x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Masdar institute planning to quadruple enrolment over next five years

Growing the region's first research university will be an expensive task.

"One of our concerns is how to diversify our sources of funding," says Dr Fred Moavenzadeh, the president of Masdar Institute of Science and Technology. Delores Johnson / The National

ABU DHABI // Officials at Masdar Institute of Science and Technology hope to see enrolment increase four-fold over the next five years.

Currently, the research university has 250 students and 63 faculty members - a ratio of about five to one.

"This ratio is what almost all major universities think is the right mix at the graduate level," said Dr Fred Moavenzadeh, the president of Masdar Institute.

"Our target is that in the next five to six years we will hopefully have close to 200 faculty members and, therefore, we will have close to a thousand students," he said.

Growing the university is an expensive task because of its focus on research and innovation. It requires large and sophisticated laboratory facilities, operated and maintained by qualified staff. Growth plans are related to the funding necessary to build and run such laboratories and to hire the necessary faculty and other staff.

"We are funded by the Government but we are not a Government institution, we are independent," said Dr Moavenzadeh. "One of our concerns is how to diversify our sources of funding."

One way to do this is to collaborate with private companies on research projects.

"During the last year, we signed close to US$10 million [Dh36.7m]worth of research projects," he said.

Among those projects is a collaboration with the German technology company, Siemens, said Professor Steven Griffiths, the executive director of Institute Initiatives. The institute and Siemens are collaborating on several research topics such as smart grids and buildings, carbon capture and storage and solar energy.

The institute is also investigating the use of a local salt marsh plant to produce clean aviation fuel for Etihad Airways, the American aircraft manufacturer Boeing, and the technology company, Honeywell UOP. This month, the institute signed a collaborative agreement with the Emirates Aluminium Company. "This is not charity," said Prof Griffiths. "It is based on us delivering clear results over an agreed period of time."

The institute is also trying to attract donors, said Dr Moavenzadeh. One way is through persuading private companies to set up fellowship programmes - offering stipends to students.

Three students receive support from the Toyota Motor Corporation, which donated its 2010 Zayed Future Energy Prize of US$1.5 million (Dh5.5m) to Masdar Institute.

Another form of support is through endowments - cash that is given by private companies to build university facilities or to be invested so that the institute can generate revenue. The practice is standard in the US where companies enjoy tax benefits if they donate money for such purposes. Harvard University, for example, has endowments of US$30 billion (Dh110bn).

"We are moving in all these different directions," said Dr Moavenzadeh.

"It is a little bit difficult because although the culture of giving is very well-developed here, it is mostly done in the form of charity," he said. "We are trying to convince companies that this is a new type of charity but not exactly charity."

vtodorova@thenational.ae