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Students working in a lab at Curtin University’s Dubai campus Image Credit: Supplied

Whether it’s filling your trolley with essentials or navigating the check-out queue, differently abled people can find it hard to navigate supermarkets. A robot prototype by four electrical and computer engineering students from Abu Dhabi could soon improve their shopping experience.

With a robotic arm and lifting mechanism controlled by a remote joystick, the D1Cart aims to offer a greater degree of independence for the UAE’s people of determination, who may otherwise be unable to reach items on high supermarket shelves. Developed by students from Abu Dhabi University (ADU), the cart features a control system that can be adjusted for speed, accuracy and precision, while an automated scanning system helps avoid queues at the cashier.

The cart exemplifies how advanced technologies can improve our lives on numerous fronts. From e-commerce software that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to handle inventory, payment and delivery for UAE retailers to a 3D-printed jawbone for a Dubai schoolgirl, we’re already witnessing the impact of Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) technologies. The term encapsulates emerging fields such as blockchain, AI, drones, 3D printing and molecular biotechnology, which are transforming the world’s economy.

Now the UAE’s educational institutes are bringing these technologies to their curricula so tomorrow’s graduates can bring innovation to jobs in the technology-centric workplace of the future.

Technology will be a significant component of tomorrow’s jobs, says Dr Slim Saidi, Associate Professor of Industrial Engineering at RIT Dubai, which has incorporated innovative technologies into its educational offering at its new campus.

“The professional of the future will not only be technology savvy, which is expected to be considered a basic fundamental skill, but they need to be able to operate and contribute to human-machine pairing which is the technological trend of the future,” he says. “Contrary to the common belief that machines are meant to replace humans, there is a spectrum of scenarios — from humans assigning some tasks to machines all the way to machines taking over tasks humans would not want to perform.”

Making it relevant for the UAE

The trend ties in with UAE policy to establish a global economic stronghold for 4IR technologies. In March, the nation launched Operation 300bn, a ten-year strategy to increase the industrial sector’s GDP contribution to Dh300 billion from Dh133 billion at present, partly through innovation and the adoption of advanced technologies. The strategy builds on the 2017 strategy for 4IR, which focused on fields such as AI, intelligent genomic medicine, robotic healthcare and nanotechnology.

4IR tech is showing up across the higher educational landscape. At Westford University, new programmes cover fields such as data analytics, sports management, sustainable fashion designing, psychology in business and media and journalism, in addition to its graduate and postgraduate programmes, says Dr Raman Subramanian, Senior Faculty at Westford University College.

Middlesex University Dubai has introduced programmes in specialised areas such as data science, robotics, electronic engineering, and cybersecurity, as well as a diverse portfolio of offerings in core areas of management, accounting and finance, law, marketing, psychology, and education.

BITS Pilani recently launched an MBA in business analytics, and a Master of Engineering in sanitation science and technology management at its Indian campuses and is working to introduce similar courses at the Dubai site, says Prof

R. N. Saha, Director of BITS Pilani Dubai Campus. “Careers already growing in demand include big data analysts, scientists, digital transformation specialists as well as AI and machine learning experts. Likewise, the UAE government’s push towards industrialisation will witness an increase in demand for manufacturing engineers who may also be needed to perform multi-disciplinary functions due to the change in the job market dynamics. For this reason, we, at BITS Pilani Dubai Campus, offer a wide array of choices in our minor subjects to equip the engineers of tomorrow for a transformed work field.”

Similarly, Dr Khyati Shetty, Dean and Head of Business and Humanities at Curtin University Dubai, says discussions of the impact of technologies like big data,

AI, blockchain, and informatics are integral in all of its business, humanities, engineering, and computer science courses.

“As a research-intensive university that was founded as a technology college, Curtin University embeds the understanding and use of current technologies in every discipline as a standard part of the curriculum,” she says.

4IR technologies will also have a role beyond the traditional focus areas of science and engineering.

