Prince Sattam Bin Abdulaziz UniversityResearch strategies for societal impact

Research strategies for societal impact

In an increasingly competitive Saudi Arabian research sector, Prince Sattam bin Abdulaziz University is leveraging partnerships with industry and government and creating an institutional culture that prizes excellence and impact

With the Saudi Arabian research community increasingly focused on societal impact, universities are tailoring their strategies accordingly to retain a competitive edge. Prince Sattam bin Abdulaziz University (PSAU) is no different. To realise its ambitions as a leading research institution, nationally and internationally, it has undertaken a substantial strategic reform, offering mentorship and support schemes, and fostering a culture that prioritises publishing in high-ranking journals. But most importantly, it is an institution looking outwards to the community it serves and to global issues for direction. 

Ahmed Alshehri, dean of scientific research at the university, says PSAU’s research activities are geared to generate patents and to foster close links with industry and government. It promotes sustained research leadership, asking researchers to take ownership of their projects, and to find partners that can help accelerate real-world applications for their work ­– all with the aim of enhancing impact.

“We publish a lot, but we invest and we stress more the transfer of our theoretical research to industrial application,” Alshehri says. “When we fund projects, we ask them to have a consultant. We’ll say, ‘Your idea is brilliant, but let’s add one consultant from outside, one who can give you more ideas for your valuable research.’”

Having industry partners onboard helps maintain PSAU’s research focus. But Saudi Arabia’s research community does not lack for clear goals, with both the Vision 2030 strategic framework and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals steering researchers towards societal problems. 

“Our research is built on three pillars,” Alshehri says. “One is the United Nations’ SDGs; one is the Saudi Vision 2030; and the third is the opportunities we have around the university. That is how we create our research goals and priorities for the university. We work with our communities. We work with the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Health, Defence, Technology, to engage our researchers with their goals.” 

Alshehri acknowledges the challenges of creating impact-oriented research. Headline social issues such as climate change, clean energy, food security and artificial intelligence all demand multidisciplinary insights. At PSAU, different academic perspectives are brought to bear on any one topic. For example, researchers in health and education will work with computer scientists to drive impact. 

PSAU’s research ambitions extend beyond Saudi Arabia’s borders. The institution is internationally competitive in pharmaceutics, and Alshehri believes it has created an infrastructure and strategy that allows it to tackle global issues. “I believe that our programmes enable us to go abroad, to go beyond Saudi Arabia and spread the results of our supported research,” he says. “And we can see the impact globally.” 

Alshehri believes this is a good time to be a researcher in Saudi Arabia. He says the government recognises that research is the key to progress. “We are designing the future,” he says. “We realise the importance of research. If you want to succeed in the economy and in other issues, you have to support research.” 

Find out more about Prince Sattam bin Abdulaziz University.

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