International Workshop on Mathematics Held News Round Up Sri Lanka : the ‘Pearl’ in the Central Asian Bird Migratory Flyway Mind Over Matter Symposium Addresses Environmental Issues News Update Possible Risks of Medical Tourism Department of Public Relations and Information Sultan Qaboos University Issue 235 View Point Flying Colours It is known to everybody that two Omani teams had participated in Microsoft Imagine Cup USA 2011 worldwide competition. The team “Brothers Forever” was the only team from the Arab World in the category of Digital Media to have reached the finals and won second place in the Digital Media category of the Imagine Cup USA 2011. Humaid Abdullah Al Adwani Editorial Supervision & Editor in Chief M.K. Santhosh Senior Editor Ahlam Al Wahaibi Design & Layout Rashad Al Wahaibi & Photography Dept., CET Photography The ‘Brothers Forever’ team was from SQU and its team members were Osama Al Adawi and Salim Al Harbi, with Malik Al Kindi as Team Mentor. Competitors in the Digital Media category were asked to create Web videos to share their points of view and generate awareness of critical global issues. The ‘Brothers Forever’ project team video, entitled ‘Clorofilter for a Green Life’, tells the story about a man from the future, who shows us a better future with a great invention that can help reduce pollution by filtering smoke and toxins from the air. Thanks to the achievement; SQU is an integral part of Imagine Cup competitions in Oman and the region and this is the reason why the Imagine Cup 2012 regional level competitions were officially kicked off at a function held in SQU last week. We repeat that SQU is happy and proud of the sultanate’s achievement represented by a team which consisted of its students. This win did not come out of thin air, but from the great efforts made by the team at various stages of the competition, until they reached the winning stage. The achievements of our students in the 2011 competition proves that they have the creativity and potential to qualify for international competitions and elevate the name of the Sultanate in international forums. Microsoft Imagine Cup is a very tough competition that hosts the brightest and most innovative minds from all over the world and our achievement last year was a testament of the talent and potential that exists in SQU, Oman and the region. The success of the Omani team showcases how creativity, technology, and successful partnerships can combine to produce amazing results. It is with increased energy and enthusiasm that SQU is looking at the Imagine Cup competitions at regional and global levels. We hope there would be more winners from the university this time who are destined to bring glory to their institutions and the Sultanate at large. Best of luck to all participants! Horizon invites contributions from SQU members of staff and faculty. Contributions in the form of articles, news, travelogues, stories of unique and interesting experiences, encounters, etc., are welcome. Contributions may be edited for the sake of clarity and length. Please send your contributions to [email protected] preferably, as MSWord attachments. Authors will be suitably credited. Horizon is published three times a month by the Department of Public Relations and Information, Sultan Qaboos University, P.O. Box 50, P.C. 123, Muscat, Sultanate of Oman. Phone: +968 24141045 E-mail: [email protected] 29 February 2012 P2 Fax: +968 24413 391 Website: www.squ.edu.om Symposium Addresses Environmental Issues The opening ceremony of the Symposium on “Environmental Problems in the Arab World: Meeting Challenges of Sustainable Development” organized by the Department of Geography in the College of Arts & Social Sciences, and the Centre for Environmental Studies & Research (CESAR) at SQU, was held under the patronage of HE Mohammed bin Salem al Tobi, Minister of Environment & Climate Affairs. The symposium addressed several issues related to the actual environmental situation in the Arab World as well as the economic, social and environmental changes it is witnessing, in an attempt to monitor various aspects of deterioration caused to the ecosystems and to identify the local and foreign elements which contribute to this deterioration at the human and natural levels. The event was supported by the Research Council Oman (TRC) and the Association of Arab Universities. Dr. Salim Al Hatrushi, Chairman of the symposium said that the event was the best forum to draw appropriate comparisons about the prevalent environmental challenges and to explore the initiatives taken by Arab countries to address them. “It also encompasses an attempt to examine the interaction of local communities –urban, rural and nomadic-with these initiatives”. Prof. Mustafa Idris Elbasir, Assistant Secretary General of the Association of Arab Universities gave a talk on behalf of the Association. He said that the Arab World is facing a lot of environmental problems like elsewhere in the world. Lack of drinking water, air and sea pollution, global warming, and irregular population distribution, etc. are some of them. He called for urgent remedial measures to address these problems and hoped that the symposium would come up with solutions to a wide range of problems that the region is facing. In the opening ceremony, Prof. Ruud Schotting, who holds the Sultan Qaboos Chair for