British Council targets innovation in the Gulf with a new programme to boost UK-Saudi research & development

Amir Ramzan
There are now more than 50m people living in the Gulf (Source: Getty)

News that 2016 was the hottest year on record, and that 2015 and 2014 recorded the previous highest temperatures, is alarming for the world, but particularly for those of us who live in the Gulf.

Water, food security and energy sustainability are high on the agendas of the region’s governments, and the news that the globe is getting hotter only adds to their concerns.

Every government in the Gulf wants to diversify its economy, educate its youth and develop its knowledge base. Britain firmly supports these initiatives, understanding that intellectual growth goes hand in hand with economic growth, benefitting all of us.

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Yet there are big challenges ahead. There are now more than 50m people living in the Gulf, and as this number continues to grow, the region will see an increasing strain on its supplies of electricity, food and water.

The ways we face up to these challenges will have a major impact on prosperity and quality of life in the decades to come.

Innovation fund

There are already numerous policy changes afoot in the region, led by governments to ensure greater efficiencies. These range from policies to minimise water consumption and food wastage, to huge investments in renewable sources of energy.

But good policy-making is only part of the solution. By supporting focused, innovative research in areas such as the food, water and energy nexus, and sustainable waste management, new solutions and technologies can be found that help mitigate some of the challenges this region and many others are facing.

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This is why this year, our new programme is bringing together some of the sharpest scientific minds from the Gulf and the UK.

The $11m (£8.9m) Gulf Science, Innovation and Knowledge Economy (GSIKE) programme, funded by the British government, will create new links between academic and scientific communities in the UK and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

It will do this via joint research ventures, training programmes for early- to mid-career scientists, and leadership courses and support networks for women in science, technology, engineering and math. All of this contributes to the creation of a stronger, more stable and diverse research environment.

Renewable research

In particular, a $3.4m fund was recently set up to fund the best UK-Gulf joint research projects. The call we put out last summer was extremely popular, and we are now funding eight of the applications, including ventures between top UK and Gulf universities and research institutions. The projects funded cover areas such as nanotechnology, desalination, renewable energy, sustainable waste management and cybersecurity.

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Alongside the symposia and workshops we are running in all six countries, the aim is that this project will support new research and accelerate new thinking by bringing together researchers from different fields to cooperate and produce integrated solutions to the big problems of this century.

While research can take time to bear fruit, we have high hopes that these eight projects will lead to tangible, positive social and economic outcomes for the UK and the Gulf in areas such as renewable energy, health and nanotechnology.

The World Economic Forum (WEF) recently ranked Britain’s scientific institutions second globally, and much of its strength comes from higher-education institutions that work in partnership with researchers from across the world.

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Saudi-UK cooperation

On top of hundreds of international partnerships at an institutional level, almost half of the researchers living and working in the UK come from another country, including a lot of talent from the Gulf. For example, around 500 post-doctoral researchers from Saudi Arabia are studying in the UK with British Council support. This improves the diversity and drives up the quality of research at home.

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Our new programme here can hopefully share some of the UK’s experience and learning in this area, with partners in the Gulf who have high ambitions for their own research and development. Imagination allied to technology, and a future of partnership and innovation: That is the vision for the GSIKE programme, the latest in a long chapter of cultural and intellectual cooperation between the UK and its friends in the Gulf.

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