One of the UAE's largest graduation ceremonies took place recently in Abu Dhabi when 4,500 female distinction students from the Higher Colleges of Technology (HCT) received degrees. Students from the 2005-06 and 2006-07 batches were awarded their credentials with distinction, distinction with honours and distinction with highest honours.

Shaikhas, ministry officials, diplomats, businesswomen and academicians were in the audience at the ceremony that coincided with HCT's 20th anniversary celebrations. Shaikha Shamsa Bint Hamdan Al Nahyan, Wife of Shaikh Hamdan Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, and Head of the Women's Higher Authority in the Red Crescent Society, attended the ceremony on behalf of Her Highness Shaikha Fatima Bint Mubarak Al Nahyan, President of the Family Development Foundation, Chairwoman of the General Women's Union.

In a welcome speech read on behalf of Shaikha Fatima by Dr Maitha Al Shamsi, Adviser to Her Highness Shaikha Fatima Bint Mubarak, Shaikha Fatima told the graduates to boost their skills and knowledge by gaining experience in science and technology. She also commended the HCTs for upgrading their programmes and for interacting with government institutions to cater to the demand of the local labour market.

Shaikh Nahyan Bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research, and Chancellor of the HCT, spoke via video link-up at the all-female event.

He praised Shaikha Fatima for her constant support for women's education in the UAE. "Your support has far-reaching impact and has enabled the HCT to become one of the premier providers of applied higher education in the Arab region and the world at large."

Shaikh Nahyan said that the colleges had provided employers in the UAE and wider region with 35,865 male and female graduates specialised in diverse academic, applied and technological fields.

"In 20 years the HCT has maintained an excellent reputation, which has empowered it to establish strategic partnerships with renowned universities and academic centres around the world and offer innovative academic programmes designed to meet the changing needs of theUAE and regional labour market.

"The coming years will bring a number of academic, applied initiatives and projects to promote the vital role of the HCT in the UAE and the region," Shaikh Nahyan said.

A word with the graduates

Female students from the 2005-06 and 2006-07 batches were awarded degrees with distinction, distinction with honours and distinction with highest honours. Notes spoke to some of them.

Distinction: Above 3.4 GPA (Grade Point Average)
Highest Distinction: Above 3.7 GPA

Shamsa Al Sharif, 24
Shamsa graduated with a 3.8 GPA from Applied Communications, Media Studies. For the past year and a half alongside her studies, Shamsa has been working as a business analyst. She is keen on working in the media although she feels it poses some cultural challenges for her. Nevertheless the job is fun, she says.

Sara Khouri, 21
Sara completed a Business Diploma with a GPA of 3.66. Initially she had studied English education for a year. "I found business more in demand across the UAE," she says.

Sara has specialised in human resources and has just finished an orientation session at a well-known hotel. She would like to continue her studies and eventually start her own business.

Maitha Ebrahim, 24
With a degree in communication technology and media production, Maitha hopes to pursue her passion for directing. Currently she is the director of the Sama Dubai Channel for Dubai TV.

Maitha has three film awards to her credit, including the title of the "youngest filmmaker" at a film festival two years ago.

Looking back now at how she balanced work and college, Maitha says: "I learned about time management more than anything else – how to manage your work, how to plan your work. You have to be flexible."

She spoke about the confidence she gained trying to overcome barriers as a woman in media studies. At first, Maitha's parents were sceptical about her interest in media production. It wasn't until they saw her skills and enthusiasm that they gave their full support. "They now trust me more," she says.

Maitha plans to pursue a graduate degree abroad.

Aseela Khamis and Mariam Al Romaithy
The 23-year-old earned degrees in applied business and are currently on a job hunt. They admit that academics was not always easy, but the challenges they faced made earning their degrees all the more special. "If you like your major, you feel it's easy," says Mariam.

Aseela would eventually like to start her own company. However, she first wants to take a bachelors degree in business management from Abu Dhabi University. Regarding her HCT experience, she says: "I think this is the best place where you can reach your goals if you have the aim."