Abu Dhabi expanding education to provide workers for high-priority industries

With an expanding population and an economy focused on diversification towards knowledge-based sectors, vocational training and Emiratisation are critical priorities for the Abu Dhabi government. The emirate is increasingly reaching its targets with these two goals, as evidenced by rising enrolment at Abu Dhabi Vocational Education and Training Institute (ADVETI) and the Institute of Applied Technology (IAT). Both entities emphasise applied learning and offer programmes tailored to the local labour market. Institutions like Rabdan Academy and the Emirates College for Advanced Education (ECAE) are underpinning these efforts, providing both vocational training and integrated professional development in the high-priority security, defence and education sectors, and further supporting the emirate’s transition to a knowledge-based econom

Vocational Shortfall

Although Abu Dhabi has made major strides in expanding vocational training in recent years, the emirate’s ambitious development plans for its nuclear, petroleum, aerospace and defence, health care and education sectors have left it facing a significant shortfall in skilled staff. According to a March 2014 report published by Deloitte, only 1-3% of academic enrolment in the UAE is in vocational education, compared to the global average of 10% and 40-50% in nations like Japan and Germany. As a result, Deloitte projected that the UAE would have a shortfall of 200,000 employees in key industries as of 2015, which is exacerbated by a lack of educators in accountancy, management and vocational training.

Government Response

A number of federal and emirate-level bodies have been established in recent years in order to address this shortfall. The federal National Qualifications Authority (NQA) was established in 2010 to establish a unified system of qualifications at all levels of education, later establishing the Vocational Education and Training Awards Commission (VETAC) to manage and coordinate technical and vocational educational training (TVET) in the UAE. The VETAC is responsible for building a flexible, well-monitored national TVET system, emphasising labour market integration and information management and establishing industry-led advisory committees and policy planning. The commission also licenses and accredits organisations to deliver national qualifications and awards using its Qualifications for the Emirates Framework, a 10-level set of guidelines approved in February 2012 that creates a consistent qualification system with each level representing a defined standard of difficulty, complexity and depth of learning. Credits are used to assess the amount of learning required to earn a qualification, with one credit corresponding to 15 hours of learning and accumulated, transferable credits.

ACTVET

At the emirate level, the Abu Dhabi Centre for Technical and Vocational Education and Training (ACTVET) was established in 2010 to regulate TVET, with the goal of increasing Emirati enrolment in TVET programmes from the current level of 14% to 30% by 2020. “Given the current levels of annual growth in enrolment we are witnessing and looking at how far we have come since 2010, we believe it is entirely possible we will be able to meet this target,” Mubarak Al Shamsi, director-general of ACTVET, told OBG.

After winning the bid in 2013, ACTVET will host the 44th WorldSkills Competition, which will take place in the emirate in 2017. This biennial event is the world’s largest vocational education and skills event and should bring participants from over 70 countries to the emirate, where they will compete across 50 different skills areas, including floristry, brickmaking, aircraft maintenance and culinary arts, among many others. Hosting the WorldSkills Competition in the UAE aligns with government initiatives that recognise the imperative to compete on the basis of knowledge. The first WorldSkills Competition to take place in the MENA region, the event will also represent the ideal platform for sharing knowledge, know-how and experience in craftsmanship.

TVET In Practice

ADVETI was launched in 2007 and offers TVET programmes at the secondary and tertiary levels, with campuses across the UAE. ADVETI’s campuses include: the Secondary Technical School system, Al Jazirah Institute of Science and Technology, the Vocational Education Development Centre (VEDC), Al Jaheli Institute of Science and Technology, Baynounah Institute of Science and Technology, Al Reef Institute of Logistics and Applied Technology, and Sharjah Institute of Science and Technology.

