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Pandemic boosts research, innovation in higher education

25 Aug 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic has severely impacted education but it has also provided an opportunity to expedite and enhance the reach of education to even those sitting thousands of kilometres away from an education institution. 

The effects of the pandemic on higher education in Oman is palpable as students as well as colleges and universities continue to struggle to come to terms with online education and its challenges. However, the pandemic has also helped shape national strategies in higher education towards better scientific research and innovation. 

H E Dr Rahma bint Ibrahim al Mahrooqi, Minister for Higher Education, Research and Innovation, in an interview with Oxford Business Group, spoke on how higher education in Oman has geared up to overcome challenges. 

“The Ministry for Higher Education, Research and Innovation (MoHERI) has continued its efforts to develop research and innovation capacity during the pandemic,” she said, adding that the ministry contributed funding to the COVID-19 Research Programme launched in March 2020, covering both clinical and non-clinical categories. 

The initiative funded 28 research proposals at a total cost of RO280,000. 

“These projects will lead to a better understanding of the pandemic in the local context, as well as provide innovative solutions.” 

The ministry has prepared for  economic recovery by updating the National Strategy for Research and Development 2040 to better align it with Oman Vision 2040. 

“This will ensure that research leads to the development of a knowledge-based economy. 

We will continue to work towards this end, despite the economic and administrative complications that arose due to the pandemic.”

On the question of the extent of the pandemic resulting in a greater number of local students entering science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) studies and related career paths, H E Dr Rahma said that it is still too early to determine the long-term impact of the pandemic on the number of students entering STEM as a career path. “The MoHERI has taken specific steps to ensure the availability of a wide range of STEM programmes at both the undergraduate and postgraduate levels. 

“The ministry has complemented these by adding specific programmes related to emergency and disaster sciences, and similar specialisations, including those associated with first aid work that until now had not been included in the internal and external scholarship programmes, nor in the National Postgraduate Programme (NPP). The ministry has encouraged students of the NPP to conduct research studies in STEM subjects, as well as in energy and disaster sciences, to develop expertise in the areas and to promote high levels of practical preparedness.”

H E Dr Rahma said that transformation of the former Ministry of Higher Education into the MoHERI and its takeover of the Research Council was a crucial step in helping Oman become a centre for R&D. 

“Since then, efforts have been made to establish the sultanate as a regional leader, and we have committed to establishing more partnerships with the job market – especially the private sector – for market-ready innovation.” 

In light of the pandemic, an emphasis is now being placed on healthcare, food security, energy, the environment, education technology and emerging technologies associated with the Fourth Industrial Revolution. 

“As part of these partnerships, the ministry and other government entities will provide financing and in-kind support, as well as numerous incubation platforms for research projects with a view to generating high-impact innovation.”

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