Water Management in Utrecht University, delivered a presentation on “How natural processes can assist in solving environmental problems”. He explained how algae and bacteria could be utilized clean up oil spills in seawater and oil field produced contaminated water. News Update GESU Group at SQU HH Sayyida Dr. Mona bint Fahad Al Said, Assistant Vice Chancellor for External Cooperation, Sultan Qaboos University, recently received the Gulf Encyclopedia for Sustainable Urbanism (GESU) research group at the university. The team was headed by Prof. Nader Ardalan of Harvard Graduate School of Design. Their research study will focus on sustainable urbanism in the Gulf region and the project will result in the creation and circulation of an encyclopedia called the “Gulf Encyclopedia for Sustainable Urbanism,” which will make the research findings widely accessible. Prof. Nader Ardalan said that the researchers are studying 10 cities including Muscat in the 8 countries in the Persian Gulf. “The GESU project is expected to be completed in three phases and will draw on the region’s environment -both land and sea, its urbanism and architecture, and its society, culture and economics”. At SQU, the researchers exhibited the materials about Muscat city which they gathered during the first phase of the project and discussed it. The next phase of the research will involve the contemporary historic perspective, drawing relations among growth, planning, architectural, urban design, economic and socio-cultural studies. The project will generate ideas about development for the future that are friendly to the environment. HH Sayyida Dr. Mona Al Said said that SQU is looking forward to play a key role during the second phase, proceeding from a facilitator role in the first phase. She promised all support from SQU in providing further information on the geography, topography and marine ecosystems of Muscat to the GESU team with the help of researchers in the university. The GESU study is meant to solve the lack of written resources on the subject. The similarities, differences, and interconnections among the eight countries that border the Gulf – Qatar, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Iran and Iraq – have not been previously studied. The initial research is seen as important for the region’s coastal strips, as despite differences in environmental and socio-economic conditions, the countries share the coastal zone of the Gulf, and have a direct impact on each other. The project is funded by Qatar Foundation. Advanced General Medicine Conference Held The opening ceremony of the Second Advanced Medicine Conference, held jointly by SQU, the Royal College of Physicians-London, and the Ministry of Health, was held at SQU under the patronage of HE Dr. Ali bin Talib al Hinai, Undersecretary for Planning & Training at the Ministry of Health. Sir Richard Thompson, President of the Royal College of Physicians (London) attended the conference. In his opening remarks on the occasion, Prof. Nicolas Woodhouse of the College of Medicine & Health Sciences at SQU said that the link between the Royal College of Physicians and SQU would benefit in terms of exchange of knowledge, educating the medical and technical staff, and flow of medical students for internship to the UK institutions, and postgraduate training for doctors. He said that this association would also help the medical researchers at SQU to further advance their work and benefit from the collaborative efforts. Delivering the welcome address, HE Dr. Ali bin Saud al Bimani, Vice Chancellor of SQU said that the conference is attended by top medical professionals from Oman and around the world and promises to further the reputation of the College of Medicine & Health Sciences for excellence in undertaking and promoting advanced medical research. Sir Richard Thompson said that the Royal College of Physicians is pleased with its links with the Sultanate of Oman. “We are looking forward to more trained doctors from Oman to come to our institution for advanced training and we also would like to learn from the experiences of Oman in the field of Medicine.” Sir Thompson said that his institute would be relentless in its pursuit of improvements in healthcare and the health of the population. He observed that smoking and alcoholism are creating a lot of health problems in societies worldwide. “Contagious diseases like malaria and dengue fever and still common among populations. Diseases like diabetes is another concern. Air pollution from traffic and industry is causing a lot of respiratory problems”, he added. 