Saudi Arabia future city

Embrace new technologies to improve life and learning, says Saudi’s R&D chief

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As part of its Vision 2030 program, Saudi Arabia is seeking to expand its R&D sector in order to build a knowledge-based economy and develop technologies which help it face national challenges.

The Saudi Arabian Research & Development Office (RDO), which was formed in March 2018 within the ministry of education, will be in charge of ensuring that research – particularly in its public universities – is transformed into technologies that will support the economy and improve quality of life for its citizens. It aims to help public universities rise up international rankings, become more self-sufficient and nurture tech transfer.

The RDO has been funded with SAR6bn (£1.2bn) for its activities over the next two years. Its activities could prove crucial for achieving the goals of the Vision 2030 program, which seeks to reduce Saudi Arabia’s economic dependence on oil and move to a more knowledge-based economy.

Speaking in London during a fact-finding visit to the UK Dr Hisham Alhadlaq, director-general of the RDO, commented that: “We’re not going to fund research unless it is aligned with the national priorities.”

Major national priorities include adopting a wider range of energy sources – including renewables – and developing more efficient and cost-effective models of water desalination to support the desert Kingdom.

Meanwhile, the emergence of other new and emerging technologies developed at national research institutions could, Alhadlaq says, help support Saudi Arabia’s continued modernisation and improve the quality of life of ordinary people.

“[When] you implement new technologies, you get more modernising techniques and that would influence the country in the right direction,” Alhadlaq told E&T. “I think I want to stress new technologies will […] make Saudi Arabia much better when it comes to quality of life.”

There is also an opportunity, he adds, to adopt emerging technologies in the education sector – such as virtual reality and artificial intelligence (AI) – which students can expect to encounter increasingly through their working lives.

“We think that evolving and emerging technologies are going to change how the workforce will look like down the road. In our universities we’re encouraging new learning methods and techniques,” he said.

“I think AI and other techniques might actually change how people learn in the long term and this is why we have a good opportunity to utilise emerging technologies and implement that in universities.”

In order to build a thriving R&D and tech sector, the RDO will also be focusing on efforts to engage school-age students with science and technology from a young age, such as by encouraging universities to involve high-school students (and particularly young women) with research projects.

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