The research and innovation sector in the Sultanate of Oman is currently inspired with the Royal Speech delivered by His Majesty Sultan Haitham Bin Tarik Al Said on February 23, 2020, which 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 line with the other sectors, the research and innovation sector at the Ministry of Higher Education, Research and Innovation (MoHERI) continued its efforts in building research and innovation capabilities. It contributed to the efforts excreted to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, through the activation of linkages between the various research and academic institutions. This report briefs the main efforts of this sector during 2020.
Research support programs
COVID-19 Research Program
In March 2020, the COVID-19 Research Program was launched to cover two main categories; Clinical and Non-clinical categories. The program funded 28 research proposals with a total cost of OMR 280,000. Once completed, these research projects will provide scientific research information and facts on the local situation of the pandemic, as well as innovative solutions, both across the clinical and non-clinical areas, such as the technical aspects.
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 preparing the operational plans for the strategy, which are expected to be operational by the beginning of the next year.
The Ministry of Higher Education, Research and Innovation (MoHERI) has reaffirmed the harmony between the vison of the National Innovation Strategy (NIS) with the Oman Vision 2040, reinforced by a political will and continuous institutional integration, which has resulted in various initiatives in all fields, and is evident through its innovations, institutions and efforts.
As research and development are some of the main components of the innovation system, MoHERI has also updated the National Strategy for Research and Development (NSRD) 2040 to align with the Oman Vision 2040’s perspective that research leads to the development of a knowledge-based society and capable national cadres, which focuses on transferring knowledge into economic revenue.
Block Funding Program
During 2020, MoHERI funded 248 research projects through the Block Funding Program, covering research support grants for holders of PhD, Master's and bachelor degrees, as well as undergraduate and postgraduate students who are studying abroad at their own expense.
A total of 28 governmental and private institutions in the Sultanate benefited from the support for this year, including various scientific research sectors, namely the communications and information systems sector, the environment and natural resources sector, the health and community service sector, the energy and industry sector, and the education and human resources sector.
The financial aid provided to support and finance the approved research projects has amounted to OMR 1.2 million.
9 strategic research programs of national priority
There are currently nine strategic research programs of national priority that the research and innovation sector is working on (conducting), in cooperation with the relevant institutions. These long-term strategic research programs include the Social Observatory Research Program, Undergraduate Research Grant Program, Strategic Research Program on Smart Cities, Omani Cultural Heritage Strategic Research Program, Integrated Pest Management for Dubas Bug Research Program, Renewable Energy Research Program and Strategic Program for Water Research.
The steering committee of the strategic grants program approved the five-year plan for the strategic research program on the phenomenon of harmful algae (red tide), which aims to create an integrated system for the effective management of monitoring and controlling the phenomenon of red tide and forecast systems in the Omani waters at the national level, 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 Program adopts the proposal for the ‘Omani Medical Heritage’ project that addresses the Omani doctors who made great contributions to the development of medicine across the historical eras. Work is also underway on the strategic research program on the ‘Omani Figures involved in Trade and Industry’. Meanwhile, the Smart Cities Ambassadors Initiative, one of the initiatives of the Strategic Research Program for Smart Cities, made a remarkable achievement through winning the2020 Innovation Challenges competition of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).
Various programs to support innovation and capacity building
National Innovation Strategy
The research and innovation sector continued implementing the indicators and initiatives of the National Innovation Strategy (NIS), which acts as the national observer for innovation in the Sultanate through following up and guiding the country’s institutions to place the NIS’s initiatives on the top 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 of the decrease of the overall ranking of the Sultanate on the GII.
Innovation Park Muscat
The Innovation Park Muscat has been officially approved as a science park in June 2019, after the issuance of the Royal Decree No 27/2019, concerning the exemption and incentives offered by the Science Parks and Other Specialized Zones. More than 90% 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 our national prosperity and international competitiveness.
IPM seeks to provide an enabling environment for researchers, innovators and entrepreneurs by providing them with the services that help them to develop their soft skills and focus on scientific research. It also strives to build on their ability to utilize 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 specializations that may contribute to achieving sustainable development and they are food and biotechnology, health, water and environment, and energy and renewable energy.
Makers Oman - The Prototyping Center
Makers Oman - The Prototyping Center, which is a strategic partnership between the Ministry, represented in the research and innovation sector (Innovation Park Muscat), and the (former) Public Authority for Privatization 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 that provides access to beneficiaries to transform ideas into innovative porotypes, with the supervision from competent youth Omani engineers.