29 February 2012 P3 Insight Prof. Lamk Al Lamki Taking into consideration the negative aspects of medical tourism worldwide, experts in Oman have stressed the need for comprehensive studies on the growing tendency among the people to go abroad for medical treatment. Prof. Lamk Al Lamki, Chief Editor of Sultan Qaboos University Medical Journal (SQUMJ), says that the quality and safety of medical treatment abroad has to be studied and questioned and it should be under the scrutiny of the medical profession and the Ministry of Health in Oman. Many Omani patients are sent abroad as “outsourced patients”. They are sent abroad by the government, when the necessary treatment or the specialist is not available locally. Sometimes locally available treatment is not trusted by the patients. “Unless we have good grip on the quality of the care that our patients are receiving abroad, their safety may be at risk. We need more statistics, better studies and better reporting systems. The question of who will look after these patients when they return, has not been answered, but must be tackled”, he says. In the editorial of SQUMJ issue dated November 2011, Prof. Lamk points out that there is a major lack of systematic data about health services provided abroad, not only for Omanis, but also for citizens of many other countries. “More organised studies are needed and specifically outcome studies. Research into the delivery of health care has not yet adequately evaluated the case of medical tourism. The issue of lack of data must be taken very seriously. Medical tourism has some benefits, but there are more problems with it and, as physicians, we have to keep in mind our basic principles of beneficence and non-maleficence”. Prof. Lamk says that there are many problems associated with medical tourism which include poor or no follow-up care. “After being in hospital for a short while and having a vacation, the patient comes home with, perhaps, complications of the surgery or side effects of the drugs. It is a surgical principal that every surgeon looks after his own complications and obviously that does not apply for most if not all patients who have been treated abroad. Many countries have very weak malpractice laws and thus patients have limited ability to complain about poor medical care”. Another risk is that patients may not tolerate travel very well, or may not have inherent resistance to some of the diseases in the host countries. Prof. Lamk therefore underscores the need to have better scientific studies on the impact of medical tourism on the health care services of the source and destination countries as well as on the patients themselves. “We need more statistics on the rate of complications”. He observes that many medical tourists are satisfied, but satisfaction does not always parallel good outcome. “Often satisfaction can simply be a result of good service. The “outsourced patients,” or those who are sent by the government, are often dissatisfied with the total experience compared to the true self-financed medical tourists. That is why an institution has to be accredited for good medical care with a good quality assurance programme rather than just good service”. Prof. Lamk further clarifies that patients going abroad need to get good advice. According to the World Tourism Organization’s Global Code of Ethics 29 February 2012 P4 Possible Risks of Medical Tourism for Medical Tourism, medical tourists should have the same rights as citizens of destination countries. Unfortunately, that is not always the case and that is another potential source of problems. According to Prof. Lamk, a further potential significant problem with medical tourism is that sometimes it impacts the source country’s health care system. A source country may become complacent by being able to send its citizens abroad for certain procedures and thus fail to develop the appropriate national services. He cites the development of positron emission tomography (PET) in Oman as an example of this. “This has been delayed for years now as patients are simply sent abroad for PET imaging. Sending patients abroad is not only costly to the government, but it also dilutes the political support and the will to develop certain essential national services. This situation often helps create a 2-tier system in the destination country whereby the local population receives secondclass treatment while medical tourist gets much better treatment in the more sophisticated, well-equipped, state-of-the-art hospitals”. One of the major concerns related to medical tourism is the ethical aspects of treatment. These are to be examined and the risks discussed with the patient, but, on the other hand, it is important that patients have their own autonomy in decision-making. Beneficence and non-maleficence are the basis of medical ethics. Prof. Lamk calls attention to the fact that it is the responsibility of the physicians to promote patients’ welfare, treat them with justice and improve their health while avoiding harming them. These ethical principles are not easily upheld in the delicate balance of commerce versus medical ethics. Another ethical consideration is that each country may have a different standard of medical ethics. For example, what is considered experimental therapy in one country, like stem cell therapy, is routinely used in the private institutions providing care for medical tourists in other countries. Likewise, the medical ethics related to organ transplantation differ from country to country. While most countries do not allow the involvement of money in organ donation, it is a common practice in some countries; donors can even be a living non-relative which is not acceptable in most countries and in medical ethics. Mind Over Matter Sri Lanka : the ‘Pearl’ in the Central Asian Bird Migratory Flyway By: Prof. Sarath Wimalabandara Kotagama their return journey and by mid April many have left the country. A few stragglers do remain through the year. It is believed that these birds have not matured and as such have not travelled back to breed. The routes of entry from these observations though