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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 December 2018

Do universities have a responsibility to train students for the workplace? 

A complex debate rages about our education system and whether it is producing the right kind of graduate

The plans were agreed under the orders of Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed and based on a proposal made by the head of the Department of Education and Knowledge. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National
The plans were agreed under the orders of Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed and based on a proposal made by the head of the Department of Education and Knowledge. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National

Are this country’s graduates ready for the workplace when they leave university? Addressing the Arab Knowledge Forum in Dubai on Tuesday, Essam Al Tamimi, the head of the Middle East’s largest law firm said that it was “challenging for me and my law firm to hire from local universities". Mr Al Tamimi bemoaned the lack of a world-class university in the region. As a result, he said, there is a “mismatch” between what students learn and “what the workforce needs”. He said that "a difficulty in our education system" means this country does not produce world-renowned lawyers, doctors and engineers.

It is a complex discussion. Those who subscribe to Mr Al Tamimi's thesis will say that the country is young and the investment it made in its educational system is yet to bear fruit. But there is also an alternative view. Many of the jobs that today’s young may end up pursuing haven’t been invented yet. The students of today will not only be doctors and engineers, they will work in industries and occupations that may now be niche but will one day be mainstream. Our education system should focus on developing and producing rounded, adaptable and inquisitive students who are able to fill a wide basket of roles. As such, NYU Abu Dhabi Vice Chancellor Prof Alfred Bloom disagrees with Mr Al Tamimi.

This country is encouraging its citizens to think outside the constraints of convention, investing in the economy of the future and training men and women to become the leaders of tomorrow. At the same time, the government’s focus is on using education as a means to uncork the full potential of today’s pupils. There is certainly room for improvement at the UAE’s universities, as there would be at almost every university anywhere in the world. We must never be complacent, but let us also recognise how far the country has come in a short space of time. There is work to be done, but much has already been achieved.

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