“A new age of creativity not witnessed since the Renaissance period is upon us. Its dependency on digital technology underlines the need for creative minds to profit from its possibilities,” says Dr Nadia M. Al Hasani, Professor and Dean at the University of Sharjah’s College of Fine Arts and Design. She says the UAE identified this dependency and translated it into Operation 300bn, while the pandemic simultaneously highlighted the role of softer art and design disciplines in engaging global communities and maintaining societal well-being.

“The interdependency of the arts and sciences are integral to the success of future industries.

“For example, intelligent textiles are feasible if transformed into garments, environmentally friendly materials are beneficial if incorporated in furniture pieces, and virtual spaces are built with the imaginative thought process of artists and designers. These examples require visual communicators and creative designers to consider new venues and applications.”

Hybrid learning to gain more traction
Although traditional classroom teaching remains the environment of choice for students and faculty alike in the UAE, the advent of universal remote learning has demonstrated the benefits of online learning in all its forms, from lectures and discussions to student-to-student engagement and one-on-one sessions between the student and professor can all be performed with great efficiency and effectiveness.
“Surveys of students at all levels of study reveal the nearly universal popularity of some form of in-person interaction between students and their professors,” says Prof. Thomas Hochstettler, Provost of Abu Dhabi University. “It is highly likely that a mixed, hybrid form of education will very soon replace entirely the traditional forms of in-person instruction.
“Abu Dhabi University is retaining many elements of e-learning as we move out of the pandemic. We will move to hybrid forms of engagement, whereby interaction with expert faculty from around the world can be retained, an element of learning that the pandemic has revealed as both enriching and cost-effective. We also anticipate that the incorporation of modular online learning from a wide array of source, Coursera for example, will increasingly become part of the enriched learning environment that the pandemic has now made a part of our everyday lives.”
GN Focus report
Innovation in medical education during Covid-19
“Since the outbreak of the pandemic, we have introduced Covid-19 sciences to our programmes,” says Prof. Hossam Hamdy, Chancellor of Gulf Medical University, which offers 26 accredited programmes in the UAE. “We are also using our research platforms to study several aspects of Covid-19. Moreover, we have published several research papers in relation to teaching during the pandemic.
“Also, we are the pioneer of using artificial intelligence (AI) in education. Several years ago, we developed Virtual Patient Learning (VPL), which is a human being playing the role of the patient to simulate a patient receiving answers according to the questions being asked by students in a medical setting. This has won us many awards.
“For the future, we have introduced AI, technology, and data analysis into the regular curriculum of our medical programmes. The reason is that the graduates, whether they are physicians or nurses, will be working in an environment with hospital management systems whose entire communication will be based on technology. We have to prepare our students to have enough knowledge and skills, which will equip them to work successfully with colleagues who may be from different backgrounds, including engineers or software technicians.”
GN Focus report

How technology is shaping the job market

While the disruption of the pandemic immobilised the world, it also stimulated a vision of a technologically-enabled and enhanced future of industry and the workplace, says Dr Cody Paris, Deputy Director Academic Planning and Research, Middlesex University Dubai.

“Those entering the job market will need to be equipped with the skills and knowledge to understand and adapt to emerging technologies in order to be competitive, resilient, and successful.”

Emerging smart technologies including blockchain, artificial intelligence, IoT, robotics, and other automation technologies will be central to the realisation of the UAE’s Operation 300BN initiative and the sustainable growth of the economy.

“A direct result of this for the job market will be the demand for a highly-skilled workforce in specialised areas and a more general requirement of a workforce with technological awareness and competencies in a variety of business sectors and functions,” says Dr Paris.

Skills in demand

As jobs evolve, skills required for people to enter the workforce will also evolve, with more focus on problem-solving abilities, innovation, and creativity.

“Entrepreneurship, coding, and data skills are expected to be of high demand for tech and non-tech graduates alike,” says Abdul Razzak, Head – Career Services, Manipal Academy of Higher Education (MAHE), Dubai.

MAHE Dubai has aligned its programmes, curricula, and trainings to the changing times, focusing on skill development. “Programmes across streams – engineering, business, architecture, life sciences, media, and humanities – are now delivered with profound impetus on domain specific skills as well as soft skills such as creativity and innovation.”

GN Focus report