x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

HCT provost urges nationals to pursue degrees

Mark Drummond is keen for more UAE nationals to leave the Higher Colleges of Technology with bachelor's degrees instead of just diplomas or higher diplomas.

ABU DHABI // Young Emiratis will have to be better qualified in future to cope with an increasingly sophisticated knowledge-based economy, according to the new provost of the largest federal government university. Mark Drummond is keen for more UAE nationals to leave the Higher Colleges of Technology with bachelor's degrees instead of just diplomas or higher diplomas.

"Every year that passes, the technical infrastructure and business in the UAE is getting more sophisticated," said the 68-year-old American, a former chancellor of the California Community Colleges. "That's part of the grand scheme," he said. "If the dream of the UAE comes true, it's going to require a higher level of technical skills in the workforce. We're moving along in parallel with that." The provost is also looking to strengthen the English-language skills of students when they graduate from the federal university, which has 18,000 students and campuses across the country.

Dr Drummond said the institution wanted to make the bachelor's degree "the standard" qualification for all students, making it easier for them to pursue higher degrees. He cited Masdar City, the world's first carbon-neutral city, which is being built in Abu Dhabi, as an example of how the economy was becoming more sophisticated. Such ventures will require Emiratis with skills "at a higher level", he said.

"Students may choose to exit earlier, but the goal would be to keep students in a single track, improve their language skills and focus on the [bachelor's degree] as the qualification of choice." Fewer than one fifth of HCT students complete bachelor's degrees; most simply leave with a diploma, while some obtain a higher diploma. Dr Drummond believes English skills can be improved by revamping the foundation programmes many students take before beginning their main studies.

He favours a more continuous assessment, so better individuals can pass through faster. In the coming years, Dr Drummond said, he would also like to see the HCT conduct some original research, primarily on technology applicable to the UAE economy, possibly in collaboration with UAE University in Al Ain, another federal government institution. Prof Abdul Sabouni, vice chancellor and chief executive of Al Hosn University in Abu Dhabi, said he agreed that economic development and diversification would require "more or better qualified Emiratis".

He said, however, that this would not necessarily involve more students obtaining bachelor's degrees, as there would also be a need for technicians. He said more people with such qualifications would fill "the large gap" between Emiratis who only have a school education and those with degrees. "I agree there should be encouragement [for Emiratis] to get bachelor's degrees, but there should be encouragement to get associate degrees as well," he said.

There is very strong demand for Emiratis with degrees, according to Dr Peter Heath, chancellor of the American University of Sharjah. He said his university's Emirati students were being offered four to five jobs on graduation. He also said there would be "increasing demand" for Emiratis with master's degrees and PhDs, but warned there could be shortages of such people. "There might not be lots who go on to advanced degrees because the job market is so strong for them."

Echoing Prof Sabouni's view, Dr Heath said there had to be "intensive efforts" to train Emiratis, especially males, who have only school-leaving certificates or have not completed school. dbardsley@thenational.ae