x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Building a smarter Western Region

The proposed expansion of educational opportunities in the Western Region is a good idea, and might help preserve the region's unique cultural traditions.

As an incubator of culture the capital's Western Region has much going for it - from annual camel festivals and date farming to traditional art and dance. But as a source of educational opportunity, Al Gharbia has some catching up to do.

Which is why talks between Zayed University and the Higher Colleges of Technology (HCT) to expand into the Western Region, as The National reports today, are so encouraging.

There are currently only two campuses that serve populations in Ruwais and Madinat Zayed - HCT and the Vocational Education and Training Institute. As important as these schools have been they are now too small to accommodate the region's growing student base.

For young men this hasn't been a deal-breaker. Male students keen on furthering their education could drive for over three hours to reach the nearest university in Al Ain or Abu Dhabi. Some simply chose to relocate to these cities.

Female students have had a harder time. For many families the idea of sending a young women off to school without a family member to support them is simply out of the question. One can only guess how many talented young women have had to forego higher education because of these societal pressures.

If the deals being discussed go forward we hope these factors become issues of the past. "Around 70 per cent of our female students would have no education possibilities if we weren't there," says Phil Quirke, director of the Al Gharbia HCT colleges. "The key is to give them as much choice as possible."

The expansion will also likely help reduce the number of attritions, as many prospective students opt to find a job rather than commute vast distances. While only a limited variety of courses will be available, according to the plan, this is a welcome first step.

Having more campuses in Al Gharbia is more vital than ever, as the population is projected to increase threefold by 2030 from its current 120,000. And of course, adding educational opportunities will also help the Western Region hold on to what makes it unique.

Retaining the region's unique cultural assets will only be possible if its people have reason to stay close to home.