"Upskilling plays a significant role in improving career prospects"
Prof. R.N. Saha, Director, BITS Pilani Dubai Campus
Experiential learning, with its emphasis on real-world application, can greatly enhance learning effectiveness. What strategies have you taken to improve teaching-learning experiences in your classrooms, especially through the blended format?
With innovative approaches in the delivery of lectures such as use of technology, an advanced camera system with motion sensor and highly developed spotlight feature, one-to-one interaction between the faculty and students, learning is now lively and more effective than ever before. Furthermore, use of video demonstration, virtual experiment, individualised and group-wise assignments has made learning better through which a student can conduct experiments online and access laboratories across all four campuses. Students who missed physical experiments were provided access to remote lab and virtual experiment facilities.
Upskilling is critical to ensuring that the workforce is future-ready. How could BITS Pilani help learners stay relevant in today’s dynamic job market?
Upskilling plays a significant role in improving career prospects in the competitive job market. We, at BITS Pilani, Dubai, understand the gap between education and employment and, therefore, we introduced an internship programme for a duration of 7.5 months, called Practice School, for all students as part of curriculum with credits in over 100 top industries and organisations to make learning relevant to employment. This also helps upgrading syllabus with industry feedback. Facilities provided to students on co-curricular activities, encourage innovations across labs and enhance knowledge.
"We have introduced the Covid-19 science to our programmes”
Prof. Hossam Hamdy, Chancellor, Gulf Medical University
With the world demanding innovative approaches to medical education, how does GMU bring advancements in healthcare studies to the UAE education community?
Gulf Medical University (GMU) is the pioneer in using artificial intelligence (AI) in education. Several years ago, we developed Virtual Patient Learning (VPL), which is a human being playing the role of a patient to simulate the patient receiving answers according to the questions being asked by students in a medical setting. This has won us many awards, and most recently, we received the Middle East Gold Winner by the Wharton-QS Reimagine Education Steering Committee. We have to prepare our students with enough knowledge and skills which will equip them to be able to work with colleagues who could be from different backgrounds, including engineers or software technicians, and together, they can lead to an advancement of knowledge.
The pandemic has shifted focus to skills such as resilience and agility”
Prof. Ammar Kaka, Provost, Heriot-Watt University Dubai
What has changed in your course content in the last one year since the outbreak of the pandemic to prepare learners for the post-Covid-19 workforce scenarios?
Since the outbreak, we have introduced the Covid-19 science to our programmes. We are also using our research platforms to study several aspects related to the pandemic. Moreover, we have published several research papers in relation to teaching during Covid-19. For the future, we have introduced AI, technology, and data analysis into the regular curriculum of our medical programmes. The reason is that graduates, whether they are physicians or nurses, will be working in an environment with hospital management systems where the entire communication will be based on technology.
The pandemic has shifted focus to skills such as resilience and agility”
While it’s impossible to predict the future trends in workplace, there are certain capabilities that can help people safeguard their future careers. How are you helping students build in-demand skills for the jobs of the future?
Employers have always sought skills such as critical thinking and problem-solving in employees. Whilst these will continue to be important, the pandemic has shifted focus to other equally important skills such as resilience and agility. We offer students several opportunities to help develop these real-life skills through internships, industry collaborations and hands-on projects. We encourage high levels of interaction and learning from peers, staff and external stakeholders across global communities. Such initiatives teach students critical skills outside of text books, and these skills are highly sought-after by employers. Additionally, I think the most unique opportunity we offer to our students is our global footprint. Worldwide, Heriot-Watt has five campuses and we are extremely well integrated globally.
How does Heriot-Watt University Dubai promote interdisciplinary learning as well as meaningful collaboration across disciplines?
Heriot-Watt offers several opportunities for interdisciplinary learning and collaboration — in fact, this is one of our strengths. For example, the Solar Decathalon Middle East 2020, a collegiate competition for students has been led by staff from the UK campus but involves over 100 students from different schools and campus locations. Similarly, students from varying disciplines —aspiring biologists, civil engineers and more — collaborated on projects to address UN sustainability goals relating to climate change. Our student facilities also cater to interdisciplinary learning – we use our Innovate Hub to encourage multidisciplinary teams of engineers, entrepreneurs, marketers and others to come up with new business ideas, and the Enterprise Centre supports these plans with business and legal advice, as well as the space to engage with potential clients and investors.
"We need to ensure that the university is an open and innovation ecosystem”
Yousef Al Assaf, President, RIT Dubai
The Covid-19 experience has dramatically transformed the way education is delivered. In this scenario, how could universities prepare learners for careers of the future?
