Although the six awards are small – a maximum of Dh50,000 – Dr Mohamed Baniyas, provost of UAE University in Al Ain, believes they will help attract more Emiratis into the field of research.
He said the faculty research mobility award, which aims to encourage Emirati academics to travel and promote their research, as well as seeking collaboration with universities overseas, was a vital part of building a research culture.
But he admitted the grants are “only a small portion” of the amount needed to fund continuing research.
“If research cannot continue in the Emirates, it won’t lead to innovation and patents,” he said. “You still have to encourage the bigger steps. This requires bigger budgets and commitments than Dh50,000. There should be some sort of mechanism to support research.”
Dr Hussam Al Ulama, head of the National Research Foundation (NRF), said funding remained a challenge, even five years on from the foundation’s establishment.
“It’s a matter of time to get support from the federal and local government bodies,” he said.
Dr Al Ulama has met officials from the Ministry of Presidential Affairs to try to persuade them to increase the funding.
“We are trying to spread the message of research and its importance by meeting with many of these government institutions, but some still won’t even meet with us,” he said.
Research accounts for just 0.01 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product, compared with more than 3 per cent in Finland and Japan and more than 2.5 per cent in Denmark and the US.
Since its inception, the National Research Foundation has spent about Dh5 million a year.
“We wish to increase the budget spent on scientific research,” said Dr Al Ulama.
Ahmad Al Shaikh, a final-year public relations and communications student at the American University of Sharjah, said such competitions would increase the number of young Emiratis interested in doing research.
“There’s no incentive or rewards to do research, so people aren’t going to want to spend the time and make that sacrifice, even if there is a benefit to them,” he said. “This kind of competition is a very good thing and could encourage more Emiratis to undertake research. It’s not easy to get opportunities like this.”
Four of the six categories are specifically for Emiratis: the Emirati faculty research mobility award, the young Emirati postgraduate research students mobility award, the young Emirati innovators prize and the young Emirati researchers prize.
The other categories are open to all nationalities: the patent filing award and the university-industry research collaboration award. Entries close on April 30.