Dubai: How do we make our students future ready? What educational degrees and skills do they need to thrive in the future? These were some questions answered by leading UAE academicians on the first day of Gulf News Edufair 2022 on Friday.
Mohamed Deriche, professor at Ajman University, started the discussion titled ‘Education to Employment: Degrees and Skills to Thrive in the Future of Work’, by pointing out that the orientation and delivery of “higher education across the world has changed.”
He said students now are digital natives and educational programmes must be suited to get students be ready and able to thrive in the digital arena.
Dr Kholoud Salameh, assistant professor at American University of Ras Al Khaimah (AURAK) Computer Science and Engineering Department, said higher educational institutions “had no choice but to meet national and international standards”.
She added: “We now offer many new programmes to improve our curriculum. The focus is on AI [artificial intelligence] and business analytics. Every year we meet with our industrial partners to know and understand the market demands.”
Dr Hussein M Elemhdi, dean of Academic Support Services and the acting director of Information Technology Centre at University of Sharjah, said: “We need to realise that in the past two years – the COVID years – students were made to have different expectations. They were exposed to more online courses and the onus is now on us [academicians] to meet these new expectations.”
Before COVID-19, Elemhdi added, the conventional approach to education was employment-driven. But now, industries are not just looking for good academic credentials, employers also look for soft skills incorporated into curriculum.
Dr Rajesh Pai, Associate Head - PG Courses at Manipal Academy of Higher Education, Dubai Campus, said the skills and traits that would give students competitive edge when they look for jobs after graduation, are complex problem-solving skills.
‘Gig economy’ or temporary positions will become common as organisations are set to hire independent workers for short-term commitments.
Dr Kavita Shukla, vice president of Student Affairs at Amity University Dubai, said student expectations are also changing. “Now, there has been diversion from straight away finding a job after graduation to students [pursuing] something on their own – meaning some of them are gravitated towards entrepreneurship,” she added.
Shukla said some of their graduates have, for instance, partnered with a global shoe brand to make footwear out of plastic waste because they were able to get support from the incubation centre at their university. She added that more students now also shun the prospect of having a ‘9-5 job’.
Stuart Lawson, associate professor, De Montfort University Dubai, and associate head of School of Art, Design & Architecture, said automation is the biggest threat but there is still no replacement to humans’ entrepreneurial skills. “Certain professions will disappear but teaching, project management, and other roles related to project management will remain,” he added.
Plugging the skills gap
In a separate discussion on ‘How Schools Can Help Plug Skills Gap’, Siobhan Dickerson, director of Specialism at GEMS FirstPoint School, said students must pick courses and careers that they really enjoy and are passionate about.
“But this should not happen when they are already 17 or 18. They can make plans early. They should also start building up their portfolio. They should also not only work on their academics but also get involved in extra-curricular activities to build their competence that will help them become future-proof,” she added.
Parents meanwhile, according to Dickerson, should be open and must listen to what their children want. They must not impose their will, she said. Parents and students must do research together and look at options by communicating with each other, she added.
Day 2 schedule
Visitors to Gulf News Edufair 2022 on Saturday, May 28, can attend the following seminars:
How to secure a scholarship and ace your admissions in Canada; Ideas to action: How universities support innovation and entrepreneurship; Pursuing a degree in psychology; The changing global trends in hiring; Future of education and work; The growing importance of the start-up ecosystem; Creating work-ready graduates; and Adapting to the changing needs of the evolving job market.
Gulf News Edufair 2022 runs until Sunday, May 29, from 11am to 7pm at Shangri-La Hotel, Dubao. This is a free event. Visitors can register at www.gnedufair.com to attend.