x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 20 February 2018

Educators give cautious welcome to ministry merger

Education experts have given a mixed reaction to news announcing the merging of the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Higher Education.

Dean Hoke of Edu Alliance says he is hopeful that the Government will commit to new funding for the education sector, which is critical for the development of the knowledge economy . Andrew Henderson / The National
Dean Hoke of Edu Alliance says he is hopeful that the Government will commit to new funding for the education sector, which is critical for the development of the knowledge economy . Andrew Henderson / The National

DUBAI // Experts have mixed views on the impending merger of the ministries of education and higher education, raising questions over details that have yet to be finalised.

Dean Hoke, co-principal of Edu Alliance, a consultancy, said the “most significant changes in recent memory” would be positive for the education sector, because it would enhance the Government’s ability to promote and direct lifelong learning.

He said that it would have a positive impact on preparing students for higher education: “The merging of the two offices under one minister will enhance the ability of the Federal Government to promote and direct lifelong learning throughout the UAE. I also believe it will have a positive effect on students’ preparedness for higher education”.

The Government on Tuesday said the consolidated Education Ministry would supervise all levels of learning. It has created a higher council of education and human resources, and an autonomous authority to manage public schools will be set up.

Mr Hoke, however, said questions remained about the ministry’s oversight of the federal universities and other universities and colleges being brought under its control.

“I am hopeful that the new structure will have a positive effect on higher education research and that the Government will commit to new funding, which is critical for the development of the knowledge economy,” he said.

Dr Senthil Nathan, co-principal of Edu Alliance, said the merger, which was first discussed in 2004, could help the Government to be more efficient in making policies. He said administrative duties could be delegated to other agencies.

Last year, Saudi Arabia merged some government ministeries and appointed Dr Azzam Al Dakhil as education minister. It sparked fears among academics over the autonomy of the kingdom’s universities, some of which have top rankings in the region.

Others voiced concern that the merger of the education ministeries might slow down government spending on the sector.

Phil Baty, editor of Times Higher Education, said: “While of course national education systems, from primary to higher education, should be streamlined and integrated as part of a coherent policy, the loss of a dedicated ministry for higher education may raise some concerns.

“So in many countries, higher education has its own dedicated ministry to ensure it has the political attention, and crucially, the funding and support, that it deserves.”

She believes the independent foundation that is to be established to manage public schools which are currently run by the Ministry of Education will add to this complexity.

But Sunny Varkey, chairman of Gems Education, welcomed news of the merger. “The unification of all education ministries will bring alignment, efficiency and innovation to the education sector in the UAE and it is seen as very positive,” he said.

mswan@thenational.ae

nhanif@thenational.ae