UAE research competition seeks to double number of participants

Abu Dhabi University has opened up the competition to universities, colleges and technical institutes throughout the UAE.

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ABU DHABI // Organisers of the second national undergraduate research competition hope to attract double the number of students this year to compete for Dh132,000 in prize money.

“Last year we had 120 participants from 12 institutions in the UAE,” said Dr Nabil Ibrahim, Abu Dhabi University chancellor.

“This year, we hope to double that number. Most of the entrants last year were from Dubai and Abu Dhabi and we hope to see that expand to the other emirates this year so it’s a truly a national competition.”

Three years ago, the university, Abu Dhabi’s largest private institution, ran the competition for its own students. The intent was to encourage greater interest and participation in research for undergraduates to help boost the culture of research in the country and spur the students to further their research beyond their undergraduate degree.

Khawla Haroon, a student organiser, said they were reaching out to colleges and technical institutes and making visits to the various institutions as well as using social media to encourage entries.

“Being innovative need not only be the universities, but can be the colleges, such as the Higher Colleges of Technology,” she said.

The final date for entries for the six categories is February 22, when students and teams must submit a 500-word thesis on their research, which can be in any discipline.

“Last year the most popular discipline was business, but this has the most students in the country,” Dr Ibrahim said. “From our university there was a large number of engineering entries, but not every university has engineering.”

The competition encourages students to think about Abu Dhabi’s Vision 2030 platform and the high-tech future of the emirate and the UAE as it diversifies its economy.

“We want them to think of things like renewable energy and the areas of micro-electronics and IT,” Dr Ibrahim said.

Fatima Abdul Kader, in her final year studying finance and also a student organiser, said they were trying to incentivise students to participate not only with the financial rewards, but also by giving them access to vital industry connections when they present their research.

“We’ll be bringing business and industry delegates so they are really reaching out to the right people,” she said. “We want this to be as big as possible as it makes it more competitive and challenging for the students.”

Ms Haroon, a final-year accountancy student, said Dubai was a crucial area to concentrate on with more than 130 institutions and Abu Dhabi with more than 50. Institutions that did not participate last year have already contacted the university.

“We’ve already had interest from BITS Pilani and Middlesex in Dubai and the American University of Sharjah, but have had a lot of interest so far from Dubai,” Ms Haroon said.

Dr Shereen Farouk, head of undergraduate research at ADU, said such competitions were “the best way to promote research, by involving the students, both in organising and participating”.

The interest has been seen across all disciplines she said, from English to health and science. The team is targeting 280 institutions.

Last year there were 68 submissions and 18 winners across the three sections: engineering, education and arts and social sciences.

Among the entries, about 30 to 40 per cent were from Emirati students, which Dr Farouk said was crucial to develop local capacity.

“At ADU, it’s already had a very positive impact among our students of all nationalities in terms of their interest in research,” she said. “When you involve them in the research and try to motivate them, they get excited. They just need someone to motivate and direct them.”