There can be no doubt that education is a pressing priority for the UAE, nor can there be any doubt that the nation’s leadership is taking it seriously. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, the Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, identified education, along with health, as a major issue for a nationwide “brainstorming” session late last year that resulted in several reforms, including the axing of the preparatory year at state universities.
As The National reports today, that decision will be the subject of discussions with the Minister of Higher Education, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mubarak, at this week’s Federal National Council session. FNC members are, rightly, keen to know more about the initiative, including the time frame for its introduction.
It is clearly in the interests of the nation to make universities true centres of tertiary learning rather than places of remedial secondary education. According to 2012 Ministry of Higher Education figures, about 30 per cent of the federal universities’ budget is spent on foundation courses, and about 90 per cent of students must first complete a foundation year. That money could be freed up to invest in degree programmes, especially in areas of high vocational demand, and in research projects that attract international academic talent to our institutions and keep the nation’s best and brightest in the UAE.
As FNC member Ali Al Nuaimi says, the decision will benefit students by eliminating the “limbo year” where they are neither school pupils nor studying for degrees. But for it to work, schools must improve their performance to ensure that students are ready for the challenges of studying at undergraduate level. This means that educators must set standards and targets to ensure that no student is left behind. This can work hand-in-hand with the initiatives announced late last year to ensure all students are taught both science and humanities subjects to a higher level, rather than specialising too early, and to improve the standard of teaching by making it a more attractive career option.
Those who are not qualified to attend university can get to the required standard through repeating a year of high school, for example. This is an integral part of the nation’s aim of creating a sustainable knowledge economy. The vision and support is there; it is up to educators, parents and the students themselves to rise to this national challenge.