Policy Advice to Improve Innovation Excellence in Saudi Arabia

More specific recommendations can be made for the policy-making process in Saudi Arabia to strive for innovation excellence based on the combined effect of its natural and human capital. For example, King Abdulaziz University (KAU) has already established an investment arm by Royal Decree known as the 'Wadi Jeddah' Closed Joint Stock Company. As one of Saudi Arabia's first experiments of its kind, the funds are planned to have a business model based on knowledge transfer, R&D, and profit. For the effective use of the fund, this subsidiary may be mobilized to provide seed capital to start-ups for promoting entrepreneurship in a scheme that is similar to the multi-phased programs as overviewed in this chapter, i.e., SBIR Program, TÜB˙ITAK 1512, and PRISM. Such a fund, or other such funds, may also be transformed into a venture capital fund to support innovative ideas with the potential to create high value-added products. Based on the best practices of the Torch Center, SPRING SEEDS, the Mexico Venture Program, and TÜB˙ITAK 1514, it is envisioned that Saudi Arabia can establish a special scheme to stimulate the country's venture capital environment. In addition, and from another aspect, KAU can establish a certification program to promote university students' entrepreneurial activities. All three of these recommendations need to be planned in concurrence so that they may reinforce the needs of entrepreneurs and the country's entrepreneurship ecosystem.

Regarding a university ranking capable of reflecting the needs of emerging economies, the unique Turkish experience in establishing the 'Entrepreneurial and Innovative University Index' may be taken as a best practice for a similar index that meets Saudi universities' needs. For example, the 'Academic Ranking of World Universities 2014' [45] uses six indicators to rank universities. These indicators include the number of alumni and staff winning Nobel Prizes and Fields Medals, the number of highly cited researchers selected by Thomson Reuters, the number of articles published in the journals “Nature” and “Science”, the number of articles indexed in the Science Citation Index—Expanded and Social Sciences Citation Index, and the per capita performance of a university. Among these, Nobel Prizes and Fields Medals may only be applicable to elite universities and may not be highly relevant for emerging economies. These particular indicators are not suited to promote a positive atmosphere of competition in universities to stimulate entrepreneurial activities. Despite the fact that KAU and three other Saudi universities are already included in the rankings, it would be advisable that a separate index is established based on the Turkish experience with customized indicators.

The ranking of universities may further be integrated with best practices to stimulate research quality based on ranking performance. For example, those universities that rank higher in the index may receive incentives in performance-based funding schemes similar to those in the UK. A similar scheme may also be implemented for researchers so that higher performing researchers can receive financial awards in addition to the project grant. At the same time, in addition to incentives for mature researchers, activities to foster and complement STEM education in youth can be initiated at an early age, for example by means of science fairs and festivals. Best practices in this respect may be taken from the EU Contest for Young Scientists, the USA Science & Engineering Festival, and the Science Fairs Support Program in Turkey.

Furthermore, King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST) is renowned for launching major projects, such as the Saudisat-4 Satellite and the decoding of the Arabian Camel Genome. The current position of KACST could be used to establish a support program for 'mega projects' that would give direction to major R&D and innovation activities geared toward the country's priorities and/or the strategy technology sectors of KACST. In the mega projects, the topics could be determined in mission-oriented approaches and the collaboration of leading R&D actors in the country could be promoted with financial incentives within the project budget. More specifically, the research institutes and strategic technology sectors (i.e., water technology, oil and gas technology, energy technology, petrochemicals, advanced materials, nanotechnology, and building and construction technology) could each have at least one major project that could be dedicated to improving innovation excellence in the country based on the generation of new products and technologies. Best practices may be taken from the National Mega Projects in China, the South Korean initiatives, and the TÜB˙ITAK 1007 program. In this man-

ner, Saudi Arabia and other countries can take strides in coupling assets of both natural and human capital in the ascent toward furthering “excellence in innovation.”

 
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