During Covid-19, we relied heavily on online courses, however, we learnt that online education will not be giving students a complete campus experience including working with teams and interacting with the industry. In the future, we are moving towards blended learning, where we are determining which courses are better delivered solely online and which parts of the courses would require a physical attendance and interaction. We can’t keep running universities in the traditional ways. We need to start working to ensure that the university is an open and innovation ecosystem where students, faculty, industry, innovators, start-ups, entrepreneurs can all meet together and integrate to help students design their own future. This can be a place where students can choose to earn a degree, start their own companies, and work on a disruptive technology. We are prepared in RIT Dubai for the future by creating this open ecosystem. Our campus is innovative, smart, connected and sustainable and it is considered more of an open lab, where students can design, deploy and test their own concepts.
Our Co-op (internship) programme is also helping, where new angles were introduced to it like research, consulting and start-up bootcamp along with the industry certification that we will start running soon. Students will have hands-on experience at the industry and will then be certified by our industry partners.
What programmes do you have or are you launching this year to cater to the fields that will be in demand in the post-Covid world?
We are introducing more programmes in areas such as artificial intelligence, data analytics, robotics, blockchain and computing security. We know that in the future students will need to keep reinventing themselves again and again, and for this, they require a certain stamina, and that’s why we are looking to add a bachelor’s programme in psychology as well as a software engineering degree needed for artificial intelligence and robotics domains. We are also expanding on the general education programmes, adding minors in economics and Arabic literature to connect to the roots of the region.
"Business schools need to practice what they preach”
Nitish Jain, President, S P Jain School of Global Management
While we know that the consequences of the Covid-19 crisis will be far-reaching, what does it mean for business education in the longer term?
Business schools will finally need to practice what they preach. They would need to be forward-looking and innovative. The current MBA format has hardly changed since Harvard introduced the case study method hundred years ago in 1921. Of course, changes have been made since then but it is not the same as inventing the driverless car. In my school, we are experimenting with using new technologies like GPT 3 for tutoring students. We believe this would lead to hybrid learning reducing costs significantly; hence, lower fees for students. Innovation would also take place in selecting students as today’s system of selecting students based on past academic performance, is clearly ineffective. There are other models that could better predict which students would get the best jobs after graduating from a programme, which is the top reason to pursue an MBA.
This crisis is also forcing business educators to critically question their syllabi. What has changed in your course content in the last one year since the outbreak to prepare learners for the post-Covid-19 workforce scenarios?
There are two main areas where our curriculum has changed. We have introduced technology like data analytics as a core course. Every MBA graduate needs a thorough understanding of this. Secondly, the focus has shifted to skills development given that knowledge is ubiquitous. You no longer need to come to a university for knowledge but to acquire skills such as critical thinking, complex decision making and effective communication - skills what companies hire you for.
"We have revitalised our lifelong learning offering”
Prof. Ghaleb Al Hadrami, Acting Vice Chancellor, UAEU
What current learning trends are gaining traction in the UAE and how is your university catering to these demands?
As the UAE’s flagship university, United Arab Emirates University (UAEU) serves the UAE Centennial 2071 plan and other national goals. At the 2021 Mohamed Bin Zayed Majlis for Future Generations, it was stressed that the UAE plans to continue being an energy producer for the next 50 years, but a big portion of its employment opportunities will also focus on technology roles that incorporate digital skills. Digitalisation, new technologies, and the requirement to adapt to continuous disruption are key global trends.
How much is technology going to be a part of tomorrow’s jobs and how can universities adapt to the future of work?
To keep pace, we offer a world-class learning environment and academic programmes through the implementation of latest technologies to meet the current and future needs of the labour market, encourage the skills, creativity, agility, entrepreneurship, and innovation required by the UAE’s knowledge-based economy, and provide training and guidance for a generation who will be the change makers of the society. We have launched the District 4.0 IR, a state-of-the-art facility that incorporates the demands of the Fourth Industrial Revolution into the nation’s higher education curriculum. We have revitalised our lifelong learning offering to serve everyone inside and outside of UAEU.
The pandemic has enabled us to rethink our forms of innovation”
Dr Vikas Nand Kumar Batheja, Co-Founder & Director, Capital University College
Universities have a critical role in fostering a culture of innovation to bridge the gap between education and real life. How do you encourage innovation on campus?
The pandemic has enabled us to rethink our forms of innovation. One of the ways we have ignited the fuel of innovation is by partnering with more private companies and inviting them to networking sessions, seminars, and virtual conferences so that our students get a feel of their professional journey. Furthermore, we are providing our students with internship opportunities and work placement through our Career Services team. Students graduating from our partners’ top-ranked and accredited programmes benefit from the post completion placement rates which are above 90 per cent for all of our partners and in the case of our European Partner — Rome Business School — it has a 96 per cent placement rate post completion of the programme.
