Interview: Ahmad Belhoul Al Falasi
What steps are being taken to better align graduates’ skills with the needs of the labour market?
AHMAD BELHOUL AL FALASI: The Ministry of Education recognises that today’s labour market is constantly changing and that it is integral to stay ahead of the curve in order to ensure that we are graduating the talent needed to succeed in the private sector.
Keeping this objective at the forefront, we will be establishing a private sector council that will focus on several areas, including serving as a sounding board for multinational companies to share feedback about what skills are required for particular job functions and specific industries. It will also prove crucial to get industry input into skills that will be needed in the future, with the objective of preparing students for jobs that do not yet exist.
This initiative will build on the existing efforts of the Education and Human Resources Council (EHRC), which is chaired by Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan. As the Minister of State for Higher Education, I have the honour of serving as secretary of this council, and all other members are ministers as well. The main objective of the EHRC is to bridge the gap between higher education and the economic needs of the private sector.
In addition, we are working closely with industry partners such as Siemens, GE and Huawei to facilitate their contribution of resources and expertise, by providing research funding and professional training opportunities. A key area of collaboration with these companies is establishing a robust internship pipeline to help drive greater employment of Emirati university graduates in the private sector. Through these programmes, we are helping ensure that our higher education system aligns with the needs of the labour market and that our students are graduating with the experience and skills they need to help transition the UAE to a knowledge-based economy and position our country for future success.
What are the government’s priorities for funding research and development (R&D) initiatives?
AL FALASI: The first phase of education strategy in the UAE was focused on ending illiteracy — and that was a big achievement. The second phase was focused on establishing a local higher education system. This began with the founding of United Arab Emirates University (UAEU) in 1976. The third, and current, phase is boosting R&D. We want to make the UAE a competitive centre for higher education in the region and greater R&D initiatives are a key component of this strategy.
UAEU has been a pioneer of R&D while Khalifa University, the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, and the Petroleum Institute have been driving scientific discovery in the UAE for many years. With the merger of the latter three, we are leveraging their combined resources and expertise to strengthen the country’s output of quality research finds. By expanding R&D in other universities across the UAE and encouraging students to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), we are helping ensure that our graduates are developing the skillset they need for the future economy.
Furthermore, innovation leads to more innovation. By building a strong STEM education pipeline and fostering a culture of entrepreneurship, we are unlocking the potential of our graduates to become job creators, thus enabling them to be the driving force of the UAE’s economic development. Governments all over the world understand the importance of investing in R&D, as it opens up opportunities for faster economic growth and creates sustainable wealth that is independent of fluctuations in natural and non-renewable resources. The UAE recognises the significance of this and the primary role R&D plays in economic progress, as exemplified by the UAE Vision 2021 that highlights science, technology and innovation as primary drivers of growth.
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