A CLASS APART

Oman 2020 | EDUCATION | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to HE Rahma Al-Mahrooqi, Minister of Higher Education, Research and Innovation, on Oman Vision 2040, changing industry, and plans for Sultan Qaboos University.

Dr. Rahma Al-Mahrooqi
BIOGRAPHY

Dr. Rahma Al-Mahrooqi is now the Minister of Higher Education, Research and Innovation, having served as the Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Postgraduate Studies and Research at Sultan Qaboos University. Previously, she coordinated tertiary-level English courses and programs and was the director of one of the largest English language centers in the region. She is renowned for her research on topics such as English communication skills and sociolinguistics. She was also the principal investigator in a number of funded research projects. Al-Mahrooqi has a PhD in English and communications education from the University of Pittsburgh.

How do you expect technology to impact the education sector in Oman and how is Sultan Qaboos University (SQU) embracing digitalization and IT solutions?
Leading education institutions across the world are moving toward various forms of electronic and distance education options. As one of the region's most prominent universities, SQU is focusing on the effective delivery of online undergraduate and postgraduate programs. In fact, the university's Strategic Plan 2016-2040 details the importance of investing in technology-based learning and distance education to promote accessibility and the dynamic delivery of course content. The steps taken by SQU in this regard have made it the leading provider of online higher education programs in Oman. Having both the necessary technological resources and in-house expertise has enabled SQU to implement online and Emergency Remote Teaching and Learning (ERTL) at a time when face-to-face instruction is not possible due to the COVID-19 pandemic. SQU uses technology, digitalization, and IT solutions in the research and training conducted by its nine colleges and 14 research centers. We have various labs across the university that utilize cutting-edge technologies for these purposes, including the IoT and Smart Cities Lab and Open-Free Sources Lab. The university also utilizes technology to transform SQU campus into a Smart Zero Emission campus. The Sustainable Energy Research Centre is playing a key role in this.

What is your assessment of the socioeconomic transformation the Sultanate is witnessing? What role is SQU playing in this regard?
The objectives and directions outlined in Oman Vision 2040 are vital for the country to become a skills-driven, knowledge-based society that is at the forefront of the fourth industrial revolution. SQU supports its students in the development of research skills and innovative mindsets necessary to produce cutting-edge, innovative outputs. SQU also supports the transformation of innovative ideas and outputs into value-added products and services that result in start-ups and other innovative enterprises. These efforts are led by the Innovation and Technology Transfer Centre. As the only public university in Oman, our mission is helping the country achieve Vision 2040. SQU is collaborating with numerous entities across various sectors to promote economic development and SMEs. We are also planning to solidify our research infrastructure by establishing a research centers complex. The complex will combine all the research centers' resources to maximize impact, while also ensuring that research output is transformed into products that add value to the economy.

How do you expect the job market to evolve in the medium term?
As both the fourth industrial revolution and the social and economic transformation envisaged in Vision 2040 continue to unfold, the skills and industries driving Oman's economy are also changing. To ensure that Oman is ideally positioned to take advantage of these changes, it is important that academia and industry align with the country's development plans. It is for these reasons that we have joined hands with various sectors and have involved their experts in the constant revision and development of our curricula. The private sector also supports SQU. For example, Occidental Oman has contributed USD2.7 million to purchase equipment for the Sustainable Energy Research Centre. SQU is currently in the process of establishing a Science and Technology Park that will bring key stakeholders together and enhance Oman's development in strategic areas.

What can you tell us about SQU's research capabilities?
SQU is not only Oman's leading research university but is also among the best research universities in the region. This is evident from SQU's position in international university rankings, such as the QS rankings, and the number of SQU-affiliated scientific publications appearing in Scopus- and Web of Science-indexed sources. Our nine colleges and 14 research centers engage in multidisciplinary studies in areas of strategic importance. SQU's research infrastructure will continue to develop and serve Oman's sustainable development goals. We have established a model of how universities across the country can ensure their research and development endeavors fully align with the country's needs.