Interview: Hassan Rashid Al Derham

What are local universities doing in order to adapt to a rapidly changing labour market?

HASSAN RASHID AL DERHAM: As a small country in both size and population, Qatar utilises a centralised administration system for certain growing sectors such as health, education and higher education. The landscape of higher education has changed significantly over the last 20 years, particularly in terms of population.

The establishment of Education City led elite international institutions to form strong local operations, however, Qatar University also plays a key role in the development of the country, and is a major supplier of graduates for the local labour market.

The strategy from 2018 to 2022 is centred around the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which is already affecting lives and the industrial fabric of the country. This puts more pressure on universities, as we need to adapt the skills of our graduates to better meet the needs of the labour market today and in the future.

Leadership skills are increasingly necessary within our curricular development programme, as are critical thinking and teamwork. There may be jobs that will come to an end, but many will also be created. The challenge is to ensure that students graduate with the right set of skills to accommodate these changes, and our academic programme will adjust accordingly. This is becoming increasingly important as larger numbers of Qataris start holding managerial positions in some of the country’s leading organisations.

However, we are aware that local human capital will not be sufficient to fulfil the workforce needs of the entire country, and foreign expertise will continue to be relevant for the future of Qatar.

How will focusing on collaboration between academia and the private sector help to further develop the entrepreneurial ecosystem?

AL DERHAM: We need to promote the private sector’s contribution to our national economy, and for this we require a larger number of companies. To this end, the government has been working to establish the necessary policies and infrastructure.

Now, it is our responsibility to give students the skills they need to create a stronger entrepreneurial ecosystem and shape the future of our country. This stands at the core of our strategy, and we are making sure that students have the tools to establish their entrepreneurial spirit. These include job efficiency, new idea generation, critical thinking and teamwork.

Regardless of their future professional path, whether it is creating a small business or joining a large organisation, Qatari students need a paradigm shift in order to begin thinking with an entrepreneurial mindset and add value to their workplace. This change in mentality extends to the university and higher education sector as a whole.

Considering regional dynamics and increasing global competition, what is being done to attract international students and faculty?

AL DERHAM: We want our universities to be the first choice for both Qatari students and for regional research faculty. We must continue working to ensure that Qatar’s higher education qualifications are not lower than top universities worldwide. We have great potential to excel in certain niche sectors where we stand out compared to other countries, both regionally and internationally.

In the field of wireless communications, for example, we are positioned globally as a top research centre with a critical mass of leading researchers. Pharmacy is also advanced and at the forefront in the region. We are ranked in a very good position. Focusing on such niche areas is essential to attracting high quality PhD students and graduate studies staff.

Higher education is evolving into a highly important area of focus for the government as Qatar works to become a leading academic centre for the region.