ABU DHABI // Academics have welcomed the establishment of a national qualifications authority that will allow more workers trained in industry to take their skills to other professions or to further their education and training.
The new National Authority for Qualifications was set up by presidential decree in 2010 with the task of developing a nationwide system of qualifications.
It will set regulations and standards for higher, general, technical and vocational training - not only for universities, but also vocational colleges and institutions.
Dr Nabil Ibrahim, chancellor at Abu Dhabi University, said national qualifications were particularly important in vocational and technical education.
There are few standards for vocational qualifications, making it hard for employers to know their worth and for those who have them to use them to return to education.
"Academic institutions are expected to work with different industry sectors to ensure that the learning outcomes from their academic programmes meet national qualifications for different jobs," he said. "This is now an important distinguisher for vocational institutions."
Dr Badr Aboul-Ela, head of the Commission for Academic Accreditation at the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, is on the 10-member board of the new NAQ. It also includes the ministers of Labour and Education, two academics and the head of the Civil Aviation Authority.
Dr Aboul-Elasays says the scheme will be particularly helpful for those who have spent years in the military or the oil industry, receiving professional training that may currently not be recognised in academia or by other employers.
But similar systems have taken some countries eight or nine years to set up. The UAE, he says, is not about to rush the project.
"You have to prioritise what industries you're going to start with," he said. "If you have, for example, an oil industry, it has to be a priority."
Other areas high on the list include tourism, hospitality and health care.
"In the UK, it took them nearly nine years to put together the skills required for about 120 professions," he said.
The team will draw on several systems from around the world. "We'll benefit from the experience of others so we won't be starting from scratch."
The authority will grant certificates and qualifications. Dr Donald Baker, vice provost at United Arab Emirates University, says that to succeed it will need to be seen as a robust third-party quality assurance system, so everyone can be confident about the knowledge and skills its qualifications denote.
"I think it is a positive sign that the assessment of university programmes will be undertaken by the Commission on Academic Accreditation," he added. "It uses internationally recognised academic and institutional standards and has a long track record of reviewing universities and degree programmes."
Dr Mark Drummond, provost at the Higher Colleges of Technology, welcomed a system with the potential to establish equivalencies between various qualifications.
It would, he said, help "employers figure out how a person's education and past experience fits a job specification. It also helps colleges and universities establish a basis for awarding credit for advanced standing, meaning you can skip certain parts of the curriculum because of your past experiences."
Most important, said Dr Baker, it would help Emiratis' education and training to be better recognised.
"As a small country, the UAE needs to enlist as much of its talent as possible in useful roles and the qualifications framework will help in that respect by enabling people to build on their prior training and learning."