The research and innovation activities in Oman are inspired with the Royal Speech delivered on February 23, 2020, in which His Majesty Sultan Haitham bin Tarik stated, “On top of our national priorities is the education sector, with all its types and levels. It will receive full attention, and it will be provided with the supporting environment, which motivates research and innovation. We will also provide it with all means of empowerment, since it is the base upon which our children will be able to participate in meeting the requirements of the coming phase of development.’
In step with the other sectors, the research and innovation department in the Ministry of Higher Education, Research and Innovation (MHERI) continues its efforts in building research and innovation capabilities. It contributed to the efforts exerted to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic through the activation of links between various research and academic institutions. The main efforts in research and innovation in 2020 included –
RESEARCH SUPPORT PROGRAMMES
COVID-19 Research Programme
It was launched in March 2020 to cover both clinical and non-clinical aspects of the pandemic. The programme funded 28 research proposals at a total cost of RO280,000. Once completed, these research projects will provide scientific research information and facts, as well as innovative solutions for both clinical and non-clinical areas.
National Strategy for Research and Development 2040
Efforts towards the preparation of the National Strategy for Research and Development 2040 have been recently focused on the operational plans for the strategy, which are expected to come into effect beginning of next year.
MHERI has reaffirmed the harmony between the vision of the National Innovation Strategy (NIS) and Oman Vision 2040, reinforced by a political will and continuous institutional integration. This has resulted in various initiatives in several fields, and is evident through innovations, institutions and efforts.
Block Funding Programme
During 2020, MHERI funded 248 research projects through the Block Funding Programme, covering research support grants for holders of PhD, Master’s and Bachelor’s degrees, as well as undergraduate and postgraduate students who are pursuing self-funded programmes abroad.
A total of 28 government and private institutions in the sultanate benefited from the support for this year, including various scientific research works in communications and information systems, environment and natural resources, health and community service, energy and the industry sector, and the education and human resources sector.
The financial aid provided to support and finance the approved research projects amounted to RO1.2mn.
Strategic research programmes of national priority
There are currently nine strategic research programmes of national priority in progress in cooperation with the relevant institutions.
These long-term programmes include the Social Observatory Research Programme, Undergraduate Research Grant Programme, Strategic Research Programme on Smart Cities, Omani Cultural Heritage Strategic Research Programme, Integrated Pest Management for Dubas Bug Research Programme, Renewable Energy Research Programme, and Strategic Programme for Water Research.
The steering committee of the strategic grants programme approved the five-year plan for the strategic research programme on the phenomenon of harmful algae (red tide). It aims to create an integrated system for the effective management to monitor and control the phenomenon of red tide and forecast systems in the Omani waters, reduce economic losses, preserve fisheries and the marine environment, protect human health and spread public awareness with the participation of various governmental and private agencies and institutions.
The Steering Committee of the Omani Cultural Heritage Research Programme adopted the proposal for the ‘Omani Medical Heritage’ project that addresses the Omani doctors who made great contributions to the development of medicine. Work is also underway on the strategic research programme on the ‘Omani Figures involved in Trade and Industry’. Meanwhile, the Smart Cities Ambassadors Initiative, one of the initiatives of the Strategic Research Programme for Smart Cities, made a remarkable achievement by winning the 2020 Innovation Challenges competition of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).
PROGRAMMES TO SUPPORT INNOVATION AND CAPACITY BUILDING
National Innovation Strategy
The research and innovation field continues establishing indicators and initiatives of the National Innovation Strategy (NIS), which acts as the national observer for innovation in the sultanate by following up and guiding the country’s institutions to place its initiatives atop all priorities in order to achieve Oman Vision 2040. This has led to the increase in the number of indicators of the sultanate on the Global Innovation Index (GII), despite a dip in the overall ranking of Oman on the GII.
Innovation Park Muscat
The Innovation Park Muscat (IPM) was officially approved as a science park in June 2019, following Royal Decree No 27/2019, concerning the exemption and incentives offered by the Science Parks and Other Specialised Zones. More than 90 per cent of the construction of the IPM building has been completed.
The IPM is a larger initiative designed to nurture and develop research talent in order to power innovation and create economic benefit for Oman and to help ensure national prosperity and international competitiveness.
IPM seeks to create an enabling environment for researchers, innovators and entrepreneurs by providing them services that help them to develop their soft skills and focus on scientific research. It also strives to build on their ability to utilise knowledge, develop products based on scientific research, and turn ideas into commercial products. This will promote and contribute to the efforts made by the government to diversify sources of national economy.
IPM focuses on four specialisations that may contribute to achieving sustainable development. They are food and biotechnology, health, water and environment, and energy and renewable energy.
Makers Oman – The Prototyping Centre
This is a strategic partnership between MHERI, represented by Innovation Park Muscat and the former Public Authority for Privatisation and Partnership, through cooperation with Bell Company.
Makers Oman is an integrated work environment that includes nearly 100 high-standard technologies and equipment, such as 3D printing of different sizes and equipment in the fields of metal and wood formation to transform ideas into innovative prototypes under the supervision of competent youth Omani engineers.
Omren (Oman Research and Education Network)
Omren supports infrastructure for the research and education community in Oman.
The idea of the project is to create a high-speed and efficient electronic network, linking research and academic entities, helping to develop the level and efficiency of learning, research and electronic communication. The number of affiliated members of the network has grown to 50 members from various academic institutions.
In 2020, Omren has launched a new service called ‘Mirsal’ that allows authenticated users to securely and easily send arbitrarily large files to other users. The launch of this service aimed to provide a new space for researchers and members of the network in light of the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
Masader – Oman Virtual Science Library
Masader has recently joined the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) and added the global publisher IEEE within its electronic research sources. It has members from various academic institutions.
Masader provides seamless and affordable access to a wealth of global research material to academics, university students and researchers.
Shuaa – Oman Research Repository Project
Shuaa is a digital repository that helps in organising, managing and representing the outcome of Omani academic research innovations in order to increase the exposure and impact of Oman’s scientific research contribution. The project is a collaborative agreement between the Research and Innovation Sector and Sultan Qaboos University.
In 2020, a cooperation agreement was signed with the Public Authority for Social Insurance to enhance the culture of social insurance and highlight its importance to individuals and the society as well as make reports and audio-visual materials available as scientific references in the field of social security for students and researchers.