not confirmed have been broadly recognized. The birds from the Northern land mass basically travel down to Sri Lanka along the East and Western Coastlines of India to reach the tip of India. They cross over to Sri Lanka mainly from Point Calimere, Coumorin Point or along the Adam’s bridge. Some are known to fly across the Palk strait over the sea. Entering the country they disperse either along the coast line or enter the country along river systems or remaining forest clusters. Sri Lanka, situated at the tip of the Indian subcontinent was referred to as the ‘pearl’ of the Indian Ocean. Historically the sea on the north western sector south of the Mannar Island was a major pearl fishing bed. The pearls fished from the waters were known to be the finest in the world and sought after by the royalties across the world. The pearls are no more today, but the country remain to provide its shores and sea around as a “pearl” for the Central Asian migratory birds. In the absence of any significant terrestrial land mass beyond to the south makes Sri Lanka a unique place for the migratory birds. Birds moving south due to the harsh winters of the north ends their journey in Sri Lanka. Of the 494 recorded birds in the country today, 113 are regular migrants, 93 are considered as vagrants, 55 species the status is uncertain/ unknown, while 11 species have both migrant and resident populations. The regular migrants constitute mostly waders, ducks and birds of prey. Among the most belong to the Plovers and Sandpiper group. The waders travel down from both East and West of the Indian subcontinent. Available literature indicate that many of such wide spread population show distinct sub specific differences. Eg. Tringa totanus - Common Redshank, Limosa lapponica – Bar-tailed Godwit, Numenius arquata – Curlew, to name a few. Flying down to the winter feeding grounds in Sri Lanka brings the different subspecies together. When they depart back to the breeding grounds , do they part in the same way? These questions remain important and require future studies. The other main group that come to Sri Lanka is the ducks (Family Anatidae; 06 are migrants, 06 are vagrants and 05 status is unknown). In this group only two members breed out of 18 that have been recorded in the country. In the Falconidae or “birds of prey” 35 have been recorded in the country only 14 breed, the rest come from outside . Among the forest birds the migrant numbers are extremely low. Studies on migrants have been restricted primary to bird records made by dedicated birdwatchers through the years. These observations have been able to provide some information on the times of migration and routes that they come and go from Sri Lanka. Migrants arrive by the end of August and leave by March of the following year. Most birds have completed the inward journey in October. The ducks come down mostly in November. The months of December through to Early March is the best months for observing migrant birds in Sri Lanka. By the end of march the commence Confirmation of these routes and their roles in the country require intense studies primarily through ringing programmes. Sri Lanka commenced this effort officially in 1977 and in 2000 a National Bird Ringing Programme was established. The ringing programme coordinated by the Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka with the permission and active participation of the Department of Wildlife Conservation has provided some key information about the birds. Bird ringing in 1982 at Sinharaja World Heritage Reserve and Bundala National Park for water birds confirmed the concept of Site Tenacity for forest and water birds. Three birds returned back to the same locality , while the ringing at Bundala has confirmed the same for waders. The study has also shed light on the confirmation of migrant populations coming from the East and West of the Asian Continent. The preliminary analysis of the Common Redshanks indicate this. Ringing also resulted in the confirmation of two species for Sri Lanka, the Wryneck and the White-cheeked Tern. The forest bird migrants are mostly seen in the cool climes of the hill country forests and home gardens. The available forest are thus important stronghold for their survival. Similarly there is a large portion of predators among the migrants their needs and conservation has not researched yet. Analysis of the large number of vagrants indicate very significant interesting trends. Are we seen the impacts of global climate change in the moving avifauna in the region is one of them. This year (2011) we saw over 16 Sooty Tern juveniles driven by storms out at sea succumb on land. Among them were a few adults and some with rings. One of them had been ringed 22 yrs ago in the Aride Is, Seychelles by Dr Chris Fear. In the light of reducing natural habitats competitive adjustments for feeding, habitat occupancy etc have yet to be studied in detail. The conservation challenges the migrants face are immense. Sri Lanka is a significant location in the Central Asian Migratory Fly way, yet the studies and focus to inquire has not been adequate. (The author is an Ornithologist-Wildlife Ecologist currently working as Professor of Environment Science in the Department of Zoology at the University of Colombo, Sri Lanka. This article is based on a working paper that he presented at the