The refinery at Umm Al Narr in Abu Dhabi. Only four per cent of the workforce is in oil and gas, which produces 64 per cent of GDP. Image Credit: Gulf News archive

Abu Dhabi: Measures to create more job opportunities in the oil and gas sector, which produces up to 64 per cent of Abu Dhabi's GDP, must be undertaken, said a senior education official at a labour market conference on Wednesday.

The conference, which was organised by the Abu Dhabi Department of Economic Development, focused on the gaps in higher education and lack of research funding that have resulted in demand and supply differences in the emirate's labour market.

"It's evident that labour distribution isn't ideal. For instance, only four per cent of the workforce is in oil and gas, which produces 64 per cent of GDP, while eight per cent is in agriculture, a sector that produces one per cent of Abu Dhabi's GDP," said Ala'a Al Deen A. Ali, Division Manager in the Office of Strategic Affairs at the Abu Dhabi Education Council (ADEC).

Performance in research

The UAE's performance in research is also low compared to international benchmarks, with as little as 0.1 per cent of the UAE's GDP spent on research and development (R&D) in 2007 and only six per cent of patents issued, versus the US that has allocated 2.67 per cent of its GDP to research.

"There is misalignment between the labour market's demands by discipline and the supply of university graduates. In addition, the majority of universities in the UAE focus on academic instruction. Only a few institutions support research activities, and this is what we are working with other authorities to change," said Ali.

According to the ADEC, very few federal and non-federal universities provide academic instruction which incorporates research. "A new funding model for higher education and research, which allocates specific funds to research initiatives, needs to be implemented," said the ADEC official.

ADEC has recently been incorporating changes to the education policy, in alignment with Abu Dhabi's social and econ-omic development plans.

The ADEC official said that the higher education system in Abu Dhabi faces four challenges: namely the misalignment of higher education output with Abu Dhabi's socioeconomic vision, insufficient quality of graduates and faculty, limited research and restricted opportunities in and access to quality higher education.

He added that the six underlining causes include low preparation level of school students, inadequate quality assurance; limited and unfocused programme offerings; difficulty in attracting and retaining quality faculty; insufficient funding, and underdeveloped research and innovation environment.

"For instance, there are nine per cent of students in the emirate graduating in law, 17 per cent in sciences, and 13 per cent in humanities.

However there is only a 3.5 per cent demand in the labour market for law graduates, two per cent for science graduates, and six per cent for graduates in the humanities," he said.

Since universities in Abu Dhabi rank relatively low in international rankings of higher education, ADEC has recommended the set-up of a science and technology research committee to guide and implement the emirate's R&D strategy.

In addition, a new agency for research funding will be created to invest in strategic areas aligned with Abu Dhabi's priority sectors.