ABU DHABI // Emirati specialists are needed to help make better roads that will save lives as the country's network grows, a leading academic says.
"Roads are the spine of life and society, and we encourage many Emiratis to be a part of this project," said Dr Tayeb Al Kamali, the vice chancellor of the Higher Colleges of Technology (HCT).
He was speaking at the Abu Dhabi opening of the Transport Research Laboratory, a road-safety organisation that will train Emiratis.
"The engineering sector is growing tremendously in the country and we at the Higher Colleges are developing new types of engineering programmes to match where the projects are going," Dr Al Kamali said. "Road safety is one area, nuclear engineering is another."
TRL, a renowned institute based in the UK, has opened an office at the Cert technology park where students from HCT work directly with industries in training projects and research.
TRL assisted in developing Abu Dhabi's road-safety strategy and is involved in its implementation. Staff say long-term changes to road safety will need Emiratis involved.
"This is one of the ways that we are trying to prepare Emirati nationals to play a major role in road development and safety," Dr Al Kamali said.
Dr Susan Sharland, chief executive of TRL, says her institute's involvement "is not just about leaving them a nice report".
"On contracts we very often do training and do the follow up, so the change process and education is really kind of embedded in the organisation," Dr Sharland said.
Abu Dhabi's focus in the coming years should be on gathering information to understand why, where and how traffic accidents happen, said Simon Labbett, regional director of TRL. He has worked in the country since the Dubai office of TRL opened in 2008.
"The key value is continuing to work with society and continuing to build that knowledge and expertise here so that over time the knowledge transfers," said Mr Labbett.
TRL was launched in 1933 by the British government and is now owned by the Transport Research Organisation, a charity.
Its achievements also include research for UK laws on the compulsory wearing of seat belts and drink-driving limits.
TRL is accredited to work with PhD students in the UK. Its staff would like to develop training models and research and mentoring programmes for HCT students.
"We can see that this is a natural link," Mr Labbett said. "We look at what is existing and how you can add value to what is required by society. We're not into running a course for the sake of running a course."
Abu Dhabi's 2030 vision will boost demand for Emirati transport specialists, said Dr Cherven Singh, the chair of civil engineering at Abu Dhabi Men's College.
"There's a major rail plan, the metro, the bus service, the road transport and there's even the water transport," said Dr Singh.
"If we look at that plan, definitely we are going to have to look at the safety aspects. I think this is a priority and it's coming from the Government and the plan is going according to schedule."
The HCT introduced a bachelor of applied science in transport two years ago. Most of the programme is the same as a civil-engineering degree, which students can receive with a further semester and a half of study.
The Department of Transport offers scholarship programmes for Emirati students studying transport.
"It's usually quite difficult to get students to join the programme," said Dr Cherven. "I think society out there is not fully aware [of the need]. Much of the people involved in transportation are expats.
"We still could do with more numbers. The problem is getting the females."
Of the 87 students, 59 are men.
TRL specialists could bring welcome expertise and help with data, said Dr Cherven.
"Recently we're focusing a lot on traffic engineering," he said. "But information is not so easily available and I think such an institute could probably help students acquire what we need."
Mr Labbett agreed.
"My personal feeling is that road safety is a critical area for development," he said. "We don't have to have the high levels of fatalities. Collisions are avoidable. They're not a necessary consequence of a mobile society."