How are you helping students build in-demand skills for the jobs of the future?
Since the pandemic, we have witnessed a high number of students showing interest in MBA and professional master’s degree programmes as well as our American top-ranked Doctorate in Business programme as many aim to start their individual ventures. Hence, we have partnered with Dilton where students have access to unlimited intellectual resources. As of now, there is a plethora of content of almost 10,000 hours of online learning available. We are also, through our partnership schools, providing career services such as virtual company visits and workshops. Through the company visits and study tours students have the chance to make contact with globally recognised institutions and renowned companies, become familiar with different professional environments and expand their network. Our school also offers the opportunity to take part in internships to consolidate and test the skills they have acquired in their master’s programme.
"The role of a good teacher cannot be replaced by technology”
Dr S. Gurumadhva Rao, President, RAK Medical and Health Sciences University
What current learning trends are gaining traction in healthcare studies in the UAE and how is your university catering to these trends?
The Ministry of Education has taken a major initiative in reforming the higher education sector to take it to a higher level matching with the international standards and make it competency based. In this connection, they are encouraging accreditation by the international bodies and a robust research output. Accordingly, the main focus is to link the higher education programme to the labour market matching with the international standards. Based on this trend, in addition to the usual classroom teaching, we are adopting the classroom online teaching using several techniques. The assessment also is being made using online technology. RAKMHSU promotes collaborative learning through the webinars, simulated patients and the simulated skills laboratories to promote problem solving ability and creative innovation.
How critical a role does technology play in allowing your institution to be future-secure?
Technology plays a very important role in both teaching and assessment. But a very important point we need to remember is that a committed and a passionate teacher is very much essential and the role of a good teacher cannot be replaced by technology. No doubt, during the Covid-19 situation, technology has boomed beyond belief. But hands-on experience by interacting with the patients is essential to enable students get real-life knowledge. RAKMHSU has been effectively utilising all the different tools available as mentioned above.
"An increasingly digitally-reliant world still needs the unique human touch”
Randa Bessiso, Director Middle East, The University of Manchester
Organisations are increasingly turning to AI, analytics, automation and digitisation to secure their future. In this scenario, how could The University of Manchester help learners secure their future in a changing world?
Digital transformation has accelerated across the world creating new digital business models and reinventing the workplace. The university already has a high degree of digital content in our part-time Master’s programme and this is regularly reviewed. We also deliver much of our blended learning content through our own edutech digital tools. An increasingly digitally-reliant world still needs the unique human touch. While the top hard skills in demand for 2021 are digital-focused, the soft skills — adaptability, collaboration, creativity, emotional intelligence, persuasion — remain equally important and a focus in our face-to-face learning. A balance of the two is a good combination.
You have just launched a new part-time Master’s programme in Financial Management which will start in September. What are the key advantages of pursuing this programme?
The part-time MSc in Financial Management is a flexible programme introducing sophisticated tools and techniques and is designed to help students transform their finance and business careers by developing their financial understanding, expertise and skills. Working students will benefit from the flexibility of an online course, complemented by valuable face-to-face learning through workshops where students apply theory to real-life case studies based on contemporary business problems. Professionals will develop their knowledge, skills and confidence to progress their careers.
"Our goal is to make our students 100 per cent employable”
Dr Cedwyn Fernandes, Pro Vice-Chancellor, Middlesex University and Director of Middlesex University Dubai
Having a specialised degree on the resumé can improve a student’s prospects substantially. What are the other ways a graduate can gain a competitive advantage in their chosen field?
Employability is not just dependent on the degree you are awarded, but also the skills and personal attributes that employers seek. At Middlesex University Dubai, the goal is to make our students 100 per cent employable. This involves attaining a top-class academic degree, acquiring professional certifications while studying, undertaking internships, participating in cultural and sports extracurricular activities, and volunteering. University is the ideal environment for upskilling, exposing you to the latest knowledge in your field via classroom learning and providing access to a global network of professionals and researchers.
Why is upskilling and reskilling essential to stay relevant today and how could Middlesex University Dubai help graduates and executives respond effectively to the future of work?
Our students study for a quality UK degree or professional qualification and gain expertise outside the classroom that benefits their future through the busy calendar of diverse initiatives and events we organise. Also embedded within our technical and disciplinary- focused learning is the development of essential analytical and critical thinking skills, research, cross-cultural understanding, creativity and effective communication. Many industries are fast-changing with evolving concepts. Middlesex graduates are lifelong learners equipped with critical learning skills that enable them to remain resilient in a changing world.
