DUBAI. The regulation of higher education in the country is setting a precedent across the Middle East, where quality standards are still lacking, academics said on Wednesday.
“The Commission for Academic Accreditation [CAA] has not just influenced the UAE but the whole region,” said Prof Hossam Hamdi, vice chancellor of the University of Sharjah. Part of the Ministry of Higher Education, the CAA was set up 12 years ago as the Arabian Gulf’s first quality assurance body.
Last week, we carried the highlights of an IE University counsellor survey that predicted the trends among students going abroad for higher studies.
The survey had inputs from about 204 counsellors from international schools based in more than 33 countries. The survey questions focused on issues like mobility, studying abroad and levels of interest in different university degrees.
“Throughout the Middle East, students are able to see large scale construction projects, Oil and Gas industries and a whole range of technical and often world leading initiatives. I am therefore not surprised by the survey’s findings and would definitely agree that we live in a region where STEM subjects are seen as being very important and a definite route to a successful and rewarding career.” Grahame Bolton
“The aim of the trip (June 3rd to June 7th) was to create, collate and voice our ideas to the IE University Board of Directors as to how education could be improved,” Matthew Bolton”
One of the interesting results of the survey were the trends in the Middle East. While the top course preference from around the world was BBA, in the Middle East, more than 70 per cent of the students indicated engineering as their preferred choice.
The survey also indicated that in the coming years, more than 55 per cent students from the Middle East are likely to go abroad (US, UK, Canada and Spain among other countries) for higher studies.
Grahame Bolton, a counsellor from Repton School, Dubai, who participated in the survey, spoke to Education about the impact and implications of the IE survey and the prospect of students in this region.
GN: Is the popularity of engineering due to students’ belief that Stem (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subjects will mean better jobs as compared to pursuing degrees in humanities and soft sciences?
GB: Throughout the Middle East, students are able to see large-scale construction projects, oil and gas industries and a whole range of technical and often, world-leading initiatives. Many of the students’ parents will be employed in these areas. I am, therefore, not surprised by the survey’s findings and would definitely agree that we live in a region where Stem subjects are seen as being very important and a definite route to a successful career.
What will this trend mean for the Middle East in the coming years?
We have already witnessed the growth of top UK and US universities setting up campuses in the region. This can only bode well for the economic growth of the region and for students wishing to enter Stem career paths.
But this also means that schools must also look to develop curriculums which will offer students the chance to enter these careers. Studies are telling us that in the 21st-century, students entering the workforce will need to have a whole new range of skills. At Repton, our Vision Committee has already begun to discuss these new skills and suggest how teachers can develop the curriculum and best prepare our students. I believe that all local schools will need to do the same.
Sixty five per cent of the counsellors interviewed from this region felt that more than 55 per cent students from this region are likely to go abroad for higher education. Why this need, considering that many universities have opened campuses in the UAE?
We live in a region with a large number of expatriate workers. Many students will, naturally, return to their home countries for university education. It is also true that university league tables have led many parents and students to reach for what they consider to be the ‘world’s best’ universities.
Local students also often benefit from studying abroad and returning to their home countries and with a much broader outlook and improved skill set.
For our local universities to become a viable option for those who decide to travel abroad for their university education, they need time, success and whether you agree with them or not, higher world rankings.
As a university adviser, I have visited many excellent institutions, offering excellent courses. I always ensure that my students are aware of both local and international options.
Why are students from Middle East choosing US, UK and Canada for higher studies in that order?
The US and UK are, arguably, the traditional leaders in university education. The league tables show their continued dominance year on year. Canada has also proved to be a popular destination, especially in this region for a variety of reasons. Courses are offered in English, universities are very good with many offering expertise in technical fields and industries also operating locally. It has also been a destination for families looking to relocate, and I know of students who have chosen Canadian universities because it can lead to resident status.
How will this survey help process the information to understand and, improve, the status of students of this region?
Universities, schools, education authorities, all need to have a clear direction and fully understand the market in which they operate.
Businesses will consider ‘the end product’ and for us, that is our students. Surveys like this are critical to ensuring that all stakeholders are involved and that there is a platform to discuss future directions and requirements.
I know that our Repton representative, Matthew, really gained a lot from being involved in the IE University Junior Advisory Board and returned much more focused and confident.
Since English is the preferred language of instruction, do you think it would work to the advantage of students in the Middle East to brush up their English language skills?
I believe that all languages are important and actively encourage my students to embrace their opportunities in learning a second or third language. To be fair, English is the most widely used language in the world and if you have a strong command of English, it definitely opens up the opportunity to work almost anywhere in the world and walk on any career path.
As a counsellor, what are your observations on the generation next and their academic aspirations?
At Repton, I am lucky enough to be working with students who are very focused and have a strong desire to be successful in their exams. I have no doubt that they will be successful.
As stated earlier in this interview though, in the future, students will need more than simply excellent academic results.
We offer the IB Diploma because we believe that it encourages students to not only become better learners but also develop those skills and attributes which they will need at university and those which employers are now demanding.
All generations have specific challenges. The next generation will undoubtedly be as academically focused and aspire to achieve as their parents. The real challenge will be how they integrate the new 21st-century skills into their lives and use these to be competitive in their careers.
When you talk about the higher education scene in Qatar, Education City immediately comes to mind. An initiative of Qatar Foundation, the 14 square kilometre area houses some of the world’s best universities – six different American universities, one British university, one French university and one Qatari university.
In addition to Education City, Qatar offers other avenues for high school students in the country to pursue a graduate degree. These include Qatar University, Stenden University, College of North Atlantic, University of Calgary Qatar to name a few.
What is the value of a liberal education in a Middle Eastern academic context? For that matter, what is the place of such education in American academia? In the early 20th century, the answer was clear: a liberal education was the vessel by which Western civilization’s Renaissance-Humanist heritage was passed to young students.In the mid-20th century, Carnegie Mellon University’s influential “Carnegie Plan” made a different case for liberal education, arguing that professional degrees should be infused with liberal education in order to teach critical thinking and real-world problem-solving skills. A generation later, scholars such as Roger Shattuck and E.D. Hirsch made the case that a liberal education provided students with the “cultural literacy” needed to navigate modern society successfully.Most recently, Harvard University Task Force on General Education proffered the most radical apology for a liberal education yet, arguing that the “aim of a liberal education is to unsettle presumptions, to defamiliarize the familiar … to disorient young people, and to help them to find ways to reorient themselves.”
Accelerated reform of higher education continues under the leadership of Prof Riyad Hamzah, general secretary of the Higher Education Council (HEC), with the launch of several key strategic projects that will transform the landscape of higher education in the Kingdom of Bahrain.