“Our mission at Qatar National Research Fund [QNRF] is to advance knowledge and education by supporting original and competitively selected research in all disciplines,” says Abdul Sattar al-Taie, director at the QNRF. “We provide opportunities to scientists of all levels, from students to experts, not only in academia, but also in the private and public sectors.”
The QNRF was established in August 2006 and a four-member start-up team quickly set about launching the first of its two funding programmes, the Undergraduate Research Experiences Programme (Urep), which issued its preliminary call for applications just four months later.
Urep’s primary objective is to encourage students to go on to become entrepreneurs and inventors by cultivating their passion for research. The programme supports students engaged in team projects under the supervision of faculty members or other professional researchers. About $1.8m worth of funding is available each biannual funding round and proposals are only accepted from academic institutions in Qatar.
Having tested the water with the under-graduate scheme, the QNRF launched its National Priorities Research Programme in April 2007. “This is our flagship programme; it is the largest QNRF activity, aimed at distinguished researchers that address key national, regional and global needs,” explains Al-Taie. “We support multi-year, multi-disciplinary and multi-institutional research projects from private, academic or government applicants.”
The priority research areas for the country are classified under the broad fields of industry and environment, healthcare and biosciences, and computer science and information technology.
A crucial element of the National Priorities Research Programme is the emphasis on developing intellectual property. “The research should be linked with the diversification of the economy and the development of the country,” says Al-Taie. “But without eventually developing a certain percentage of intellectual property rights, the whole process will fail.”
Under the QNRF’s intellectual property policy, patent ownership remains with the inventor. This is intended to encourage the researcher to take the project on to commercialisation.
The revenue from commercialisation is shared, with one third going to the inventor, another third going to the university or institution, and the final third being split two ways: between the faculty or department and the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science & Community Development.
Recipients of the funding are obliged to attempt to commercially exploit any intellectual property, and where successful, to use a proportion of the proceeds to the benefit of Qatar. In the event this does not happen, the Qatar Foundation has the right to take over and commercialise the invention, retaining any revenues.
Other criteria for receiving funding are that at least half the research, measured in man hours, is conducted in Qatar, a minimum of 65 per cent of the financing is spent in Qatar, one of the principal researchers resides in Qatar, and the grant is only given to an institution, not an individual. The aim of these rules is to stimulate job creation and economic activity in Qatar.
The first National Priorities Research Programme funding round attracted 341 letters of intent, which resulted in 206 proposals being submitted. As a result of the funding round, 47 projects involving seven institutions in Qatar and covering seven research areas were allocated funding. The QNRF was given an initial budget of $10m for this first cycle, but this was increased to $25m in light of the response and high quality of proposals. The winning projects were awarded funding of up to $250,000 a year for a maximum of three years.
In the second round there was a 220 per cent increase in proposals, with 748 letters of interest, leading to 525 proposals, involving 277 partner institutions across 48 countries. The budget had already been increased to $45m following the first cycle, allowing grants of $350,000 a year for three years. But the QNRF has now delayed the awarding of grants to give it time to ask the Qatar Foundation for more funds.
“A very important barometer for us is the success rate, and the internationally accepted rate for funding agencies is 20 per cent,” says Al-Taie. “It is important to maintain this otherwise people will be deterred from applying.”
Through the work of the QNRF, researchers the world over have been told that Doha is open for business. It remains to be seen whether these investments will germinate into Qatar-based commercial enterprises, but with the drive and determination shown by the Qatar Foundation in all its endeavours, few can doubt it will have some degree of success.