Five universities in the United Arab Emirates have formed the University Leadership Council to lobby for more support for research and development and to encourage cooperation with industry.
The council's executive committee is drawn from Khalifa University, Zayed University, the American University of Sharjah, United Arab Emirates University and the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology.
The council aims to generate creative ideas and foster common interests in innovation and technology transfer by working with industry and government, and securing a clearer understanding of the goals and missions of research universities.
One of its first acts will be to use a symposium to be held in Abu Dhabi next month, "Government, Industry and Academic Partnership to Promote Science and Technology in Abu Dhabi", to press for more financial support from industry, government and individuals.
Maryam Amir Khan, director of the institutional effectiveness and planning support unit at UAE University, told University World News that the council would provide a platform for universities from which joint projects, geared to tackle the development imperatives of the nation and the region, could be launched.
"The importance of research and development to the greater well-being of any society cannot be over-stressed," she said.
The council wants to help industry and government to promote a culture of research and innovation, and aid universities in meeting the needs of industry and the economy. It will encourage complementary and cooperative research and academic activities, and provide a means for students and staff to work with the public and private sectors.
Khan said the council would also provide a base from which other universities would be able to benefit from the expertise available at UAE University, which has strong research partnerships with research institutes, industry and universities around the world.
"UAE University is a key player in the nation and the region when it comes to higher education and research," Khan said. "We have renowned faculty from all over the world and well-established research groups in diverse fields. We are sure that these existing partnerships would be of tremendous benefits to other members of the council."
The council would also liaise between decision-makers in the federal government and universities to address issues faced by public and private universities.
Dr Larry Wilson, provost of Zayed University, told the National newspaper that universities could work together to share knowledge and use of equipment, despite continuing to compete with each other.
The founders of the council hope other institutions will join in future.
In line with most Arab nations, the UAE spends only 0.15% of gross domestic product on research and development, well below the global average of 1.4%, according to UNESCO's 2010 Science Report.
Salim Bastaki, a professor of pharmacology and therapeutics in the faculty of medicine and health science at UAE University, said securing more investment in research was crucial.
"One per cent of GDP should be given to research if we do not want to lag behind the rest of the world. [It] will ultimately result in new products which can go a long way in diversifying the source of income for the country."
In a related development, the Dubai Chronicle reported that Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, UAE's higher education and research minister, had announced a decision to establish a Higher Education Information and Statistics Centre at the Academic Accreditation Commission.
Besides producing statistical reports on all the activities of higher education institutions nationwide, the centre will issue annual reports about each university, college or institute as well as a periodic bulletin about higher education in the UAE.
The performance of higher education institutions will be compared with the mandatory quality and excellence index.
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