Interview: Jeff Zabudsky

How can post-secondary schools ensure that they are preparing students for the jobs of the future?

JEFF ZABUDSKY: Bahrain Polytechnic has a mission that ensures that our graduates are job-ready. Our programming is very practical and hands-on, such that graduates have skills appropriate to meeting the needs of employers very quickly. The Polytechnic stays in close contact with industry to guarantee that our curriculum is up to date and includes the kinds of skills that will be necessary for the jobs of the future. This involves regular meetings with industry representatives who provide feedback on the kinds of skills that will be demanded of employees, as well as the new academic programmes that will be needed in the future.

What potential does Bahrain have to attract more international students, and to what extent does the new accreditation system support its appeal?

ZABUDSKY: Higher education institutions (HEIs) around the world have become more active in recruiting international students for a number of reasons. First, internationalisation ensures that local students get daily exposure to cultures from around the world. This is becoming an increasingly valuable experience as the global economy continues to expand.

In addition, more HEIs are being asked to become less reliant on government funding, and they have turned to international student markets as a means of developing greater financial self-sufficiency. Many countries have growing populations of middle class citizens who are keen to acquire post-secondary schooling but do not have local access to education systems that can support the demand.

This is where established higher education systems can capitalise. Bahrain Polytechnic has a plan to reach out to the global student marketplace to attract international students, with the goal of improving the cultural experiences of local students and of ensuring the polytechnic’s financial stability and self-sufficiency.

What sectors are polytechnics best prepared to support in an economy where business activities are increasingly dominated by services?

ZABUDSKY: There are many areas that a polytechnic can develop to meet the growing demand for skilled people in these sectors. For instance, we are expanding in financial technology (fintech), which is a natural area for growth, given Bahrain’s history in financial services. Our business curriculum is increasingly incorporating fintech learning outcomes, and many of our capstone student projects relate to the emerging demands of the sector. We have also been fortunate to have our students engage in workplace internships at fintech centres, such as Bahrain FinTech Bay.

Additionally, more students are considering starting their own businesses to serve the emerging service economy. Many student projects are well-developed business plans that, with some support, can become real-life business opportunities. Bahrain Polytechnic is in the process of building a business incubator that can help students who have promising business ideas to develop those ideas and take them into Bahrain’s flourishing community of business accelerators.

Gone are the days when the only option for students was to graduate and move directly into working for someone else. Today’s students are considering entrepreneurship and self-employment as means to develop meaningful careers and help to build the private sector of Bahrain’s service economy.

Were there any legal changes implemented in 2018 that were favourable to Bahrain’s HEIs?

ZABUDSKY: A new legislation was proclaimed in July 2018 that is intended to provide Bahrain Polytechnic with a greater degree of autonomy. This should allow the institution to do two things: respond more quickly to the educational and training needs of the community, and pursue greater financial self-sufficiency that will lead to less reliance on government funding.