Dubai: UAE students preferring majors that may not be in line with the requirements of the market are among the main educational obstacles facing the knowledge development of the UAE, an expert said during the Knowledge Conference on Monday.

The Arab Knowledge Report 2014 said two-thirds of UAE students are majoring in humanities rather than in sciences and mathematics. This is according to the World Bank report.

“There is a shortage of people studying medicine, engineering and information and communication technologies (ICT). Most students tend to enrol in humanities, forcing the country to hire foreign expertise … this is a negative factor impeding the transfer and localisation of knowledge and transformation of the society as a knowledge-based one,” the report read.

Dr Gaith Fariz, Director and Coordinator of the Arab Knowledge Report, said there is an imbalance in majors as 25.7 per cent of students in higher education are majoring in business, 23.4 per cent are majoring in education-related majors, 10.3 per cent in engineering, 1.1 per cent in medicine and 0.1 per cent in agriculture.

Educational challenges are not the only ones the report highlighted. The human resource challenges are also affected by students choosing to major in humanities.

“One of the major challenges facing the UAE in the transfer and localisation of knowledge is the limited local human capital, which makes up 11.5 per cent of the total population,” read the report.

Another challenge is the emergence of youth unemployment as the result of the influx of graduates year after year. Statistics show that 118,000 students were in higher education in the academic year 2012/13.

This coincides with the decline of employment opportunities in the governmental sector. “The situation has exacerbated as the youth are attracted to majors that may not be in line with the requirements of the labour market,” read the report.

Dr Fariz stressed that the UAE has achieved high improvement in knowledge development, especially when compared to Arab countries in international assessments, however there are still many challenges faced.

In the session titled, The status of youth in the UAE and the enabling factors for their active participation in transfer and localisation of knowledge, a panellist said preserving the Arabic language is also key in the development and localisation of UAE’s knowledge.

Dr Sulaiman Al Jasem, former president of Zayed University, said the focus on the English language in private schools and universities causes Emiratis and Arab students to be weak in their mother tongue.

Dr Mona Al Bahar, member of the Federal National Council, said the localisation of knowledge is not possible if youth are weak in their own mother tongue.

Those are a few challenges mentioned in the report.

Dr Farez said increasing Emiratisation in the private sector, supporting the relationship research centres and unifying efforts to implement strategies that will place the UAE as number one in knowledge development are needed to solve some of these challenges.