The development of the right kind of human capital is crucial for the realisation of the UAE's shift towards a knowledge-based economy, education, government and industry leaders said last week.
They spoke on an education panel at the World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi. Members of the newly formed University Leadership Council (ULC) and their government and industry counterparts stressed the need to instil a research culture in the country's youth to drive future industries.
"It is important in undergraduate education to expose our students earlier to the process of knowledge creation, design, open-endedness and collaboration," said Tod Laursen, President of Khalifa University. "That will be the kind of thing to lead to the kind of infrastructure the country is trying to build."
He added UAE universities should now be looking to higher faculty interested in marrying their research expertise to the way they educate their students. "Introducing the ideas of knowledge creation at the K-12 level is not too soon."
Dr Fred Moavenzadeh, President of the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, who moderated the panel, said the industrial revolution of the 20th century coupled with population growth has created surplus labour.
"This surplus labour has to be absorbed in other types of activities and one of the major promising areas is the development of knowledge-intensive industries," he said. "The knowledge-intensive industry of the future requires substantial efforts in education as well as the development of a robust research and development (R&D) structure."
He added R&D does not necessarily have to focus on only science and technology as there is a whole field of social sciences, for instance, that remains relatively untouched.
"These other areas of research require attention because the nature of the new industrial activity is going to change," said Dr Moavenzadeh. "The question is what role will the universities, the government and the industry play in this change?"
Eisa Bastaki, CEO of the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Fund, said with over $3 trillion global spending on technology research there remains vast opportunities for research in these sectors.
‘Lots of opportunity'
"There is lots of opportunity for research to be done in ICT and technology in order to continue the development of the industry," said Bastaki. "In 2010 the world population neared seven billion people with over five billion mobile subscribers and these numbers will continue to grow in coming years."
He added the world will see an increase in electronic devices nearing the hundreds of billions as people increase the number of gadgets they own. "An idea I see developing is driving the UAE towards a knowledge creator as we are currently only using information to create a knowledge-economy," he said.
"Until now we haven't created one [kind of] knowledge … the US exports every kind of knowledge, books, cinema, entertainment, arms etc … till now [the UAE] hasn't exported one book." The ICT Fund is a venture dedicated to advancing the UAE's ICT sector both regionally and globally.
Bastaki believes in order for the UAE to begin exporting knowledge the creation of an R&D culture is essential.
"The R&D culture is very important right now as we have to create the culture of how to do research, what kind to do and how it will benefit the country," he said. "Although basic research is important right now we need applied research to stimulate the UAE's economy."
Dr Rory Hume, Provost of UAE University, added that creation of such an R&D culture will automatically work towards developing human capital.
"Developing human capital as energetically as we can is an essential piece of the infrastructure here." He added placing emphasis on research in universities as a long-term goal will help change the way students think. "Building a stronger research culture will create the right human capital to drive industries."