Education driving the real winds of change blowing across the Middle East

Date Created: 03.06.2014

Nelson Mandela once said of education it is the most powerful weapon anyone wishing to change the world can use. Change has certainly been evident all across the Middle East. But while the world abhors and at the same time dwells on the revolutionary and civil war violence brought to our television screens on an almost daily basis, and often in the starkest and bleakest of detail, the quieter revolution Mandela was referring to has been taking place in the background, in villages, towns and cities, almost unnoticed.

Look no further than the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for the evidence. Yes, the discovery of oil propelled this tiny Gulf state's economy from one of impoverishment to one of great wealth in a matter of a few decades. But instead of potentially catastrophic tensions ripping the country apart, wise rule has brought stability and a sharing of the wealth, enabling desire for change to be expressed in a slow but incrementally-positive way. Education has – and is – playing a major part in the continuing success story.

Higher education adaptability

While the outwardly international American university-style model of education, with curricula mimicking the US pattern of semesters and courses, often grabs the lion's share of the headlines, the real game changer and catalyst has been the adaptability of higher education in the UAE to meet the requirements of the labour market. No institution exemplifies all of that better than the American University of Sharjah, one of the few universities in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region to be featured highly in the QS World University Rankings. Another is the American University in Dubai.

Islamic finance

The Oxford Business Group (OBG), a global publishing, research and consultancy firm, says the shifting needs of the labour market can be seen in the new Dubai Centre for Islamic Banking and Finance, a joint initiative backed by the government and the Hamdan Bin Mohammed e-University. The centre is expected to support the emirate's push to become a leader in Islamic finance. Meanwhile, Dubai International Academic City has been working with the private universities located there to launch their own Islamic finance programmes.

Energy sector

Demand for graduates in traditional areas of the economy, especially the energy sector, which remains dominated by expatriate staff, is also strong, says the OBG. Recruiting nationals to work in the sector is a key objective among Gulf Cooperation Council governments, prompting some companies to hire promising candidates and train them in-house. While the practice may spell more work for businesses, it represents a potential opportunity for the education sector. The UK-based Heriot-Watt University recently opened the second phase of its £16.9m Dubai campus, which will offer several energy-focused courses.


Competitive environment

All of these developments have pushed competition into overdrive, as Abdurahem Mohammed Al Ameen, the president of Al Ghurair University, told OBG.

He said, “The long-term viability of the private higher education sector relies not only on the quality of the education but also on the cost-value proposition.”

This has pushed up the annual price-tag for students to around $9,528, says the OBG, which universities say is down to higher costs such as increased rental charges for premises. Read the full story here.

This article was provided by Kate Ahmad who is a freelance journalist living in the UK.  Kate loves giving expat tips in the Middle East

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