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Financial Times: Fostering liaisons with business

EXTRACT: Andy Brown, Shell’s country chairman in Qatar, says the research the company will undertake “is directly related to and responds to the needs of our business” in the country. In relation to the gas-to-liquids project he has been working on, he says: “It will be great to look at how to use the by-products of the process, and it’s valuable to have the opportunity to do this in Qatar.”

Shell will be working on a catalyst project that is fundamental to its business, says Mr Brown, and hopes to look a surface geology, where a lot of work needs to be done. Shell welcomes the training aspect of the park, “because it gives us a link to civil society”. 

THE ARTICLE

By Fiona Symon
Published: September 25 2006 03:00 | Last updated: September 25 2006 03:00

Qatar, awash with liquidity but parched of intellectual capital, is seeking to attract research by lavishing resources on a new science and technology park on the outskirts of Doha within Education City.

A weakness of the local education system, identified in a recent World Bank report, was a lack of liaison between educational institutions and the business community.

Qatar’s Science and Technology Park, which opens next year, aims to tackle this. Its aim is to support research into new technologies and offer financial and administrative assistance to start-up companies working on developing them. To this end, the park, which is also a free trade zone, has established two funds worth a total of $130m to invest in early and mid-stage technology companies. The Qatar Foundation will provide $50m and the rest will be raised by the fund managers, the UK’s Oxford Capital Partners, the Qatar National Bank and its subsidiary Ansbacher.

Built at a cost of about $300m, QSTP has already attracted an impressive line-up of companies which will carry out research and offer training. The companies, including Microsoft, Rolls-Royce, and several leading oil companies, have agreed to invest $225m over the first five years. While this investment could be seen as a kind of loyalty dividend to a country that has been important to their business, there seems to be a genuine excitement about prospects offered by the park.

Andy Brown, Shell’s country chairman in Qatar, says the research the company will undertake “is directly related to and responds to the needs of our business” in the country. In relation to the gas-to-liquids project he has been working on, he says: “It will be great to look at how to use the by-products of the process, and it’s valuable to have the opportunity to do this in Qatar.”

Shell will be working on a catalyst project that is fundamental to its business, says Mr Brown, and hopes to look a surface geology, where a lot of work needs to be done. Shell welcomes the training aspect of the park, “because it gives us a link to civil society”.

Total will carry out research in areas of common interest, says Yves Guenard, technical manager at the French oil company. He says it makes sense to carry out part of the company’s research work in Qatar “the part that relates to the industry here – it’s not blue sky research, but applied research in areas such as multiphase production, carbonate reservoir modelling, polymer production and air quality management”.

Total will also offer its in-house courses at cost to local industry to help develop personnel. Total Professeurs Associés – a non-profit organisation made up of current and retired total staff – will also offer training to local students, says Mr Guenard.

But where will the students and prospective entrepreneurs come from? Eulian Roberts, QSTP’s chief executive, makes clear that the facilities will be available to Qataris and non-Qataris alike. It would be cost-effective to get good quality local graduates into the companies that are established here, he says. “But we also have to face the fact that some of our companies will be undertaking technology development in very specific areas at a leading edge and it may not be possible to get those skill sets.”

Texas A&M’s engineering programmes operate at a high level, he says. If there were a long-term gap between the skills required by companies and those of the students coming out of local institutions, it would be important to work with both parties “to try to realign those, by taking a look at curriculum issues,” says Mr Roberts.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2006

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