Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin launched the first version of the search engine on the Stanford University website in 1996. What started as a regular graduate project in the university’s computer science department has now become one of the world’s most desirable companies to work for, employing more than 100,000 people around the globe.
Elsewhere in the US, professors Donald L. Bitzer and H. Gene Slottow, along with their student, Robert H. Willson, invented the plasma display panel — the technology that fuels today’s flat screen TVs — at a lab in the University of Illinois in 1964. And more recently, in a unique initiative, Johns Hopkins undergraduates created an injectable foam system as a college project to stop profuse bleeding from a wound. Designed to be more effective than tourniquets and gauze, this treatment could prevent fatal blood loss in wounded soldiers.
From medicines and technology to solutions for social and environmental challenges, universities worldwide provide the game-changing knowledge and innovation to fix problems of all sizes.
And in the UAE, a rich portfolio of research across a broad range of industries demonstrates how the higher education sector is collectively looking at creating an ecosystem that supports innovation.
With the UAE driving to emerge as the regional hub for the knowledge economy, universities have embraced the challenges of fostering a dynamic and sustainable research environment.
Along with their core mandate of educating children with the skills and knowledge for the world, leading universities around the country are seeking strategic partnerships with companies and other research-intensive organisations to find answers to pressing social, economic and environmental concerns.
Supporting the UAE’s National Strategy for Higher Education 2030, most universities have implemented a teaching strategy that encourages challenge-driven learning, motivating students to think critically and pursue entrepreneurial interests.
One of the UAE’s top universities for technology education, BITS Pilani, Dubai Campus (BPDC) has set up an innovation lab where students have 24x7 access to high-end equipment and machinery to transform their ideas into working prototypes.
Faculty and students of BITS Pilani are currently working with Star cements, UAE; Aditya Birla Science and Technology Centre, India; and Ocean Corner, UAE, to solve the industry specific problems and try new technologies developed at BPDC.
“Several inter- and intra-university competitions are organised to promote innovation and entrepreneurship,” says Dr R.N. Saha, Director, BITS Pilani, Dubai Campus. “Some of the students have used these opportunities as a springboard towards entrepreneurship. Start-ups, such as Kregzo, NaviFly, Lancify, Trift, Quickbytz, Wrappup, Doxel Inc and Sunferno are a few examples of successful entrepreneurship.”
“Faculty and students of BITS Pilani are currently working with Star cements, UAE; Aditya Birla Science and Technology Centre, India; and Ocean Corner, UAE, to solve the industry specific problems and try new technologies developed at BPDC.”
At the forefront of innovation
Whether it’s in renewable energy or clean water, or groundbreaking studies in petroleum resources and medical advancement, the prestigious UAE University (UAEU) has always looked at developing innovative and sustainable solutions for many of the challenges concerning the UAE, the region and the world today.
The university has initiated a new scholarship programme for postgraduate students pursuing the doctoral degree.
This gives full-time students the opportunity to receive scholarships or research grants — especially for projects in space, technology, water, health and renewable energy — from the university or one of its partner institutions.
Another leading Dubai institution, Curtin University Dubai, attributes great importance in creating students who are not only corporate ready but also innovation ready.
We at Curtin want to ensure that our degrees can help solve tomorrow’s problems by responding to the market needs.
“Students from Curtin’s School of Business and School of Media jointly collaborated on a new product development project for Hunter Foods,” says Dr Khyati Shetty, Head — School of Business and School of Humanities, Curtin University Dubai. “This project was presented to the company, where an extensive plan was crafted for evolving the brand — from the logo conception and product packaging to full brand guardianship.
“We at Curtin want to ensure that our degrees can help solve tomorrow’s problems by responding to the market needs. To help fulfil this, we have signed up with various industry and professional bodies such as PWC Academy, ACCA, CIMA, CIM and CISCO Middle East. We have also signed an agreement with Alleem Research & Development Centre to conduct/promote collaborative research and innovation in the field of sustainability.”
Educators and university leaders in the UAE now emphasise the importance of interdisciplinary approaches to teaching, learning and research to appropriately address the disruptive challenges of the future.
“There is no doubt that the traditional lines between disciplines are blurring, so we see a much greater crossover between areas such as healthcare, data science and analytics, for example,” says Randa Bessiso, Director — Middle East, The University of Manchester.
There is no doubt that the traditional lines between disciplines are blurring, so we see a much greater crossover between areas such as healthcare, data science and analytics, for example.
Understanding the importance of interdisciplinary research collaboration, BITS Pilani Dubai encourages students to take cross discipline courses as open electives. A key graduation requirement, these help enhance a student’s knowledge in fields outside their own discipline.
Platform for entrepreneurship
Universities are also working to develop a strong entrepreneurial culture in the UAE so that students can pursue entrepreneurship as both a career option and a way a life.
The University of Manchester, Dubai campus, for example, offers students the opportunity of creating a live business project to explore an entrepreneurial venture in a sector of choice or a
business issue that is critical to a student’s organisation. “This is an opportunity to try something new, work in an international team and build invaluable experience for the CV,” explains Bessiso. “The live business project is a significant piece of work that has launched a number of successful start-ups — some reports have even been published in academic journals.”
Meanwhile, Manipal Academy of Higher Education, Dubai Campus’ (MAHE) alumnus, Arjun Mini, has successfully launched his business from the university’s Innovation and Incubation
Centre — an affordable, compact 3D printer named Inovics. “Making full use of the research facilities, infrastructure and mentorship of the MAHE Dubai faculty, Arjun and his team have been able to commercialise the idea and are treading successfully in the industry,” says Dr S.V. Kota Reddy, Academic President of Mahe Dubai.