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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 19 November 2018

Lack of funds hampers push for more university research

Research efforts at universities are hampered by a lack of funds, little pressure to generate results, a conference heard this week.

AL AIN // Research efforts at universities are hampered by a lack of funds, little pressure to generate results and concern among overseas professors about moving to the Gulf, a conference heard this week. The meeting at UAE University, organised by the British Council, brought together academics from the UK, the UAE and other Gulf countries to discuss how to develop a research culture.

Nadhem al Saleh, the vice president for scientific research at the University of Bahrain, said academic staff at some universities were not under pressure to carry out research. "A faculty member can stay for 10 years without publishing a single paper and he's not fired, he's not punished," he said. However, Donald Bowen, an associate provost at UAE University, a federal university and one of the country's most research-intensive institutions, insisted staff were under pressure to carry out research.

Expatriate assistant professors could have their four-year contract renewed only once before they were expected to have achieved enough to be promoted to associate professor, he said. "We've had a significant number released from the university for not doing research," he said. "Our major concern is the lack of external funds for research." UAE University is launching its first PhD programmes this year, and Khalifa University of Science, Technology and Research has taken on its first doctoral student.

However, UAE University has warned it may have to cut 200 jobs to free up funds for research. Also, the National Research Foundation has yet to be awarded the Dh100 million (US$27.2m) it has requested, so Zayed University has been unable to open a bilingualism research centre that was to be funded by the organisation. Ken Wilson, the foundation's director, said some decision-makers do not yet appreciate the value university research could have in generating wealth.

Dr al Saleh said academics were hesitant to carry out studies in certain fields because of concerns that research could run counter to national traditions. He described this as a "very important" constraint. UK-based delegates said concerns about academic freedom, as well as fears over job security, were a deterrent to professors considering a move to the Gulf. @Email:dbardsley@thenational.ae