Grade 10 students demonstrate Merculite, an electricity-generating device. Image Credit: Atiq Ur Rehman/Gulf News

Dubai: UAE government departments and private firms are dropping university degrees as requirements for employment in line with a growing global trend, experts said on Tuesday in Dubai.

Employers now hire candidates with the right experience and attitude over candidates with degrees, even if they are from top universities, panellists said during the launch of GEMS Xhibit 2018, an initiative of Dubai-based GEMS Education private school group.

Their comments followed a talk by Omar Bin Sultan Al Olama, Minister of State for Artificial Intelligence, who encouraged students to arm themselves with “the weapon of knowledge” to compete against machines in the future.

Dino Varkey, CEO of GEMS Education, said he had full faith in the talent of GEMS students, saying he would not hesitate to hire them.

Dropping degrees

In the panel, Dr Sayd Farooq, advisor to the Dubai Executive Office - the main decision-making government body in Dubai - said the entity has dropped degrees as a requirement for employment.

“We realised that the experiences - and the proof you show in your experiences - is far more valuable than the degrees you hold, because they [degrees] are proxies,” Dr Farooq said.

The trend is part of wider changes, led by the Council, for government departments seeking to hire “experiential thinkers who can do things others cannot do”.

Dr Farooq, who himself is a PhD degree holder, said Dubai and UAE government departments “are not going to be looking for the Ivy League graduates because those marks were proxies for quality - quality for a bygone era. Now the proxy for quality is experience — real and proven experience in experimentation”.

He was referring to programmes such as Dubai 10X, which aims to enable government departments to introduce technology and solutions of the future, today. Experimentation, and even initial failures, are part of this process, Dr Farooq said.

Obsolete skills

Panellist Syed Hashish, Regional General Manager, Microsoft, said: “I think university degrees in some cases are important. However, what we look at now in attracting new talent is actual potential.”

Microsoft was founded by Bill Gates, who is a university dropout.

Hashish added: “What we look for — university graduate or not — are people who demonstrate a ‘growth mind-set’. People who are willing to experiment, have empathy, listen to others, and shift the mind-set from ‘a know it all’ to ‘a learn it all’.

“Because the pace of change we are seeing, whatever skill you have, it will be obsolete. So we want people that can grow, learn and prosper in the longer term, whether, again, they are university graduates or not.”

Dee Dissanayake, success executive at Oliv, an online portal for students and fresh graduates seeking internships, part-time and graduate jobs, said the trend has been boosted in the UAE by a new work permit for teens.

The panel discussion took place as part of the first-ever GEMS Xhibit, a new technology and innovation showcase platform hosted by GEMS Education. GEMS X, GEMS Education’s innovation and R&D unit, and GEMS Student Employment initiative, which aims to offer experiential learning for students, were also launched.

Varkey said: “At GEMS Education, we focus on promoting the innovation and creative skills of our students. The GEMS Xhibit served as an excellent platform for our talented students to showcase their impressive talents to heads of industry. It also offered a perfect complement for us to launch our GEMS Student Employment programme that enables our students to gain real-world experience. A GEMS-wide initiative, it will leverage our extensive network and partnerships to offer students the opportunity to hone their skills with industry leaders in the region and beyond.”