SQU: A Beacon of Light for Research and Innovation

20 Feb, 2020 |

Since its establishment, Sultan Qaboos University has sought to fulfil the vision of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos – may his soul rest in eternal peace – about the creation of a society founded on education, the search for knowledge, solid scientific research, and the contribution of each individual to the body of knowledge created by humanity. His Majesty Sultan Qaboos, may His Soul rest in peace, placed education and research at the centre of the transformation of Omani society. His reign was marked by the rapid expansion of the formal education system across the country, and constant attention to how the search for knowledge contributes to Oman’s sustainable development. Sultan Qaboos believed that knowledge is renewable, and that a commitment to its generation through education and research is fundamental for building a strong and prosperous nation. This belief forms one of the fundamental principles of Oman’s Vision 2040, whose creation was supervised by Sultan Qaboos’s successor to the throne, His Majesty Sultan Haitham bin Tariq, including in its commitment to establishing systems for education and scientific research that would contribute to the development of the country and its sustainability through nurturing a society of creative people who are proud of their national identity, innovative, and globally competitive.

With the guidance of Sultan Haitham, Vision 2040 offers a course for Oman’s sustainable social and economic development and social well-being that ensures the country’s transformation to a skills-driven, knowledge society. In pursuit of this goal, the first of Vision 2040’s national priorities is that of Education, Learning, Scientific Research and National Talents. The priority highlights the importance of providing diverse and sustainable funding sources to support research and promote innovation across strategic fields, while also strengthening the relationship between research institutions and the private sector. Its objectives include developing a national system that nurtures research, innovation and creativity, and that empowers human capabilities. In addition to these aims, research and innovation are also identified in Vision 2040 as making important contributions to other national priority areas, such as health and economic diversification.

Sultan Qaboos University is fully committed to realising the vision Sultan Qaboos had for the institution, including by serving Oman’s development needs as detailed in Vision 2040. As a result, the university has continued to evolve in the fulfilment of its mission to Omani society since accepting its first batch of students in academic year 1986/1987. The university’s mission as the national House of Wisdom and Expertise is built on the three core pillars of teaching and learning, research, and community service. Research and innovation play fundamental roles in the excellence of teaching and learning, while also helping guide community engagement efforts. As a result, a commitment to research has remained a core characteristic of the university since its establishment.

Over the course of the past 34 years, SQU has made impressive progress in the development of its research and innovation infrastructure, expertise, and output. Research at the university is spearheaded by its nine colleges and 14 Research Centres. Since 1992, when 36 students were enrolled at the master’s level, the university has expanded both the number of postgraduate students it accepts and the list of available programs. Subsequently, by 2008, SQU hosted 63 postgraduate programs, including 47 at the master’s and 16 at the doctoral levels, with approximately 359 students. There are now around 63 master’s programs and 30 PhD programs available for postgraduate students, with these catering to around 1,695 students.

SQU houses 14 research centres which have been established on a progressive basis since the Remote Sensing and Geographic Information System Research Centre and the Omani Studies Centre were founded in 1998. Since then, the university has established the Centre for Environmental Studies and Research, the Earthquake Monitoring Centre, the Communication and Information Research Centre, the Oil and Gas Research Centre, the Water Research Centre, the Centre for Excellence in Marine Biotechnology, the Humanities Research Centre, and the Earth Science Research Centre. These centres have recently been joined by the Medical Research Centre, the Nanotechnology Research Centre, the Sustainable Energy Research Centre, and the Innovation & Technology Transfer Centre. While pursuing research and innovation in their specialisations, all of the university’s research centres engage in cutting-edge, multi-disciplinary applied research within areas of strategic national importance.

The research and innovation work performed by SQU’s colleges and research centres is complemented by its Research Chairs and Research Groups. Research Chairs are research programs in which specialised professors and their research teams engage in highly-focused investigative activity in their fields. SQU’s current Research Chairs are the Madayn Research Chair for the Development of Industrial Estates and Free Zones, the Oman Chamber of Commerce and Industry Research Chair in Economic Studies, the UNESCO Research Chair on Ophiolite Studies, the UNESCO Chair in Marine Biotechnology, the WTO Chair, the Shell Chair in Carbonate Geosciences, and the Rule of Law and Anti-corruption Academic Chair. The Chairs conduct research, innovation, and community service across a wide range of strategic fields, while also helping the university form strong ties with a range of local and international stakeholders in Oman’s development.

A number of Research Groups are currently active at the university. These include the Seismic Hazard Assessment Research Group, the Omani Visual Arts Research Group, the Cognition Research Group: Learning and Applications, the Smart Cities Research Group, the Waste Management and Recycling Group, the Ageing and Dementia Research Group, the Plant Pathology Research Group, the Biomedical Signal Processing and Artificial Intelligence in Medicine Research Group, and the Luminescence Techniques and Miniaturization of Analytical Systems Research Group. These are in addition to the Fractional Differential Equations: Theory, Modelling and Computation (FracDiff) Research Group, the Modelling of Nanofluid Flows Research Group, the Reduce, Reuse and Recycle (3Rs) Research Group, the Information Systems and Innovation Adoption Research Group, the Cardio-metabolic Disorders and Atherosclerosis Research Group, and the Materials Chemistry Research Group. Although diverse in their areas of interest, the university’s Research Groups share a number of overlapping objectives, such as finding novel solutions for Oman’s social and economic challenges, and building networks of researchers within and across disciplines to engage in applied research in areas requiring complex approaches.

