Bridging the knowledge gap – An Opinion Piece by Dr. AyoubKazim

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Dr. AyoubKazim is the Managing Director of the Education Cluster of TECOM Investments, a member of Dubai Holding.

The UAE’s ambition to build a knowledge-based economy has been engrained into all of our minds. But establishing this illustrious knowledge economy will not happen without investing in the training and skills development sector. Education is the backbone of what the UAE is trying to achieve on all fronts, and educational opportunities need to be diverse in order to meet market needs to address the current gap in skills.

With Expo 2020 right around the corner, and the UAE government’s sights firmly on becoming a regional and international hub for Islamic Economy, industries will inevitably continue to grow rapidly in order to cater to this growth. Creating a skilled and reliable workforce is where education needs to play a significant role. Education needs to indulge the sectors contributing to the economy.

Take the Islamic economy agenda, for example. The UAE government has its sights firmly set on becoming a hub for the global Islamic Economy. A study by Thomson Reuters found that Dubai’s Islamic market has a potential value of $6.7 trillion, bigger than both the United States and China. A Workforce Planning Study launched by Dubai International Academic City (DIAC) in partnership with Deloitte revealed that dedicated Islamic banking skills are in high demand from GCC banks, particularly at the entry level, closely followed by financial risk management and customer segmentation and analytics skills. So it is essential that we work closely with both academic providers and the industry to bridge the gap between the two in order to build a workforce with the necessary skills to support this booming sector.

The good news is that we have the manpower – close to 50% of the population in the UAE are under the age of 25 – so it’s simply a case of providing these students with the right platform and access to world-class programmes, therefore enabling them to develop into the functioning workforce we need to move forward as a leading economy.

With the next generation of business leaders undeniably younger than before, the need to bridge the education-workforce gap is at the forefront of the UAE’s agenda on its quest to build a knowledge-based economy. The Workforce Planning Study showed that the GCC’s growing education sector is expected to have a manpower gap of 200,000 by 2015. If that doesn’t punctuate the matter at hand, then I’m not sure what will.

But while this might all sound rather negative, it’s important that we not forget how far this country has come in the past 43 years. The UAE is currently ranked the fourth most attractive education destination in the world in the aforementioned Workforce Planning study. To transform from the fishing village of our ancestors into a burgeoning city with schools to cater to every nationality, syllabus and language is an incredible achievement and one that we should be proud of. The study also showed that private sector enrolment in the UAE is valued at USD 2.8 billion and is growing at 10%, making the country one of the largest education sectors in the GCC.

The UAE placed sixth for ‘Higher Education and Training’ in the World Economic Forum (WEF) Global Competitiveness Rankings 2014-2015, ahead of both the US and the UK, a position that could not have been achieved were it not for the increasing number of world-class educational institutions that have chosen the UAE to expand internationally –BITS Pilani, Manchester Business School, and French Fashion University, to name a few. Nine DIAC-based universities were recognised in the recent global Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) University Rankings, with 5 of them (Exeter, Michigan State University, Saint-Petersburg, University of Wollongong, and Heriot-Watt) sitting in the top 500 – an impressive feat, and one that will undoubtedly continue to improve with time.

Also worth noting is a recent report by QS that showed that global transnational education (TNE) students are increasingly seeing Dubai as a global higher education hub akin to the USA, UK, Australia and Canada. If we are already being compared on a level with some of the most established economies in the world, we must be doing something right.

Education is the keystone to bridging the gap between the increasingly young talent pool and growing industry excellence, on our nation’s continued quest to establish itself as a leading knowledge-based economy. It is the primary building block for the next generation’s development and the best possible means of nurturing the leaders of tomorrow. I am proud of how far we have come and its offerings so far, and am excited to see what the future holds for Dubai’s increasingly diverse education sector.