x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Nurturing a broad range of skills in the UAE

Just as the UAE needs specialised people in engineering, medicine and information technology, it also needs writers, poets and artists.

Studying the humanities contributes greatly to the intellectual growth of cultures and societies. However, educational institutions in the UAE tend to put more emphasis on promoting and supporting vocational education than on so-called softer subjects.

Is this the right way to reach a mature and balanced education system? Are humanities departments doing their part in reaching out to attract students?

As The National reported earlier this week, universities in Dubai are adding 35 new specialisations: 11 undergraduate, 17 postgraduate and seven doctoral. Most of these programmes will eventually lead to careers in fields such as engineering, accounting, tourism and hospitality.

The UAE is developing rapidly, and demand for employees with those skills is high. As Dr Ayoub Kazim, head of Dubai International Academic City told this paper, the new programmes reflect universities' plans to adapt to the realities of the local job market, by providing schooling that can increase local students' prospects of employment after graduation. A new study by HSBC found that 84 per cent of UAE students prefer vocational courses over other subjects, for precisely the same reason.

One of the reasons why humanities and social sciences are not very popular options could be because colleges are not doing enough to articulate the benefits of these courses to young students. The majority of undergraduates don't have enough awareness of the humanities and the perception persists, in some quarters at least, that such degrees have no future or little relevance in the real world.

Just as the UAE needs a healthy flow of graduates in engineering, medicine and information technology, it also needs writers, poets and artists who are able to question and reason, to find answers and stimulate intellectual thought and debate. This nation would benefit from a wide range of skills in its graduates.

It is important for the UAE's education system to maintain a balanced portfolio of subjects, to avoid over-specialisation and ensure steady development in both the economy and the society.