distribute its findings to all people, particularly for policy making purposes.