x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Massive Open Online Courses make strides across region

The high mobile penetration rates, robust fibre-optic infrastructure and competitive job market provide the right environment for Moocs to develop and gain prominence in the region.

Massive Open Online Courses (Moocs) are set to gain traction across the Middle East this year, according to Deloitte’s technology, media and telecommunications (TMT) predictions for the region.

The report, released annually, picks out the key trends that will drive the TMT sector for the year ahead.

Besides a substantial rise in sales of wearable technology, the doubling of pay-TV subscriptions and a US$2 billion increase in SME expenditure on ICT services to $22bn, Moocs will be one of the key trends to keep an eye on over the next few years.

Student registrations in Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) will be up 100 percent compared to 2012 to over 10 million courses, but the low completion rates mean that less than 0.2 percent of all tertiary education-equivalent courses completed in 2014 will be MOOCs.

The high mobile penetration rates, robust fibre-optic infrastructure and competitive job market provide the right environment for Moocs to develop and gain prominence in the region.

Universities like Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Stanford and Harvard already provide online courses that attract tens of thousands of subscribers each.

As competition in the education sector heats up in the West and the cost of tertiary education becomes a barrier to entry to many in Europe, universities are looking abroad to new markets and Moocs are playing a role in this strategy.

“A lot of colleges are going global, even secondary schools. One of the considerations of these universities is how to extend their reach, not just with a physical entity abroad but to broadcast their content and be fully open with courses that are free and some that you pay for,” said Paul Lee, global TMT leader at Deloitte.

As awareness of Moocs rises in the region, there will be greater demand for more local versions. Arabic Moocs are expected to gain traction this year. Platforms like Edraak, Rwaq and Menaversity have received “warm reception”, according to the report.

“What is interesting in the region is that there are various pockets of activity that are pretty advanced by any standards. There is one Mooc platform called skillacademy which aggregates what’s available all around the world and has over eight million users. It is based in Egypt,” said Mr Lee.

One of the biggest platforms for Moocs is US-based Coursera, which was recently shrouded in controversy when the US government blocked access to the website to students in Iran, Sudan and Cuba to comply with federal export regulations. It also blocked access to students in Syria, but later reinstated it. This is likely to drive the need for more local platforms.

But to succeed, Moocs need to be developed and presented in an attractive manner and need the support and recognition of governments, employers, educational institutions and the students themselves.

“When it comes to Moocs, there will be an increase and we will also see the development in the Middle East, mainly in Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Jordan. When it comes to us, one of our sister companies is Knowledge Village and one of the initiatives is to encourage online studying,” said Mohammad Abdullah, the managing director at Tecom’s media cluster.

Dubai’s Media City is keen to work with local universities and colleges to provide the services and equipment needed to develop these online courses, said Mr Abdullah.

thamid@thenational.ae

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