"We embraced new and innovative ways of teaching to broaden the educational experience”
Dr Rami El Khatib, Vice President - Student Affairs, Canadian University Dubai
The lockdown, remote access and the rise of virtual tools in the dissemination of education have seen the student internship structure changing slowly across universities globally. Are internship models being revisited in your university, and were you prepared for this shift?
Within the context of these closures, Canadian University Dubai (CUD) worked with its partners to overcome these challenges and provide effective solutions to students including the implementation of virtual tools, both synchronous (live streams) and asynchronous (pre-recorded lectures to be watched at any time) in nature.
We chose to embrace these new and innovative ways of teaching to broaden the educational experience at our university. We largely view these challenges as learning experiences and as a chance to seek new opportunities to improve the way in which we conduct our programmes.
During this time, many companies have revisited their internship programmes offering students a mix of both virtual and in-person opportunities. This way of learning has taught students how to better adapt to the ever-changing environment and develop further self-management experience to prepare them for an exciting career in a field of their choice.
"We have regular updates in the curriculum to focus on new-age subject matters”
Dr. Jason Fitzsimmons, Academic President, Manipal Academy of Higher Education (MAHE), Dubai Campus
How are you helping students build in-demand skills for the jobs of the future?
We, at MAHE Dubai, focus on the holistic development of our students. On the one hand, while the research-based pedagogy and a hands-on approach to study help develop skills related to the various fields, the extracurricular activities help build necessary soft skills to succeed in the industry.
Regular updates in the curriculum to focus on new-age subject matters, including but not limited to blockchain technology, robotics, artificial intelligence, fintech, and new trends in digital marketing, healthcare, architecture and media technologies, ensure that our students develop the skills in the latest developments of the industry. Our various industry partners feed us with regular insights and technological developments to help our students build relevant skills. The Career Services department further helps students map their skills to the right industry and explore career opportunities to suit their capabilities.
What is your strategy in promoting interdisciplinary learning and meaningful collaboration across disciplines?
We also appreciate the interdependent and cross-functional nature of the industry. Our students involve themselves in various inter-department projects to help them apply their skills in an industry-simulated environment. A fine example of this practice is our Team Tawazun, consisting of over 80 students and alumni from across our schools and departments, building a net-zero affordable and sustainable home, which has been qualified and is under development, to represent us at the Solar Decathalon Middle East Expo Edition.
"We are continuously upgrading the quality of learning and delivery”
Hanil Haridas, Executive Director, Westford University College
Covid-19 has accelerated impactful changes in business education. What are the key trends shaping business education in 2021?
The current situation has pushed us beyond our limitations and has accelerated innovation and growth. At Westford, we have always nurtured a culture that embraces forward thinking, bringing in programmes and courses that are not only unique but also transformative to one’s life and career. Addressing the current gap prevailing amongst aspiring students waiting to start their higher education, we decided to introduce the Westford Youth Business Leadership Programme, which is a once in a lifetime experience, provided exclusively to students between 14 to 19. Students will have the opportunity to participate in a series of courses that blends different genres, to give an overview of Westford college life, coursework and blended online learning.
As universities across the world adopt a new model for delivery of education during Covid-19, how will you ensure there is no dip in the quality of learning?
Our courses are designed keeping in mind the aspirations of today’s students. We provide a global sandbox of learning and sharing experiences; therefore, helping to synergise student experience. Today’s students are passion-driven. Hence, the programmes cater to the needs of parents, reducing not only their anxiousness but also to a student’s confusion in identifying the correct path to build their future. At Westford, we are continuously upgrading the quality of learning and delivery.
“Our programmes help our students build in-demand skills for the jobs of the future”
Prof. Hamid M.K. Al Naimiy, Chancellor, University of Sharjah
While it’s impossible to predict the future trends in workplace, there are certain qualities that can help graduates safeguard their future careers. How are you helping students build in-demand skills for the future?
From the outset of the pandemic, the University of Sharjah has viewed these extraordinary circumstances as an opportunity to consider new technologies and innovative solutions to ensure the continuity of our workplace activities and academic programmes. We have undertaken an intensive review of our programmes to ensure they correspond with the ever-evolving job market. By aligning our programmes with the job market, we provide our students with the skills necessary to guarantee their competitive edge, including skills in communication, IT, emotional intelligence, critical and analytical thinking, flexibility, adaptability and leadership, essential to succeed during the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Our students are tech savvy with the ability to utilise new technologies and their applications across occupations. We have re-engineered our programmes to promote creativity and innovation among our students, consistent with the strategic initiatives of the UAE government.
We further provide our students with structured internship training opportunities so that they may gain hands-on experience, leading in many cases to their job placement. These programme features help our students build in-demand skills for the jobs of the future.