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First doctoral training centre to be set up in UAE

The University of Wollongong in Dubai has joined with the National Research Foundation (NRF) in the United Arab Emirates, or UAE, to set up the country’s first doctoral training centre.

The agreement between Wollongong in Dubai, an offshoot of Australia’s University of Wollongong, and the NRF, which is an initiative of the UAE Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, was outlined in a 1 July article published by Trade Arabia.

The new UAE Doctoral Training Centre will focus on building sustainable research partnerships with government, industry and other universities as well as providing high-quality postgraduate education and addressing the lack of doctoral training in the UAE.

The centre will strive to improve the retention of students in doctoral programmes and help to create uniform research standards, and will host conferences to facilitate interaction between postgraduate students and supervisors from various universities.

It will also set up doctoral student networks and provide an electronic platform to facilitate ongoing communication between students at different universities.

The UAE move will help to tackle challenges facing Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states, including limited supply of knowledge workers to support innovation plans, highlighted in a 3 July report, Global Innovation Index 2012: Stronger innovation linkages for global growth.

The report indicated that GCC states were among a host of resource-rich, high-income "innovation underperformers" when comparing innovation performance against gross domestic product per capita.

Its findings were echoed by a study prepared by the Gulf Organisation for Industrial Consulting (GOIC) and reported in a 1 July Gulf Times article.

The GOIC study pointed out that despite many Gulf countries heading towards a knowledge-based economy with significant results achieved – especially Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE – the contribution of GCC states to the global knowledge-based economy is 0.2% compared to 4% to 4.5% in developed countries.

Speaking to University World News, Ghassan Aouad, president of the University of Wollongong in Dubai, said doctoral programmes were relatively new in the region “but have quickly expanded in the past few years.

“This makes doctoral training crucial in creating a network of well-trained researchers and future research leaders whose expertise will help guide the UAE and other states in the Gulf and the Arab World.

“It is of critical importance to establish other similar centres in the region in order to support and promote knowledge-based economies,” Aouad argued.

“The formal research training which will be supported by the centre will enhance the human developments efforts undertaken by the UAE government, improve the research output of the nation and result in the production of research on issues related to the UAE and the Gulf region.

Mohammed Kuchari, an associate professor of microbiology at Saudi Arabia’s King Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah, welcomed the new development, which he said could provide a “good model for excellence in pan-Arab doctoral training” and help to create the world-class research community and powerful science base essential for the knowledge economy.

According to a November 2011 Arab research strategy, there are about nine million students in 470 higher education institutions in the region, but only 10% are postgraduates.

To enhance the new centre’s role, Kuchari said, it should develop parameters for measuring quality assurance in doctoral training and encourage the setting up of university consortia and networks “to ensure that doctoral training is undertaken in a strong research environment”.

It could also promote “the vital role of doctoral training to business and industrial communities” and the value of doctoral training for careers beyond academia, Kuchari told University World News.

Richard Gold, an expert in innovation, patent law and policy, as well as being a law professor at Canada-based McGill University and the director of The Innovation Partnership, said regional training for doctoral students had been “one of the critical missing pieces in developing scientific capacity.

“Doctoral students who study abroad often remain where they learn as they develop links, both personal and professional, where they live. Thus, developing countries suffer from a brain drain as some of their best students move abroad,” Gold told University World News.

“Locating training at home will provide students with the option of remaining in their home countries while receiving a first-class education. Increasing links with top international universities to provide local training will build local capacity to participate in the innovation economy,” Gold added.

“While this is a long-term investment, it is critical if the UAE and neighbouring states wish to build the capacity to innovate, build local enterprises and develop entrepreneurial expertise.”

Gold said it was important to ensure that such centres offered first-class education, and so they should not compromise on the quality of instruction, equipment and laboratories.

“One of the best ways of ensuring this is to collaborate with an internationally recognised university,” Gold argued, including some training at the overseas university “to broaden students’ intellectual horizons” for periods that did not displace students for too long.

“What the UAE and its neighbours offers to these universities is well educated students who are eager to learn as well as the ability to fund research, which is of increasing importance to publicly-financed universities.

“Developing these relationships can therefore be win-win as research relies increasingly on international collaborations that require a significant number of highly qualified students, laboratories and research funding,” Gold concluded.
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