The expansion of the university’s research and innovation infrastructure and expertise has also encompassed the establishment of state-of-the-art laboratories and research projects that drive SQU’s commitment to Vision 2040, including by preparing the country for full participation in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. A prominent example of this is SQU, mOmkin and Omantel establishing the Internet of Things (IoT) and Smart Cities Laboratory under the Communication and Information Research Centre in order to explore smart city solutions that improve the quality of life of Oman’s people. The centre also hosts the Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) lab, which supports the transfer of innovative Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies. Closely linked with these initiatives is the drive, led by SQU’s Sustainable Energy Research Centre, to transform the university into Oman’s first zero emission campus. Efforts in this direction will help provide Oman with a blueprint for achieving sustainable development during the coming decades.

The output of the university’s researchers has also increased during this period. From 1986 until now, SQU affiliated researchers have contributed to around 12,787 scientific papers indexed in Scopus sources. This number has continued to increase over the years, from four Scopus-indexed documents published in 1986 to 243 in the year 2000, and, in 2019, around 1,048 that have already been cited over 1,100 times. The university’s researchers are greatly assisted by access to a number of funding programs. These include Internal Grants established in 1999, His Majesty Sultan Qaboos’s Trust Fund for Strategic Research established in 2001, The Research Council (TRC) Grants established in 2010, External Grants, Joint Grants with various international universities, Deanship of Research Grants and so on.

Grant schemes extend financial support to research projects in strategic areas. In 1999, SQU’s Internal Grants supported 75 research projects, with this amount increasing to 100 projects in 2019. Since its establishment in 2001, His Majesty Sultan Qaboos’s Trust Fund has supported more than 100 large-scale strategic research projects addressing real-world issues in sustainable social and economic development. TRC has also supported a range of research projects at SQU, including 94 Open Research Grants conducted by the university’s researchers, 75 projects through the Faculty Mentored Undergraduate Research Award Program, and one project through the Graduate Research Support Program. Following the recent introduction of TRC’s block funding program, it has also provided support for 36 SQU Research Grants, five Graduate Research Grants, and 26 Undergraduate Research Grants.

Since the university was established, SQU faculty and researchers have also been involved in 68 projects supported by External Grants with a total value of 6,699,029 rials. This is in addition to 11 projects supported by Omantel Grants and five BP Oman Research Grants. Other sources of research funding at the university include the newly-introduced Deanship of Research Grant, which provided funding for 60 projects in 2019. SQU’s researchers have also remained actively involved in providing consultancies since formal mechanisms were introduced for their management. In 1995, SQU provided one consultancy valued at 7,600 rials. However, by the year 2000, this had increased to 17 consultancies with a total value of 367,930 rials. In 2019, 51 consultancies provided by the university were worth 1,706,913 rials.

Research and creativity are a natural and necessary precursor of innovation. SQU’s level of output in terms of Intellectual Property has expanded throughout the years along with its research infrastructure and initiatives. While still in its early days in the sultanate, university-produced Intellectual Property has increased from three invention disclosures, three patents files, two patents granted, and no copyrights registered in 2004, to 16 invention disclosures, two patents filed, three patents granted, and three copyrights registered in 2018. Last year, the university’s inventors were granted one patent, filed for 21 patents, and had four copyrights registered.

In support of ongoing development in this area, the university has also expanded the number of workshops and training sessions it provides to its innovators and inventors. From offering one workshop in innovation and IP in 2010 for 40 participants, in 2018 SQU organised five sessions for around 265 participants. The training available in this area has been extended by the establishment of the Innovation & Technology Transfer Centre in 2018. The centre supports young Omanis in every aspect of innovation and entrepreneurship with the goal of creating spin-offs and start-ups that contribute to the development of the private sector and the creation of jobs in high-tech industries.

Since their founding, the university’s six academic journals have also developed and are now enjoying increased levels of international visibility and impact. All six journals, which were established between 1996 and 2006, are now indexed in one or more international indices and databases. These include Scopus, the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ), EBSCO, J-Gate, Arab Impact and Citation Factor Index, Dar Al Mandhuma, and Shamaa. This, combined with the migration of the journals to the Open Journal System, has helped ensure that they are reaching a larger number of readers around the world, and that they meet or exceed international academic publication standards.

The university’s developments in research and innovation since its founding have been reflected in its international standing and ranking. The QS world university rankings for 2020 place SQU at 379 in the Global World Rankings, which represents a significant increase from 450 in 2019. In terms of the QS Arab Region Rankings, SQU has improved its positon from 10 in 2019 to eighth place in 2020. These rankings note the university’s research output as high, with the regional rankings assigning SQU particularly strong scores for papers per faculty, international research networks and so on.

As this overview highlights, SQU’s achievements in research and innovation since its founding, and especially over the course of the past 20 years, have made an important impact on the social and economic development of Oman and its people. The university remains at the forefront of the development directions detailed in Vision 2040. In contributing to Vision 2040’s national priorities and objectives, SQU continually strives to realise the vision Sultan Qaboos had for it as an institution that drives knowledge creation and innovation in the service of Oman’s social and economic transformation and sustainable development. Under the direction of Sultan Haitham, SQU seeks to redouble its efforts in research and innovation that serve the country, with a focus on helping fulfil the strategic goals of Vision 2040, created with the guidance of Oman’s new ruler. As a result, the university continues to engage in research and innovation that provide a foundation for the country’s transformation into a knowledge-based society at the forefront of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.


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