RESOURCE-CENTRIC

Saudi Arabia 2015 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to HE Dr. Khaled S. Al-Sultan, Rector of King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals (KFUPM), on the challenge of human resources, R&D partnerships, and the creation of SMEs.

HE Dr. Khaled S. Al-Sultan
BIOGRAPHY
HE Dr. Khaled S. Al-Sultan is Rector of King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals (KFUPM).

What are the main ways that KFUPM is contributing toward the sustainable diversification of Saudi Arabia's economy?

The establishment of Dhahran Techno-Valley (DTV) at KFUPM in 2006 compounded with the government's aims—as reported in the Saudi development plans (eight & ninth)—to move into a more diversified economy. During last nine years, DTV Science Park has gradually turned into a nucleus for an integrated innovation ecosystem. The DTV Science Park (Phase I) became the presence and focus for large number of R&D centers for MNEs and national organizations, as well as a success story in attracting R&D-related FDI to the Kingdom. The advancement of the DTV Science Park with progressive velocity is timely and comes at a point where the Saudi government has climaxed its efforts and push for economy diversification. The supply and value chains for the energy and water technologies captured through the DTV ecosystem are expected to be innovation drivers for Saudi technology-based businesses either on the developmental side, for example in water and energy consumption, power generation and environment protection, or the economic side, such as chemical and petrochemical industries.

What investments does the university have to expand and grow in new strategic areas?

Currently, we are focusing our efforts on three major strategic areas: 1) enhancing the value chain of DTV Science Park through Phase II to capture broader fields of the petroleum downstream, the renewable and the water technologies, 2) strengthening the effectiveness of DTV ecosystem so that it can encompass in the future a complete R&D-based techno-economic cycle, and 3) enhancing the efforts to develop the readiness of the KSA technical/engineering workforce for facing the increasing challenges of oil and gas production global demands.

How KFUPM is working to increase its support of entrepreneurs or further integrate entrepreneurial skills into its curriculum?

The growth and prosperity of modern economies are increasingly becoming highly dependent on entrepreneurial activities. The entrepreneurs provide in the diversified economies source of income and employment for themselves, and others and drive more economic value chain activities. It takes cultures and educational systems that engage the students in thinking about their future opportunities, testing their ideas, and setting up businesses as part of the curriculum. Students who receive entrepreneurship education are not only more likely to be employed, but also more likely to start their own companies. With that in mind, KFUPM has started many initiatives that will spread the entrepreneurship culture at its campus which hopefully prepare KFUPM graduates to be entrepreneurs. One of the major initiatives is the establishment of its Entrepreneurship Institute (EI) that supports the development of its innovation-entrepreneurship ecosystem and to actively contribute in the transition to a knowledge-based economy in the Kingdom. The EI continuously provides many training programs in the form of courses, workshops and competitions for KFUPM students and additionally it works on launching a minor degree in entrepreneurship.

KFUPM is one of six members of the recently established Saudi Arabia Advanced Research Alliance (SARRA). How is KFUPM working to not only drive innovation within the Kingdom, but also commercialize innovation to contribute toward the Kingdom's economy?

Saudi Arabia has many of the necessary elements for a potential innovation ecosystem. This includes stakeholders from academia, research and industry, which perform R&D activities and target that such activities will result in products that help in expanding the technology sector of the Saudi Economy. These research performing organizations face similar challenges when it comes to advancing individual technologies to the demonstration and deployment points. From another angle, the DTV can be considered as an ideal platform for commercializing innovation at the Kingdom level. This platform includes the major elements necessary for innovation commercialization: 1) the innovation push reflected by the large number of KFUPM research-based patents and the collaborative R&D activities of the DTV Science Park, 2) the market pull and the global innovation trends represented by the presence of R&D centers of global innovation corporations at DTV Science Park, 3) an infrastructure for supporting the planning and incubation for technology-based businesses through the technology incubator and the facility for 3D printing and prototyping, which are available now in the Innovation Cluster in DTV, and 4) the financial venture investments of Dhahran Techno-Valley Company (DTVC).

How would you rate the current progress of Saudi Arabia's transition toward a knowledge-based economy?

The Saudi economy remains largely oil-based. It retains about 16% of the world's proven petroleum reserves and ranks as the largest exporter of petroleum. The petroleum sector accounts for almost 80% of budget revenues, 45% of GDP, and 90% of export earnings. However, the government strongly supports the growth of the private sector in order to diversify the economy and to employ more Saudi nationals. The government invested enormously between 2010 and 2015 on social development and infrastructure projects to advance Saudi Arabia's economic development.