x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

UAE universities struggle to enrol Emiratis

Students need to be more realistic and better prepared for their futures, experts warn.

DUBAI // Schools are failing to prepare students for their futures, say academics. Children are leaving school expecting highly paid jobs in the overflowing public sector and should be taught what it means to be productive citizens. 

Dr Naz Awan, a lecturer at the British University of Dubai’s faculty of education says children need to learn the skills the UAE economy will need in future decades and how a university education can benefit them,

“Expectations are not being managed of what kids can achieve and what they can expect to receive financially,” she said.

“The education system is playing catch-up, working out what jobs will be available in the future.

“It’s about providing them with this information about what’s going to be needed of them.”

Joe Kotarski, research assistant at the university, carried out detailed research with 10 Emirati students last year, asking the 18 to 24-year-olds to make collages – a technique called creative visual research – to express their hopes.

“It’s easier for them to explain the world using images,” said Dr Awan, who oversaw the project. “They don’t feel difficult or uneasy about questions. It’s a far more effective and personal way to get deeper.”

While the method may have been unusual, the results were not; the students affirmed the widely held view that jobs in government, not the private sector, offered them the best pay and prospects.

One collage featured pictures of diamonds, sports cars, a Rolls-Royce and images of powerful business people and dollar bills. One male in the study, an aspiring doctor, said: “I remember Oscar Wilde … said the US is the first nation to go from barbarism to opulence without culture in between.

“I think in some sense that can reflect Emirati society because we’ve grown so quickly and so much in such a short space of time.  We haven’t had that full circle of civilisation.”

The researchers will now study 40 more Emiratis and 40 expatriate students who have grown up in the UAE. to see if the same aspirations apply to them.

“I predict that the middle class will have the strongest attitudes to learning,” Mr Kotarski said. “Having taught at both the top and the lowest end of the school system, I’ve seen that their attitudes are in fact very similar.”

He cautioned against any strategy of subsidising private-sector jobs for Emiratis in an attempt to make those jobs more appealing.

“This concept undermines capitalism,” he said. “It takes away from individuals the responsibility to work their way up the ladder, getting training, putting the time in.”

Dr Ingo Forstenlechner, assistant professor of human resources management at UAE University, found from a study of more than 2,000 Emirati students that early counselling at school was needed to change this attitude. “As long as people expect to get a public-sector job, they will not be willing to work in the private sector,” he said. “They expect that there will always be enough jobs provided by government.”

In an effort to address the problem the Ministry of Education is training counsellors to work with high school students and expose them to professions they might consider, said Ali Maihad al Suwaidi, acting director general of the ministry.

Dr Forstenlechner says there is an “absolute lack of awareness” of the country’s emerging needs among young Emiratis and says that more exchange between government, universities and business is the only way to resolve this, as well as school intervention.