RESEARCH POWERHOUSE

Oman 2015 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to HE Dr. Ali Saud Al-Bemani, Vice-Chancellor of Sultan Qaboos University (SQU), on recent achievements, competition within the sector, and scientific research.

HE Dr. Ali Saud Al-Bemani
BIOGRAPHY
HE Dr. Ali Saud Al-Bemani completed his BSc, MSc, and PhD in Petroleum Engineering in the US. He began his professional career in 1980, where he worked at Petroleum Development Oman (PDO) for five years as a Petroleum Engineer and Production Technologist. In 1986 he joined the Sultan Qaboos University (SQU), where he held many ranks leading to his current position as Vice-Chancellor of the University. He also contributed heavily in preparation of the Strategic Plan documents for the College of Engineering, PCE, and Oil & Gas Research Center, as well as the restructuring of petroleum engineering programs and planning. He initiated, through letters of understanding, several collaborations between PCE programs and other universities around the world.

What changes is the education sector in Oman seeing?

The education sector has evolved quite significantly over the past 40 to 45 years. Though it has been a gradual lap toward success, the country has achieved its goal of creating a firm and secure educational background that cannot be impaired in any way due to the complex process in which it was developed. This is because our mission was to initiate a sound and effective education system through embedding activities with practical and innovative ideas along with supportive learning environment that define success for students and train them to think as individuals and to develop missionary goals, which will evolve into the creation of a more advanced ability of understanding the mindful creation of new ideas, which will no doubt raise the number of geniuses. They will definitely contribute successfully and enormously to the development of the education system in Oman, and predominantly SQU. In this sense, the university has thoroughly conducted many seminars and symposiums that aim at honing students' skills, particularly practical and educational ones, and is currently working to hold a symposium in October 2014 by the Secretariat General of the Education Council of Oman, where the Council will present the vision for the education sectors and bring about further developmental concepts for the future of our education.

How would you characterize access to higher education in Oman?

Private education relies comprehensively on the government. In effect, the Ministry of Higher Education distributes all the graduates after considering their degrees and grades within the colleges in the region. Accordingly, this in itself confirms a cooperative connection between the private and public sectors. To date, SQU has been ranked as one of the top priorities in the selection of places where high school graduates intend to enroll for their studies; more than 3,000 students annually are admitted at SQU. The Ministry of Higher Education sends about 1,000 students abroad for the same reason and SQU hosts 200-300 international students a year, all of who get to experience different cultures. And that, by itself, provides an opportunity to them to expand their fields of view, make them more open to new knowledge and expertise, as well as expose them to different languages.

What milestones has SQU achieved in recent years?

We have had over 40,000 graduates in different majors, from the College of Engineering, Medicine and Health Science, Science, Education, Agriculture and Marine Sciences, Arts and Social Sciences, Nursing, Law and Economicsl and Political Science, since the inception of the university. The university has expanded significantly since it was established and today accommodates around 17,000 students.

In which research areas is the university contributing to the advancement of science?

SQU spares no effort to adopt measures to develop a strong research base that would effectively support the educational process, contribute to the Sultanate's social and economic growth, and add to global knowledge. SQU has witnessed a steady increase in the number of publications produced. For example, the number of journal publications has dramatically increased to about 145% as it was 419 in 2000 and increased to 1,027 in 2011. In terms of conference publications, the number has risen by 136% from 253 to 598 over the same period. Additionally, in 2012 the number of papers published per faculty member per year was 1.1, which rises to 1.7 when considering conference publications. Furthermore, a total of 394 books were published by SQU faculty members between 2000 and 2012. The main areas of interest are Medicine followed by Science and Engineering and Agriculture and Marine Sciences. Besides that, we have some specific areas related to Remote Sensing, Geographic Information Systems, Omani Studies, Environmental Studies, Oil & Gas, Biotechnology, and Humanities, which have always been in our focus. The university also tries to address domestic issues, such as enhanced oil recovery (EOR). Other than that, we have also started focusing on autism, which has publicized the social impact and gained major interest and popularity in the community.