Bright ideas need time to flourish

A lack of assured funding threatens the future of the Dubai School of Government. Institutions which exist for the public good must have stable finances.

The first "think tank" may have been Britain's Royal United Services Institute, founded as far back as 1831, to foster new ideas in military and naval affairs.

But institutions of this type - intended to study, debate and affect public policy - have proliferated only since the Second World War. Now there are hundreds of them, perhaps thousands, around the globe. They vary widely in subject area, ideology, and quality. But the best ones all have one thing in common: stability, which brings the ability to recruit and retain top minds and to establish a niche for themselves. In most policy sectors think tanks compete with universities, which usually have endowment money or stable government subsidies, and sometimes with well-funded corporate research centres.

Being anchored in the financial bedrock of stable funding is vital not only for think tanks but also for institutions such as charitable foundations, museums and even mosques. Any such organisation without reliable revenue can encounter problems in both stature and personnel.

And that brings us to the Dubai School of Government (DSG), which is struggling with staff changes following funding setbacks.

Founded in 2005 under the patronage of Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, the DSG is "committed to the creation of knowledge, the dissemination of best practice and the training of policymakers in the Arab world". They are goals that requires time, patience and a long view.

The DSG did get off to a good start, and its scholars have given it a solid profile on the world stage. But any such institution needs time to put down roots and this year, as The National reports today, the DSG has hit a rough patch: all three deans and four other PhDs have left, as have two non-PhD programme directors.

The devastation is largely fallout from the 2008 financial crash. The DSG's budget has fallen by half since then, and operations - conferences, exchanges, publications - have declined accordingly.

This is all a great pity. As the UAE matures it will need institutions like the DSG to offer fresh ideas. In turn, these institutions will need financial stability. It is not too late for the DSG to be revived, but sure and sufficient funding will be the only route towards good results.

Published: August 28, 2011 04:00 AM