International Conference on “Oman as a Gravitational Center in the Global Flyway Network of Migratory Shorebirds” organized by SQU.) 29 February 2012 P5 News Round Up International Workshop on Mathematics Held Student Counselling Centre Holds Open House The Open House organised by the Student Counselling Centre at SQU gave an opportunity for the university community and people from outside to have a look around in order to gain information on the Centre and its activities. The first ever open house organized by the centre lasted for three days from 19 February. Sultan Qaboos University and GUtech jointly hosted the First International Mathematics Workshop which discussed the latest developments in number theory and applied mathematics and special contributions of students and e-learning. Commenting on the importance of the event, Dr. Bernhard Heim of GUtech, who was the Chairman of the Organizing Committee of the workshop, said that number theory is one of the most important areas of modern science in mathematics. “In the workshop, international experts in number theory and recognized researchers specialized in other fields of mathematics presented their latest findings with respect to applications in modern computer science, biology, traffic optimization and statistics”, he said. Dr. Mehiddin al Baali of SQU said that the event facilitated a close exchange between scientists and students of Germany, Oman and Japan for developing and shaping their academic career. “The workshop gave students and researchers in Oman the unique opportunity to attend high quality scientific talks in their home country”, he added. The workshop was held from 18 to 22 of February. The activities of the first three days were held in GUtech and for the remaining two days, the sessions were held in SQU College of Science. Around 40 mathematicians from Lebanon, Japan, Germany, France, India, Oman and other countries participated in the workshop. The Student Counselling Centre at SQU was opened in 1999. It provides a comprehensive program of support services to assist the students in their adjustment to the demands of university environment. Its goal is to help students grown in self understanding and awareness so that they are able to better meet the demands of the college life and enjoy the university experience. At the beginning of each academic year, during the student orientation week for new students, the centre offers a general lecture for the ne cohort for identifying the centre and the services offered. Dr. Muna al Bahrani, Director of the Student Counselling Centre said that the Open House is held with a view to publicise the activities of the centre among the university community consisting of students, academics and other employees. “The centre provides individual and group counselling to the students to better equip them with the university environment, organises regular lectures on personality development and leadership skills, holds training workshops and provides consultation to staff members. The idea is effective integration between the centre and the beneficiaries”, she said. Badr al Amri, Director of Administration of the Centre said that consultation services of the centre extends to organizations outside the university such as private companies, schools and academic institutions, and government organizations. “This open house is a milestone in the journey of the Centre to be a distinct centre offering counselling services and applied researchers at the regional level”, he said. The Centre also offers mobile phone counselling for students. To avail this service students could dial 2414 1826. SQU Hosts Commencement of Imagine Cup 2012 place in the world level competition in 2012. SQU team, Brothers for Ever, representing Oman had won the second place in software design category. Abdul Aseez al Kharusi, General Manager for Outreach and Media at ITA, in his speech, said that ITA was successful in its efforts to enhance awareness among university student community in Oman about international competitions like Imagine Cup. Saif Hilal al Hosni, Business Development Manager, Microsoft Oman, said the he was proud of the level of creativity and innovation of the Omani students who won the second place in Imagine Cup 2011. “We hope more victories for Omani student in the future”, he added. SQU celebrated the commencement of 10th session of Imagine Cup 2012 competition for students, organised by Microsoft, under the patronage of HE Dr. Ali bin Saud al Bimani, the Vice Chancellor. Microsoft Oman, Information Technology Authority (ITA), and SQU are the co- organisers of the event, which is sponsored by Omantel. Welcoming the gathering on the occasion, Humaid al Adwani, Acting Director of the Department of Public Relations and Information at SQU said that the university was proud to have won second 29 February 2012 P6 The competition provides the students with an active platform which empowers them to unleash their capabilities and passion for technical innovations. Imagine Cup is also considered to be the world’s most important student competition. It is an initiative taken by Microsoft to stimulate students’ imagination and abilities and turn them into technical solutions capable of making a clear and positive difference in addressing the challenges facing today’s world. Imagine Cup is a significant supplement to