Formed in 2005, the IAT provides career-based technical education in English at both the secondary and tertiary levels at Applied Technology High Schools, as well as Abu Dhabi Polytechnic and the Fatima College of Health Sciences. Abu Dhabi Polytechnic was established in 2010 and offers a dual educational-professional training system with multiple high-tech disciplines including energy, electromechanical engineering, information security, petroleum engineering technology, meteorology science, and aircraft engineering and maintenance, all of which support industrial expansion and economic diversification. The Fatima College of Health Sciences was launched in 2006 and offers a master’s programme in renal care nursing, as well as diplomas and a bachelor’s in health science specialities that include nursing, pharmacy, physiotherapy, medical imaging and paramedicine. IAT is also looking to partner with private sector players to improve the level of skill among their graduates. For example, in late 2014 Abu Dhabi Polytechnic signed an agreement with Siemens to collaborate on advanced industrial and professional training for students studying for a bachelor’s degree in mechatronics technology. The school has also made significant advances despite being only relatively recently established. Fatima College was given the highest accreditation offered by US-based AdvancED SACS in September 2013, allowing the college to grant accreditation to all educational institutions affiliated with it for a period of five years, as well as any new branches it establishes in the future. Earlier in the year, Abu Dhabi Polytechnic received accreditation for its Air Traffic Management Programme from the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research.

Post-Graduate Prospects

Graduates from ACTVET’s network of schools are highly employable and benefit from a number of partnerships between the centre and the private sector, which often sponsors students during study and offers graduates employment upon completion. Companies including the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, Emirates Steel and Etihad Airways, among others, have participated in such programmes, which have expanded in recent years. In September 2014, for example, the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC) signed a memorandum of understanding with Abu Dhabi Polytechnic to collaborate on a customised nuclear energy curriculum, with graduates from the programme also eligible for employment opportunities with the ENEC upon completion of their degree. More recently, defence firm Caracal signed a similar agreement with ADVETI in February 2015, under which 40 Emirati students from the VEDC will be employed in the company’s production lines within the Tawazun Industrial Complex upon graduation. Enrolment in TVET programmes has risen substantially as a result, with the Statistics Centre - Abu Dhabi reporting in the “Statistical Yearbook of Abu Dhabi 2015” that IAT enrolment rose from 944 in 2007/08 to 4235 during the 2013/14 academic year, a 348.6% increase.

Vocational To Professional

With students increasingly embracing vocational training at the secondary and post-secondary levels, the Abu Dhabi government is shifting its attention to expanding its base of available educators. Another important goal is improving professional development through short-term vocational training in a bid to attract and retain highly skilled staff within the critical security and defence sectors, which are set to become important pillars of the emirate’s knowledge-based economy.

ECAE: Home to a dedicated teacher preparation programme and school development centre, the ECAE is an Abu Dhabi government higher education institute that is affiliated with the Abu Dhabi Education Council. The college was established to offer undergraduate and post-graduate degree programmes, as well as professional development for in-service educators with a commitment to playing a key role in the modernisation of education in the UAE. At the undergraduate level the college offers bachelor programmes focused on the teaching of mathematics and science, as well as a number of degrees that are distinguished by the mentoring opportunities on offer and the variety of concentrations, including, among others, special needs education, art and music, IT education, health and physical education, and applied behaviour analysis. At the graduate level the college offers post-graduate diplomas for in-service professionals and new teachers who do not have education degrees and would like to further develop their teaching skills. The college also offers a master’s of education with seven tracks focusing on different aspects of the field. The school is in the midst of expanding its offerings, introducing innovative labs to improve research capacity and science, math, engineering, and technology (STEM) training in a bid to support ongoing reforms, although Professor Steven T Bossert, dean of ECAE, notes that collaboration with NQA to develop a clear career path for teachers is also a critical priority. “Enrolment in education programmes nation-wide has been flat for the last eight or nine years. Part of this is due to the fact that the profession does not have a clear career ladder for teacher advancement, and offers lower wages than other sectors. We’re hoping that the introduction of a teacher licensure system, with steps progressing from a degree to a licensed professional, to a lead teacher, to a specialist teacher, and then to a vice-principal and principal position, will improve the situation,” Bossert told OBG.

Rabdan Academy

Vocational training in the security and defence sector is also expanding through Rabdan Academy, which offers degrees and TVET programmes. Rabdan Academy offers courses in business continuity management, comprehensive police station management and integrated emergency management, and plans to launch continuing education programmes, including accredited condensed courses in 2016 and certified vocational courses in 2017. The academy started rolling out short-term practical courses in 2015. Future programme offerings will include crime scene management, policing leadership and fire management, with courses taught in English to improve students’ career prospects.

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The Report: Abu Dhabi 2016

Education chapter from The Report: Abu Dhabi 2016