DUBAI // Zayed University is to become the first in the country to get external accreditation for its careers services in an effort to ensure its students are ready for the workplace.
While external accreditation is common for academic subjects - the university, like many others, is in the process of getting accredited by the US Middle States Commission for Accreditation - it is the first time overseas inspectors have been brought in to certify careers advice.
Matrix, a British body, monitors how well universities communicate with and guide students, how connected students feel with careers guidance services, and their chances of getting a job after university.
It will be the first time Matrix has accredited a university outside of the UK.
And although the university already runs many careers events, including workshops, field trips, summer placements and final-year internships, the accreditation process is already helping it fix the remaining gaps.
"The one thing we all agree on is our lack of resources," said Andrea Naylor, the university's head of career counselling. More staff are needed at the Abu Dhabi and Dubai campuses, which between them have about 10,000 undergraduates.
The inspectors highlighted the relative inaccessibility of careers counsellors at the new Abu Dhabi campus, which opened last year.
Rather than being housed in the teaching blocks, the counsellors' offices were in the administrative building, 10 minutes walk from either the male or female sections of the sprawling campus.
This has now been resolved, with counsellors in the male and female sections.
And few students were aware that careers advice was available.
"We did a lot of work to promote the service and ensure more students knew we existed, but what we weren't good at was evaluating what we were delivering," said Ms Naylor.
The year-long accreditation process will finish in January. Mark Wern, head of the Matrix team, said he was confident it would run smoothly. "The university has been very pro-active and willing to share this experience with other institutions," he said. That sent an "extremely powerful" message about the importance of careers advice, he said.
And other institutions seem keen. Gillian Johnston, who trains teachers at Sharjah Women's College, part of the Higher Colleges of Technology, said such systems were already in place for academic subjects, but for careers advice "we don't have anything like this".
Officials acknowledge that careers guidance is lacking at school and university level. The Ministry of Education wants a trained counsellor in every government school by 2015.
However, students in government universities who have also been deprived of quality guidance at school, cannot be allowed to slip through net at university.
Matrix, or something like it, could help in vocational education, too, according to Dr Norman Salt, head of academic affairs at the National Institute for Vocational Education in Dubai.
"It's just as relevant as it is for the universities," he said, adding that it showed students would not just be trained in a subject, but ready for a career.
"It's a system I'd like us to investigate further."
Sherry Farzami, project manager for education at the British Council, which works to support the country's government institutions, said: "Zayed University is a role model for the UAE and a good case study for other institutions."
She stressed the need to not only focus on the academics, but prepare students for employment.