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Qatar's rise as a global research destination

Qatar's rise as a global research destination

In recent years, the global economy has been going through a transition, with knowledge steadily gaining weight as a key driver for innovation, growth and development. Many developing economies are now trying to move away from their dependence on natural resources and rely more on human capital. The countries in the Gulf region are no exception. These countries, which had for so long relied on their oil and natural gas reserves, are trying to transition into knowledge economies, investing heavily on education and research, as a preparation for the no-carbon era. Qatar is definitely making strides in this direction, according to a recently published article in Elsevier. The study, based on an analysis of 77 countries, names Qatar as the world’s most attractive research destination.

Until a few decades ago, Qatar had very little research capacity. However, things started changing with progressive governance coming to power in 1995 and the new reformist constitution being approved in 2003. With the launch of the Qatar National Vision 2030 in 2008, the country began to gear up its education and research sector with a view to building its human capital. In fact, Qatar was the first country in the Gulf region to base its vision on the concept of a knowledge economy.

According to the Elsevier article, more researchers are moving to Qatar (18 per cent) than out of the country (7 per cent), resulting in a net researcher inflow of 11 percent, indicating that Qatar is a top research destination. What makes Qatar so attractive to researchers?

Increased investment in research

Qatar is one of the wealthiest countries in the world, with a high growth in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) even in the period of global economic downturn. The country currently invests 2.8 per cent of its income from oil and gas industries to support research, amounting to around $100 million a year. This investment is meant to boost research that benefits the nation, the region, and the world, and thereby establish its identity within the international research community.

State-of-the art facilities and institutions

In line with the national vision, the state is investing on infrastructure and facilities. The Qatar Foundation has brought branch campuses of high-ranking international universities, such as Cornell, Carnegie Mellon, Georgetown, etc. to the country. The government is trying to build research from the ground level and is supporting new institutions in developing organizational infrastructure. This is creating a supportive environment that is conducive for research.

Availability of funds

In today’s world, where procuring funding for research is becoming increasingly challenging, even in the leading research countries such as US and UK, it is comparatively easy to get funding in Qatar. The Qatar National Research Fund (QNRF) has funded over 700 projects amounting to more than $600 million in grants in the first six years since its inception in 2006. The National Priorities Research Program run by the QNRF supports research projects between 1-3 years up to a maximum of $350,000 per year.

Collaborative research model

The National Priorities Research Program encourages international collaboration in research by offering awards with an average value of $850,000, up to 35 per cent of which may be spent outside Qatar while the rest of the amount goes to a collaborating local institution. The program encourages collaborations through public private partnerships, both within and outside Qatar. This collaborative model has been successful in building a research culture within the country and attracting researchers from across the globe.

Attractive compensation 

Qatar has the highest per capita income in the world, and the second highest standard of living in the Middle East. Salaries of academics are comparable to the West, and what makes it more lucrative is that income is tax-free. Professors can earn allowances supplementing base pay, in addition to getting housing and transportation costs covered. The country also has a generous policy of paid leaves.

Attractive location and culture 

Eighty three per cent of the country’s population comprises of expats, who form a large part of the educated workforce. Hence, the country has a cosmopolitan culture and an inclusive and international environment where foreigners feel safe. Also, the country’s central location and connectivity with countries in Europe, Asia, and Africa make it perfectly positioned for global travel. This could be an added attraction for researchers moving into the country.

Doha, a fast-growing knowledge city 

With large scale investments by the government, Doha is one of the fastest-growing cities of the world, and with its population of an educated high-tech workforce, is rapidly emerging as a knowledge city. Education City, an initiative of the Qatar Foundation, is located on the outskirts of Doha, and houses educational facilities from school to research level and hosts the branch campuses of international universities. It functions as a forum that facilitates research sharing and helps universities develop ties with businesses and institutions. Being part of such a milieu could be an attraction to researchers.

While the picture so far looks promising, the growth and sustenance of the knowledge economy in Qatar is highly dependent on immigrants. While the availability of capital is definitely a huge advantage, a lot depends on the effective and efficient channelization of available resources, both financial and intellectual. It remains to be seen how well the government is able to harness and retain global talent to take the country forward to becoming a knowledge-based economy.

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