Initiatives and projects
Oman Animal and Plant Genetic Resources Center (OAPGRC)
Oman Animal and Plant Genetic Resources Center (OAPGRC) is one of the specialized research centers established to be an important and essential reference in promoting the sustainable use of genetic resources. It aims to spread awareness of the importance of genetic diversity inherent in animals, plants, microorganisms, and marine life in Oman.
OAPGRC, with a number of partners, work on twenty-eight basic and supplementary programs developed specifically to achieve the center's objectives that include research, data collection and preservation, awareness and community engagement.
OAPGRC has recently organized the Manafa’a Ideathon Program, which is one of the programs organized with the aim of motivating young people to innovate and develop, attracting young talents to participate in the field of unique genetic resources as well as developing skills through knowledge exchange. The program also serves as a distinct platform for Omani innovators and entrepreneurs to create environmentally friendly products and services that benefit from the natural wealth of the Sultanate of Oman, and to transform great scientific ideas and innovations into vital products and services that are commercially viable and thus can compete with global products.
Achievements of the OAPGRC includes the establishment of the Gene Bank, in cooperation with the University of Nizwa, which is equipped with the latest equipment. A field gene bank has been established by the Agricultural Research Station of Sohar and the Algae Laboratory at A’Sharqiyya University for preserving 99 species of banana.
EJAAD connects the bridge between the academic and industrial sectors through industrial research cooperation. EJAAD directs research and development requests in the industrial sector to the academic sector, and helps publishing and marketing the research outputs and encourage technology transfer. More than 63 industrial challenges have been presented through EJAAD, while there joint research projects have reached 20 projects. The total funding from the industry for the research projects on EJAAD has reached OMR 1 million, while affiliated members have so far reached 60 members.
It has also begun to study the feasibility of hydrogen energy and the way it can be integrated with the industrial sector to build local capacity and encourage the market to adopt this type of energy, as key steps towards an integrated hydrogen economy, meeting the directives of Oman Vision 2040 that aim to diversify the national income sources.
As a result of EJAAD efforts, the Sultanate has joined the membership of the Green Ammonia Consortium, and hence Oman has become the second Arabic country in this consortium, which has members representing 60 governments, companies and research institutions.
Upgrade (A program that transforms the best graduation projects in 4IR technologies into successful ICT startups)
The 4th edition of Upgrade program has continued to attract student graduation projects from various academic institutions inside and outside the Sultanate to transform them into successful startups in the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sector. Upgrade is a collaborative partnership between the Research and Innovation Sector with Omantel, Riyada, Oman Technology Fund (OTF), Al Raffd Fund, Sas Center for Entrepreneurship and the National Youth Committee. Since the program’s establishment in 2017, 9 projects were incubated on topics, such as Smart Cities, Internet of Things, Information Security, Artificial Intelligence, Big Data and Blockchain.
OMREN (Oman Research and Education Network)
OMREN is the first supporter of the infrastructure for 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 reached 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 was 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
For Masader, it has recently joined the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) and added the global publisher (IEEE) within their electronic research sources. The number of its members has reached 50 members from various academic institutions. Masader provides seamless and affordable access to a wealth of global research material among academics, university students, and other public and private sector researchers.
Shuaa - Oman Research Repository Project
Shuaa is a digital repository that helps in organizing, managing, and representing the outcomes 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 making reports and audio-visual materials available as scientific references in the field of social security for students and researchers.
Spreading the culture of research and innovation
The research and innovation sector of the Ministry of Higher Education, Research and Innovation will continue to raise awareness of the importance of research and innovation, and to familiarize the public with the most important research and innovative programs and projects of the sector through various mediums.
In March 2020, the sector celebrated the 25th jubilee edition of Scientific Insights in Arabic and English, which is a quarterly scientific journal published every three months that explores various scientific, research and development topics. Moreover, Dialogue with a Researcher, the weekly radio program, has continued to introduce researchers and innovators in the Sultanate and the outputs of various research and innovative projects. The number of episodes broadcast since its launch in April of 2013 has reached 380 episodes. Additionally, a program in Arabic and English was prepared and implemented in relation to the National Innovation Strategy, and 38 radio episodes were broadcast during which a number of officials and those concerned with innovation were hosted in the Sultanate.
Media coverage of the most prominent activities of the sector continues through local newspapers, interviews, radio and television reports, in cooperation with partners from the print, audio and visual media, in addition to continuing the production of videos that exceeded 90 clips during the year 2019-2020 that were broadcast on various social media platforms.