While most countries around the world are dealing with shrinking budgets for science research, Qatar has a surplus that the small Gulf state doesn’t know what to do with.
A few years ago, Qatar pledged 2.8% of its annual GDP to science and research – more than any other Arab state. However, according to Faisal Alsuwaidi, president of Research and Development at Qatar Foundation, the country isn’t currently spending even 10% of that amount annually.
“Our current spending is a fraction of what is available. The reason is that we are still recruiting, we do not have enough manpower yet,” he says. “The latest statistics show that Qatar has about 600 scientists, we need to add 1500 more by the year 2018 to meet our research targets.”
While Alsuwaidi declined to give an exact number for the amount of money that Qatar is currently spending on science, he said it is substantial when compared to other states similar to Qatar in size and population. The budget pledged for science research will continue to increase year by year by 15-20% until they hit the 2.8% of GDP target, and he stressed there are no plans to decrease funding. “This would cut into our plans and that is the last thing Her Highness [Sheikha Moza bint Nasser] wants to see.”
While money is not holding back research and innovation in the rich Gulf state, Alsuwaidi acknowledges the real challenge Qatar Foundation is facing is changing the general culture. “In the Arab world we do not have a science culture. I come from industry and when I had an issue with my plant I contacted engineers or manufacturers, I didn’t call in scientists. We want to change that.”
Thomas Zacharia, executive vice president of Research and Development at Qatar Foundation, says this is the long-term plan that they are working on. “The research we are trying to build is a central part of how the country is moving forward. We have to do many things systemically, we are not going to get [a science culture] in one day. You have to do various things to make this successful.”
During this year’s Annual Research Conference in Qatar, Qatar Foundation announced its new research strategy – which focuses on three grand challenges they want to tackle through science by 2020: energy, water and cyber security.
“We thought there was a disconnect between the ambition of diversifying the economy of the country with the scope and scale of the research so what we did is focus the research in a particular way in order to achieve the goals of the country,” says Zacharia.
“I am very pleased with the outcome of this year’s strategy,” adds Alsuwaidi. “In theory it encompasses a number of objectives from last year and we are trying to hire experts of international renown. We are attracting international attention and we are making ourselves known internationally.”