Dubai: Critical thinking and problem-solving are top skills that employers hiring look for in fresh graduates, according to a senior academic at Zayed University.
Prof. Michael Allen, Acting Vice President, said employers are hiring students with interdisciplinary credits and therefore has introduced it as a new curriculum at the university.
“We have launched an exciting new Interdisciplinary curriculum and we look forward to seeing its success. We have committed faculty and academic leaders who are convinced that this is a course much needed for the future job market in the UAE and globally,” said Allen.
Zayed University established in 1998 has a total enrolment of 9,473 students across its Abu Dhabi and Dubai Campus. The University has a faculty to student ratio of 1:12.
Employers seeking upskilled employees
In an interview with Gulf News, Allen said employers are looking for employees who are ready to learn more. “A good number of skills that are required for success in today’s job market will be outdated in five years from now. So the need of the hour with respect to universities is to provide varied programmes to equip their students with the latest skills,” he said.
Prof. Paul Hopkinson – Dean of the new College of Interdisciplinary Studies said the fundamental reason interdisciplinary learning is important is that many of the problems that we face in the world today demand interdisciplinary solutions.
“Many of the challenges and opportunities that we face in today’s society are complex and multifaceted and as a result require novel approaches. Climate change, digital and social exclusion etc, the opportunities and challenges arising from disruptive technologies such as conversational AI [artificial intelligence] cannot be tackled from a single disciplinary lens: they require new ways of thinking and working that cut across traditional disciplines. We can’t deal with complex problems like these with a single approach,” he added.
He continued: “Our approach has been to create programmes that combine interdisciplinary majors focusing on topics such as Business Transformation and Social Innovation with 16 specialisations that enable students to also acquire specific disciplinary expertise. We seek to give students the skills and knowledge to be able to blend insights from across disciplines to solve problems, working with students from a variety of backgrounds – just as importantly, develop the mind-set to recognise and value insights from different disciplines – not just to dismiss because they think different.
“We have also transformed our entire first year to focus on developing essential employability skills, encouraging students to become effective thinkers, problem solvers and communicators. This transformation coupled with a radical shift in how we teach and assess, serves to create an environment which more closely matches the demands of the modern workplace and ensures graduates are more fully equipped for career success.”
Sherif Mousa, Chief Transformation Officer at Zayed University could not agree more.
“Critical thinking and problem-solving are top skills that employers look for in employees. Expectations of students too, are changing. When a student graduates it is only reasonable for them to expect that their University has provided them with a foundation for their careers. Yet, data shows neither the students’ nor employers’ needs are being met by higher education. Sixty-five per cent of employers believe graduates are ill-prepared in some way when they enter the job market. In another survey, 52 per cent of respondents felt their university did not focus enough on employability. At Zayed University we work hard to reverse all this and prepare our students,” he said.
Changing teaching approach
“Our approach to educating students has changed more than once over the last 25 years that Zayed University has been in existence. We pay attention to what’s happening externally and adjust our programs as we need to. “Technology, for example which has had an ever-increasing role in education, became an essential during the pandemic. Meta-learning for example is trending with students. It is the foundation of unlocking the ability to pursue lifelong learning opportunities and students are eager to learn about it.”
He added that against a competitive global and local backdrop, a new model of education is necessary.
Mousa outlined the four main “pillars” of Zayed University. “These pillars will shape all that we do at the university over the coming years.”
1. Interdisciplinary Education: To deliver an integrated model that supercharges a generation of lifelong learners capable of shaping the future of work.
2. Interdisciplinary research in action: Research is a foundation for innovation. To advance research that contributes to society and the knowledge economy.
3. Partnership for Value Creation: As we embrace a more interdisciplinary approach to education, it is only natural to look at creating as many connections as we can with others to enrich our offerings, our knowledge, and our capability
4. Operational Excellence: Rapid technological advancements, especially in data science, bring with them a multitude of opportunities for optimization and better decision-making processes.
Jane Tatterton, Acting Assistant Provost for Student Affairs, said: “Over 60 per cent of employed ZU graduates last year secured job positions in the private sector. This is a significant increase and is reflective of the changes in the UAE job market and the support given to ZU students and graduates through Student Careers and Alumni Department support, recruitment days and career fairs. Employers are looking for graduates that have a range of soft, transferable skills alongside their academic qualifications to ensure a smooth transition in the workplace,” she said.
Providing support to students, Tatterton said, “is crucial for fostering student success by cultivating belonging, engagement, well-being and skills development through positive, innovative and impactful services, programmes and activities”.
Student Affairs departments and units offer social, personal, professional, cultural and athletic opportunities in a supportive, inclusive and student-centred environment through their Student Leadership Department, Student Careers and Alumni Department, Student Accessibility Services, Student Counselling Services, Student Support and Student Life.
The university provides support to students and alumni to build their employability skills including opportunities to work part and full time. Personal and Well-being support is available in a group, and on a one-to-one basis through personal and career coaching and counselling and through the Student Accessibility Services for students of determination. Other programs and activities include Sports and Recreation, Leadership activities, Student Clubs and organizations and much more.
Naveed Ejaz, Advisor Outreach and Student Recruitment, said: “The outreach team at Zayed University participates and organises on-campus and virtual events. These events include, open days both in Abu Dhabi and Dubai campuses, faculty interaction sessions, program highlights and Q&A opportunities with admissions staff.”
“We accept any student who meets all our criteria and passes the Zayed University internal application. However, like any university with ambitions to be globally elite and competitive, we do have a ‘Student Persona’ that we look for when marketing and working with schools,” explained Ejaz.
“At Zayed University we do offer a limited number of Merit based scholarships for expats living in the UAE and international students that have studied their high school outside of the UAE. These scholarships are tuition awards that can cover full, or partial tuition fees for students and are incredibly competitive. We also offer financial aid that usually covers technological resources.”
UAE national students are required to complete the application on National Admission and Placement Office (NAPO). The admission criteria is the same for UAE nationals, expats and international students.
The students are selected based on their high school grades, performance in standardised tests like SAT Math, EmSAT Math or the Zayed University Internal Math Exam along with meeting the English language requirements with either EmSAT English, IELTS or TOEFL.