Higher learning institutes and businesses are cooperating more closely to match training with industry needs

Several advisory agencies have been set up in Oman with the task of creating avenues of exchange between academia and the commercial world. “Educational institutions are in continuous dialogue with industry,” Mona Fahad Al Said, assistant vice-chancellor for external cooperation at Sultan Qaboos University, told OBG. “A joint committee is working to address how the university can supply industry with the workforce and technical skills it requires in the short to medium term.” This will help universities achieve what Al Said considers one of their key roles – to prepare graduates for the real world. To do this, Oman will need to build its research and development capacity further through academic exchanges and collaborative research.

Role Of Education

At the same time, employers are becoming more aware of the potential for professional development offered by academic institutions. Collaboration between the two spheres can bring benefits to all involved, according to Mulham Al Jarf, chairman of Takatuf Oman, the human capital unit of Oman Oil Company. “We are encouraging academia to translate theoretical ideas into executable models and thereby giving companies access to the latest research results and innovative methodologies,” he said in February 2014 at a forum on links between education and industry. “This joint partnership aims to produce local Omani talent that is equipped with valuable knowledge and highly capable of excelling in a competitive work environment.” Among the outcomes of the forum was a recognition of how important it is that industry identify future workforce requirements as early as possible, and that educational institutions then use this knowledge to produce well-rounded graduates with areas of specialisation more suited to the workplace.

Private institutions can help with this. According to Ahmed Hassan Al Bulushi, acting dean of the Caledonian College of Engineering, “the private sector is more flexible when it comes to adapting to the market. Less bureaucracy makes private institutions more responsive to the needs of industry.” They also tend to take extra measures to differentiate themselves, especially when free to set tuition fees in a way that justifies investments in quality. “Universities in Oman are restricted when it comes to charging tuition fees,” Ahmed Al Naamany, dean of the Modern College of Business and Science, told OBG. “As the sector evolves, private campuses should have more control over prices, allowing them to distinguish themselves and raise more money, thus enabling them to offer better services and equipment and to boost retention of top professors.”

The role of private educational institutions has grown in recent years. Government data show there are 27 private universities and colleges with an enrolment of 52,115 students. Since 2000, the state has offered incentives for setting up institutes of higher education, including land grants, Customs exemptions and matching grants for private universities that cover 50% of capital, up to OR3m ($7.8m). “Private colleges review their curricula taking into consideration feedback from industry, which requires a well-rounded workforce that has soft skills as well as academic knowledge,” Maha Kobeil, dean and CEO of Majan College, told OBG.

Workforce Qualifications

Apart from the increasing demand for trained employees stemming from economic expansion – GDP is set to grow by 4% a year for the next few years – Oman’s manpower requirements are also undergoing a shift due to a change in government policy. In mid-February 2014 the minister of manpower, Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser Al Bakri, told local media that the portion of Omani workers employed in the private sector would be raised from 61% currently to 67% over the coming years. This would mean at least 100,000 positions in the labour market would become available for nationals. Other openings are being created in the public sector: the government announced in early March 2014 that almost 500 foreign employees of the Ministry of Civil Services, mainly middle and senior level positions, will be replaced by Omanis. Around 90% of state employees are nationals, and the goal is to raise this above 95%.

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