Competition, Tough Standards, Bring New Vigor to Saudi Science
AAAS News and Notes
Edited by Edward W. Lempinen
Several years ago, Saudi Arabia’s leaders were confronted with a challenge: The kingdom had a well-established science sector and strengths in several areas, but while research publications were surging in some Middle Eastern nations, Saudi publication numbers were flat. Science competition was escalating, and they were falling behind.
To reverse the trend, the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology—KACST, the Saudi national science agency—committed to an ambitious research and education plan designed to make the kingdom a global research power by 2025. As one element in this effort, KACST asked the AAAS Research Competitiveness Program to help shape a grant competition based on international standards and tough, independent peer review.
Today, research funding has increased, and competition for grants is growing more intense. With the support of King Abdullah, Saudi Arabia is pressing ahead with extensive new science-related construction and projects. And the KACST-AAAS partnership is expanding into important new areas.
“From the start, we decided that… we should raise the bar quite high so that we get our researchers used to tough competition and strong evaluation,” said Turki bin Saud bin Mohammad Al Saud, KACST’s vice president for research institutes. “And we chose AAAS because of its experience in this—it is a leading science organization and it has done evaluations like this in the United States and other places. We think that this is the right organization to work with.”
The AAAS-KACST relationship reflects the kingdom’s broad science ambitions and growing international recognition of the venture. It has established partnerships with corporate giants, leading universities, and top scholars. It built the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, a state-of-the-art, coeducational research center, to serve as an engine of innovation.
AAAS President Nina V. Fedoroff, while serving as Science and Technology Adviser to the U.S. Secretary of State, delivered a keynote address at the university’s inauguration ceremonies in 2009. Today, the influential plant biologist is a distinguished professor there.
KACST was founded in 1977. In 2002, the kingdom’s Council of Ministers approved a national S&T policy, and in 2007 the science agency adopted its National Science, Technology, and Innovation Plan.