x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Big companies should 'give back profits' for UAE nation building

Large companies should have to put money towards improving national research and development, say businessmen, officials and academics.

Sami Issa, Executive Director for Technology Ecosystem at ATIC, listens in as he attends the Abu Dhabi Education Forum
Sami Issa, Executive Director for Technology Ecosystem at ATIC, listens in as he attends the Abu Dhabi Education Forum

ABU DHABI // Large companies should have to put money towards improving national research and development, said businessmen, officials and academics yesterday.

Sami Issa, the executive director of technology development at the state-owned Advanced Technology Investment Company (Atic), said a tax whereby industry matched Government contributions was the only way to move the country forward.

"It should be mandated that money is put into research and development," he said. "Industry must set aside money. As the Government sets money aside, industry must put the same aside to create the research and education ecosystem needed."

Mr Issa believes companies should give at least 0.1 or 0.2 per cent of their profit to research and development.

"With this kind of policy, which will be in place for years to come, you incentivise the bright minds and the best talent to come here, to bring others with them."

Mr Issa cited Singapore, where the government spends 1 per cent of its gross domestic product (GDP) on research and development. The UAE spends 0.3 per cent.

On top of government spending, Singapore's private sector gives a further 2.5 per cent of its profits to research and development.

Mr Issa admitted such a policy might not be popular with everyone, but said that key industries were already on side.

"Aerospace, nuclear, health care are all quite supportive of building something here, as much as we are, so there will come a philosophy that everybody sticks to," he said.

Atic has led the way in supporting manpower development and research, calling on universities to compete to run a centre of excellence in the capital.

In the past two years it has funded professorships for about 20 semiconductor specialists at UAE University, Khalifa University and the Masdar Institute. Over the last two-and-a-half years, the company has sponsored more than 200 Emirati students.

Rafik Maki, head of strategy at Abu Dhabi Education Council, said large companies such as IBM and Microsoft had a responsibility to "give back".

"Spend something in terms of supporting research and development in the UAE, even 0.1 per cent [of GDP]," he said yesterday, at a forum on the economic impact of research and development. "These people need to give back."

Dr Mohammed Al Mualla, interim provost at Khalifa University, used the example of the ICT Fund, a funding body focused on research into computing technology.

"It's not like it hasn't been done before," he said. "The ICT Fund gets its money from the technology operators here. That then goes to support research and development in the ICT sector. It can be done for others."

Dr Al Mualla believes setting up more government-supported funding bodies would "encourage industry to match this investment".

Between 1995 and 2010, UAE researchers published 6,572 papers, compared with 42,132 from the University of California, Berkeley, and 20,179 from Moscow State University.

"In terms of research funding we agree that output isn't where it needs to be, but there is very little support for funding," Mr Maki said. "We in Government need to improve the funding of research dramatically from where we are today. The UAE's research output is growing at a lower rate than other similarly sized developed countries."

Speaking at the forum, Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research, said: "Until now ... few resources in the UAE have been devoted to research. But it is not simply a matter of resources.

"There has been little research conducted by or for Government or private industry ... there is not enough public awareness of the value of research and its importance to our future."

He added that support in successful knowledge-based economies comes not just from the government, but from business, industry and corporations - the "commercial stakeholders that inevitably benefit from operating in a culture of research and innovation".

mswan@thenational.ae