As the ministry is now also responsible for research and innovation, how did that reflect on your mandate?
The current Ministry of Higher Education, Research, and Innovation evolved from the previous Ministry of Higher Education and today incorporates the former national research and innovation funding body, the Research Council (TRC), and eight vocational colleges, as well as the 216 private vocational training institutes. The integration was an important means of facilitating continuing advances in, and collaboration between, these sectors, which is vital for Oman's transformation to a knowledge-based society. Seeking greater alignment between research, innovation, and higher education in the country will also help drive sustainable development efforts, while ensuring the quality of Oman's higher education institutions.
What are your ambitions for Oman as a research hub?
The Ministry of Higher Education, Research, and Innovation plays a vital role in spreading and raising the standards of research and innovation in the Sultanate, which is one of the national priorities of Vision 2040. To achieve the objectives of Vision 2040, the ministry seeks to encourage and provide support for national talents and capabilities in order to enhance Oman's research and innovation community. Innovation Park Muscat and the various programs and strategies of the sector are some of the most important means for supporting national capabilities and promoting research and innovation throughout the country. This dedication will help provide a strong foundation for transforming Oman into a knowledge-based economy and society.
How do you assess the current mindset in the Sultanate regarding innovation, and how do you expect technology to impact the higher education system?
A commitment to, and an understanding of the value of, innovation has been steadily increasing and spreading across Omani society for some time now. However, there are still a number of ambitious goals that need to be met. For example, the development of the national innovation system serves as an important establishment that nurtures research, innovation, and creativity, and thus helps propel economic growth and social well-being in the Sultanate. And meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic has provided an opportunity for the ministry to introduce distance learning mechanisms. The ministry is currently working to complete the drafting of regulations related to e-learning programs. These are currently around 30% complete, and, upon finalization, will provide the opportunity for private higher education institutions to offer distance learning programs in addition to blended ones. Concerning the eight governmental vocational colleges under the ministry, they have also provided online learning options for the non-practical aspects of the specializations they offer, while requiring institutional presence for practical aspects, which includes participation in workshops and labs. Technology will continue to have a significant impact on the development of the higher education sector in the Sultanate, including by providing technical specializations, facilitating communication and the exchange of knowledge and information, and allowing institutions to remain at the cutting edge of international developments across fields. The ministry is currently working on a strategic project to ensure the alignment of graduate studies programs with the national strategic plan for scientific research, including through licensing technological programs in postgraduate studies.
How would you assess Omanization efforts in the education sector thus far?
The Sultanate has adopted a clear policy in this regard that seeks to gradually replace foreign academics with Omanis in a way that does not affect the quality of the country's higher education system or the international ranking of higher education institutions. Vision 2040 features Omanization as one of its priorities. In the higher education sector, the education strategy seeks to reach an Omanization rate of no less than 60%. In response, the ministry has made a number of efforts, in coordination with all relevant government and private sector organizations, to achieve this rate. These include encouraging the private higher education sector by prescribing hiring standards and requirements, including in terms of years of experience and academic qualifications, that support the hiring of Omanis to replace expatriates without affecting education quality.