Innovation Accelerator programme hosted by Microsoft to increase social and economic opportunities through programmes and software that contribute to advance learning levels and stimulate innovations for local communities as it provides more opportunities all over the world. A Sun that never sets Twenty ﬁve years of commitment Straight Talk Horizon: Could you explain the purpose of your visit to Oman and SQU? Prof. Cheryl Merle de la Rey Prof. Cheryl: The primary aim of my visit to SQU is to build on the existing collaboration between the UP and SQU and to make sure that the collaboration extends to more colleges at SQU which is currently limited to the College of Agricultural & Marine Sciences. We would like to have broader collaboration of mutual benefits to both UP and SQU. Horizon: UP? Prof. Cheryl Merle de la Rey is the Vice Chancellor and Principal of the University of Pretoria (UP) in South Africa. She is a qualified psychologist and was previously a Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cape Town as well as Chief Executive Officer of the Council on Higher Education. Prof. Cheryl Merle de la Rey recently headed the University of Pretoria’s delegation to Sultan Qaboos University (SQU) with a view to strengthen the existing ties between the two universities. Excerpts from her conversation with Horizon: Could you briefly comment on the teaching and research profiles of Prof. Cheryl: UP is over 100 years old. It started as a research-intensive university. The university is organised into nine faculties and a business school. UP is currently listed among the top universities in Africa according to various ranking systems. Traditionally we have collaboration mostly with the European and North American universities. However, we would like to become establish ties with other regions of the world. Historically, South Africa has many years of collaborations with Oman. Horizon: East? Does UP have any collaboration with universities in the Middle Yes, we do. We have collaboration with some universities in this region in Engineering, Health Sciences and related areas. In terms of collaboration with SQU, we are currently focussing on Plant Sciences and Animal Sciences. During my visit to SQU, I visited the College of Education and I hope to initiate some new areas of collaboration with this college. Prof. Cheryl: Horizon: Do you think that both UP and SQU have many things in common so as to further activate collaboration? Prof. Cheryl: Yes, indeed! During my meeting with the Vice Chancellor of SQU, I realised that his objectives for SQU are almost identical with my objectives for UP. Both universities are stressing internationalization and improving international ranking of the respective institutions. We also have commonness in the sense that both universities are growing rapidly. UP is the largest fulltime contact university in South Africa and we continue to grow. Both SQU and UP make sure that the institutions are growing and improving quality of their academic programs at the same time. Horizon: output? Is UP the number one university in South Africa in terms of research Prof. Cheryl: We produce the highest number of research publications each year. In certain areas like Plant and Animal Sciences, we are one of the top performing universities in the world today. Our Faculty of Veterinary Science is the second oldest veterinary school in Africa and the only veterinary school in South Africa. Also, there are other areas in which we are really strong. We have the largest Engineering School in the country which has currently enrolled more than 3000 students in the Engineering programs. Horizon: Could you summarise the outcomes of your meetings with SQU Vice Chancellor, the Deputy Vice Chancellors and Deans of the colleges? Prof. Cheryl: In terms of collaboration, what is more important is the mutual commitment to make sure that there is a real follow up for the discussions . What we would like to see is joint research programs and exchange of students between our institutions. To support this, I had a meeting with the authorities of the Research Council of Oman (TRC) who promised all support including financial assistance to proceed with joint researches in certain strategic areas. As countries, both Oman and South Africa have priority areas and strategic projects. Cultivation and conservation of healthy trees are important for South Africa. For Oman, conservation of date palms is an important concern. In fact, UP has expertise in this we area and we hope to bring together plant scientists who could work together to mitigate diseases affecting date palms in Oman. Horizon: What is going to be the next step in furthering collaboration between the two universities? Prof. Cheryl: The very next step from my side would be an official invitation to SQU Vice Chancellor to visit UP during this calendar year. We will hold a SQUUP joint workshop very soon where researchers on both sides could come together and identify joint projects. The College of Education at SQU is hosting an international conference in November this year. I would provide funding to a group of academics at UP to attend this conference and work out future areas of collaboration. We want people to move in both directions. Quality of teacher training and quality of education are areas in which both universities are interested.