x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Billions invested into university research

Dh4.9 billion will be pumped into research and development by 2018 under a new strategic plan for higher education.

ABU DHABI // Dh4.9 billion will be pumped into research and development by 2018 under a new strategic plan for higher education unveiled today. By 2018 public expenditure on research will exceed 0.75 per cent of the GDP. Federal and private universities will be invited to submit tenders for grants. Dr Mugheer al Khaili, the director general of the Abu Dhabi Education Council (ADEC), said the vision was in line with the emirate's plan to build a knowledge-based economy. "It's very important to have the human resources that will support this," he said. "It aims to limit the number of people seeking a job in Abu Dhabi, ensuring that graduates contribute directly to the economy." With 70 per cent of the workforce in low-value occupations such as construction and the service industry, the plan aims to correct the current misalignment between educational output and the labour market's needs. The top priority is producing more graduates in science and technology, an area in which the UAE lags. A new funding model for universities will also be drawn up. However, because of the new tendering process, it is unclear whether that will benefit the federal universities. They have recently suffered from budget cuts and freezes across the board. The plans prioritises four key sectors: health, aerospace, semiconductors and renewable energy. The education council hopes to address a number of "challenges" facing local universities. They include poorly prepared school-leavers, limited and "unfocused" courses, difficulty in attracting and retaining quality teaching staff, insufficient funding, and a dearth of research. There will be new, tougher licensing conditions and regulations for universities setting up in the capital. ADEC plans to set up a framework for inspecting universities by next year. It will also establish a number of public libraries by 2014. Officials from the education council also hope to address the high rate of college drop-outs. They want to reduce the current rate, around 20 per cent, to around 15 per cent. Other plans include developing community colleges, similar to those in the US, producing standards and curricula for special education for both staff and students as well as a programme to attract and retain better-qualified university staff. The strategy is, however, scant on details, such as how many libraries or community colleges there will be. Dr al Khaili said committees would be formed over the summer to develop an implementation plan. mswan@thenational.ae klewis@thenational.ae