The Abu Dhabi Executive Council yesterday announced a swath of budget increases, boosted the number of academic scholarships and vocational schools and poured nearly Dh5billion into the emirate's pensions fund.
Speaking in his as role as the executive council chairman, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, said: "We have a firm belief that a leading position for our emirate and nation can only be achieved in association with an appropriate addressing of national issues and aspirations as a basic theme of our development plans."
The changes also include the setting up of an industrial development bureau in Abu Dhabi.
The bureau will plan and manage industrial areas in the emirate and facilitate economic development.
It will also give approval for Etihad Rail Company to secure funding for the first stage of its railway project, scheduled for completion in 2013. The railway will cover 266 kilometres and connect the western cities of Habshan and Ruwais. A further link from Habshan to Shah is scheduled to be completed in 2014.
In January, the executive council announced a raft of new projects and expansions to existing ones in social infrastructure, health and education and gave a boost to economic development in the emirate.
Yesterday's announcements were highlighted by investments in education, with Dh197 million to be spent over four years on scholarships for Emirati students that will cover study at home and abroad.
The council said these scholarships were vital, especially for young Emirati males, who make up just 30 per cent of the country's higher education system. Five new vocational secondary schools will be built in the country this year.
Thousands of Emiratis will be able to enrol in technical programmes at campuses that will open in Abu Dhabi, Al Ain, Al Mafraa and Ajman.
Operated by Abu Dhabi Vocational Education and Training Institute (Adveti) they will join the existing four schools in Abu Dhabi, Al Ain, Ras Al Khaimah and Fujairah to offer programmes that enhance vocational skills of Emiratis.
The Secondary Technical Schools (STS) helps develop the national workforce to meet the demand of the labour market.
Offering a more application-based model, the schools will allow young Emiratis to pursue careers in mechanical and electronic engineering, aircraft overhaul, supply chain management, logistics, finance and accounting.
On completion, graduates receive a school certificate and an internationally recognised vocational qualification.
Abdullatif Al Shamsi, managing director of the Institute of Applied Technology (IAT), that operates schools providing advanced technical education to UAE Nationals, said the opening of more STS campuses will complement the work they do.
"We all know the demand for Emirati manpower is high, especially in the technical fields," said Mr Al Shamsi. "This programme opens up a different pathway for pupils who struggle with intensive academic courses but excel in practical work."
In RAK and Fujairah the technical schools are housed in the IAT campuses so that resources can be shared.
Mr Al Shamsi said because of their selection process they lose out on many high-calibre Emiratis. STS, he said, helped overcome that disadvantage.
Mr Al Shamsi added: “Our programmes are more academically rigorous and not suited for all students,” he said. “But then STS provides this avenue for the students who learn better with an applied maths and science programme.”
Dr Naji Al Mahdi, executive director of the National Institute for Vocational Education in Dubai, said that while the effort to provide more vocational education options should be commended, there was a risk of a growing segregation.
“One of the dangers of developing vocational schools is that it breeds a misconception that students enrolled here are not bright,” he said.
“It may eventually reverse the effect of all the hard work put into creating an awareness of such programmes.”
He said vocational education should become a part of mainstream education. “I think the curriculum within our regular schools should be revamped to suit the learning needs of every child,” he said. “And it should not start in secondary schools but at an even earlier age.”
He said there was a need to create modern vocational courses to attract more Emiratis.
Mr Al Shamsi said new technical schools are adopting international standards, adding, “they ensure Emiratis have good communication skills and high knowledge in all technical fields.”
Adveti, which operates the emirate’s vocational schools, is tasked with developing technical education in the capital and lays down policies and standards for such institutions. The Abu Dhabi Education Council (Adec) works with it to create a strategy that will also benefit other public educational institutions.
The executive council said yesterday that the nearly Dh200 million in scholarship funding for Emiratis studying at home or abroad will be overseen by Dr Mugheer Khamis Al Khaili, director general of Adec.
Adec will also recommend policy to the executive council, including regulations for study leave, identifying designated countries and universities to work with, terms and conditions required for applicants and funding and compensation.
There are several bodies as well as Adec that help with student scholarships for institutions in the UAE and abroad, including the Emirates Foundation, Ministry of Presidential Affairs and Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research.
Ahmed Al Mansoori, an Emirati nuclear technology student at Abu Dhabi Polytechnic, said his scholarship was a big incentive to continue his studies. The scholarship covers fees, accommodation and pays him a Dh4,000 a month stipend.
The Sharjah student, who has just finished his first year in an area deemed vital to the emirate’s post-oil economy, said: “The scholarships are very helpful for a student like me. Some students come from places like Fujairah to Abu Dhabi and they need the scholarship.
“It really helps. It takes the pressure off getting a job. We can pay for food, petrol.”
Mr Al Mansoori said that without the stipend, he would feel pressure to work.
Academics supported the announcement, saying scholarships are vital for the development of Emirati talent and local manpower for the many emerging industries such as microchip manufacturing and nuclear energy.
Dr Warren Fox, the head of higher education at Dubai’s Knowledge and Human Development Authority, said: “This is a great step forward for Adec to support Emiratis. The key for Emiratis is to have choice – of universities, of programmes – and to be able to study domestically and internationally.
“This will serve as an incentive, especially for young Emirati males to pursue post-secondary education. For those students who choose to study abroad, they will have exposure to different languages, culture, and this will better prepare them not only for their own lives but for their careers in areas key to the development of the UAE.”
Sabha Al Shamsi who works at the Emirates Foundation overseeing youth development, has been in higher education for 18 years, previously as executive director of higher education at the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research.
She said: “This will give an opportunity for students to develop new skills, especially for the Abu Dhabi 2030 strategic plan for education and development of the country.”
With about 50 per cent of the population counted as youth, it is vital to invest in them for the country’s future, she added.