Munir El Desouki, President, King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST): Interview

Munir El Desouki, President, King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST)

Interview: Munir El Desouki

How can the Research, Development and Innovation Authority (RDIA) enhance the research, development and innovation (RDI) ecosystem?

MUNIR EL DESOUKI: The RDI ecosystem is constantly evolving, and as such, the policies and regulations involved need to be regularly updated. This requires the undivided attention of all key stakeholders.

The RDIA was established in 2021 to orchestrate and oversee the entire RDI ecosystem, ensuring that all stakeholders advance in the same direction. It also handles policy-making, strategy formulation and funding to address current and future challenges, reporting directly to top government officials. The RDIA approaches its operations management based on global best practices.

Where do you identify opportunities to increase the RDI contribution of the private sector?

EL DESOUKI: Saudi Arabia is one of the main contributors to science and technology research in the Middle East, with local scientists producing top-quality research material and filing patents all over the world. That being said, there has been relatively little interaction between RDI-related institutions and the private sector in the past, and there is room for additional incentives from the government to encourage this.

Current intellectual property (IP) laws are being updated to allow local researchers and academics to commercialise and receive financial gains from their IP and innovations. This is a challenge faced by many countries, and we are taking the necessary steps to incorporate a greater number of private sector players into the RDI ecosystem. We want to enable start-ups and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to conduct research within their companies – for example, through mechanisms such as subsidising the cost of hiring a PhD candidate, or by giving tax incentives. This is essential to make local businesses, and particularly SMEs, more competitive in the international arena.

What can be done to strengthen the link between RDI and economic growth?

EL DESOUKI: In order to boost the impact of RDI in our economy, the National RDI Aspirations and Priorities sets clear objectives for the coming decades, and determines the funding available each year as a percentage of GDP. For the first time, Saudi Arabia will have four priority areas acting as the north star for the RDI ecosystem, and defining the government’s funding and expenditure on RDI.

In what areas will KACST and the RDIA collaborate to develop human capital in the RDI space?

EL DESOUKI: The government is looking to increase RDI spending considerably by 2040. This budget increase requires almost eight times more investment in talent and opportunity generation.

Saudi Arabia needs to expand the capabilities and availability of local scientists, who conduct research of global importance. We need to be creative with talent development and are looking to leverage our previous successes throughout the market.

The government aims to have 7000 PhD graduates over the next 10 years, during which we will leverage our partnership through the KACST Joint Centres of Excellence Programme. The programme collaborates with top institutions, including Oxford University, Cambridge University, Harvard University, Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, to prepare the best and brightest scientists and researchers. We will work with the RDIA to take this initiative to the national level, attracting talent from all over the Kingdom, while Saudi Arabia seeks to attract RDI talent from all around the world, creating a diverse group able to tackle the most significant challenges of our time.

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