Abu Dhabi: The lack of sufficient funds to promote scientific research, and an absence of supporting legislation, is holding the UAE back from becoming a hub of innovation and development, senior educators said in the capital today (October 27).
So, although the country has 80 institutions of higher educations and 23 research centres, there is still a long way to go in order to meet its target of allocating 1.5 per cent of the gross domestic product towards research.
This target is part of the Vision 2021, but the UAE uses only about 0.5 per cent of its current gross domestic product on research, said Hussain Al Hammadi, UAE Minister of Education.
He was speaking at the annual Education Conference organised by the Abu Dhabi-based research centre, the Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Scientific Research. The two-day forum saw government officials and educators discuss the steps needed to modernise education in the UAE.
As part of its strategic plan, the UAE hopes to excel in the research of renewable energy, transport, education, health, technology, water and space.
In a bid to promote innovation among the youth, the Ministry of Education recently introduced a curriculum that requires schoolchildren to expend more effort in learning the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects. In fact, the revamped curriculum expects Grade 11 and 12 pupils to focus more than 40 per cent of their time on STEM education, and this is expected to enhance the focus on research and development at higher levels of study.
Dr Mohammad Al Baili, deputy vice-chancellor of academic affairs at UAE University, explained that the UAE is still trailing other Western and Asian nations in the publication of scientific journal articles. He called on government authorities to establish endowments, and to create legislation that will force the private sector to allocate a share of its income to research and development.
“For example, one per cent of private companies’ annual income in Kuwait goes towards supporting research. This is the kind of regulation we need,” Dr Al Baili said.
“Universities must also balance their staff’s teaching loads so that they have time and resources to conduct research,” he added.
Dr Mohammad Al Mualla, senior vice-president for research and graduate studies at the Khalifa University of Science, Technology and Research, urged private universities to collaborate with one another and create a culture of research.
“We need time, understanding and public awareness to establish support for scientific research, but the benefits of this will be reaped by all member of society,” he said.
The Ministry of Education is also working to improve the education system, and will require teachers to undertake 120 hours of professional development each year, up from 80 hours previously. There are also future plans to have all teachers acquire licences which state that they have the required qualifications to teach.