Founder and President of Dubai-based Thumbay Group, Thumbay Moideen Says Healthcare-based Research and Education Is Where the Uae Can Realise Its Economic Potential

It May sound like a cliche, but there’s a single ingredient that can really go a long way to making or breaking a country: Innovation. It provides a huge economic boost, new jobs, social development and much-needed solutions to pressing health and environmental challenges.

The UAE has long recognised the importance of innovation and has been the regional pioneer of new thinking and new practices for many years. The focus on innovation remains paramount, as shown by the 2014 launch of the UAE’s National Innovation Strategy. Sectors such as tourism and healthcare have enjoyed significant growth in recent years thanks, at least in part, to innovation. But we can’t be complacent. Innovation is an on-going process.

As the UAE works to cement its status as a global leader, we have to keep looking for new opportunities that encourage a collective innovation mindset. If building a stronger future for the country and its economy is the goal, the answer is obvious: educating the leaders of tomorrow – today’s students.

Research and Innovation in Universities 

Industries such as healthcare have the potential to transform the economic status of the UAE. There are a number of innovative technologies that are currently being explored behind the scenes; if they are given the chance to be fully developed, tested and brought to market they could place the UAE at the forefront of healthcare technology.

One example is using artificial intelligence (AI) to analyse and mine data from masses of medical records, the healthcare system could be revolutionised. AI can rapidly scan vast quantities of data and identify patterns and anomalies that would take human analysts decades to unearth. This increased insight would improve the quality, efficacy and cost of healthcare, and facilitate efficient new practices, such as machine led patient assessment, screening and diagnosis. Such advancements could increase the speed and accuracy with which patients are seen and diagnosed, giving them greater control over their own health.

Now, if you’re thinking that AI-based technologies already exist, you’re absolutely right. But more finetuning, real-life testing and analysis need to be done. Universities provide the ideal setting for this type of research and development, and who better to take the lead in this process than the people who will use these technologies in the future – the students.

By offering students research-focused degree courses and practical innovation experience, seeking out ways to continuously improve the world will become second nature to them.

From Theory to Practice

The success of all research lies in the opportunity to replicate key findings in a real-life setting. The same is true for the innovation process. Universities can provide this opportunity. Business-university collaborations are an age-old tradition across the globe, and in the UAE there’s a very strong partnership between the leading universities and first-class teaching clinics and hospitals.

These partnerships provide the knowledge needed for the research and development process (trained medical professionals can share their expertise with students) and also allow the knowledge gained from research to be transferred back to healthcare providers and applied in real-life situations, ultimately benefitting the patients who need care. University research departments get to help healthcare providers deliver better care without having to sacrifice the time they should be spending with patients on doing the research themselves.

Setting World Standards

The value of investing heavily in university research has already been clearly demonstrated. Studying in an environment where innovative thinking and novel approaches are encouraged means more students go on to start businesses designed to solve key societal problems.

Not only can increase investment in research and innovation in universities boost the economy, it can also create a generation of students, graduates and workers that stand out on the world stage for their forward-thinking approach, dedication to solving problems and the creation of ground-breaking technologies that are unique to the UAE. And with technological advancement recognised as a key driver of medical tourism, this change will not only create global interest in the UAE, it will also bring physical interest to the region in the form of medical tourists, who want the type of healthcare they just can’t get anywhere else.

In fact, the impact of medical tourism on the economy can’t be stressed enough. Dubai alone attracted 260,000 medical tourists in the first half of 2015, a figure that’s forecast to rise to 500,000 by 2020 and is expected to bring around AED 2.57bn into the economy. And that’s just one emirate. With great transport links to the rest of the world, fantastic infrastructure, an unrivalled reputation for hospitality and highly skilled health professionals, the UAE has huge potential to leap to the top of the world medical tourism destination rankings.

Making Innovation a Way of Life

The National Innovation Strategy was created to do just that, and in doing so position the UAE as one of the most innovative nations in the world by 2021. A key step in this strategy is creating individuals with highly innovative skills – particularly in science, technology, engineering and maths – to make innovation and entrepreneurship a natural part of the UAE way of life. And we’re making great progress.

More widely accessible initiatives like UAE Innovation Week are also putting innovation in the spotlight and helping to encourage a widespread culture of innovation in the country. Then there’s the Emirates Science, Technology and Innovation Higher Policy, which includes 100 national initiatives covering fields, such as space research, robotics and pharmaceuticals. With more than AED 300bn reportedly being invested into this project, it’s clear that making innovation a way of life is important for creating an economy centred on science, knowledge and technology.

At the centre of all of these sit universities – prime sites for the innovation and research needed to bring that National Innovation Strategy vision to life and make the UAE a primary destination for businesses and talented people.

Not only can immersing students in an innovation-focused environment improve the quality of the nation’s services, but it will broaden their horizons, and help them dream big and create new companies and solutions. This increase in the country’s output – through more companies, new ideas and new technologies – can be achieved with the same input of talent. By focusing on innovation in higher education, there’s no need only to rely on enticing skilled workers to the UAE to maintain standards; we can maximise the potential of home-grown talent as well.

Moving Forward

By emphasising innovation and research training in workforces, schools and universities, the UAE is generating both a world-class labour market and educational system. These don’t just benefit the economy, they also help to attract top talent to the country.

So where does the UAE go from here? There are two parts to that answer: firstly, further investing in research and development in universities; secondly, research-based collaborations between universities and businesses can become even more commonplace.

The UAE is already a global force to be reckoned with. Now is the time to build on that progress.


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