Riyad Y Hamzah, President, University of Bahrain (UoB): Interview

Riyad Y Hamzah, President, University of Bahrain (UoB)

Interview: Riyad Y Hamzah

How are universities developing the key competencies of students to meet local skills demand?

RIYAD Y HAMZAH: For any student, anywhere in the world, the transition into university is one that should not be underestimated. New tasks, such as managing one’s own timetable, and studying can be daunting and sometimes – if not always – require adjustment. It is important to ensure students are ready – not just academically – but are also given the ability to develop the confidence they will need to carry out their studies.

Currently, the private sector is the engine of growth within the region. Surveys conducted with employers show there is a pressing need for the skills development of young people. An important example is how technology is shaping the job market. The rise of automation and the accompanying digital disruption mean that education requires a responsive approach to developing skills – particularly soft skills. The best education integrates learning and industry requirements, and this is our approach at UoB. We have recently installed a new orientation programme that focuses not only on English language development, but also sought after maths and ICT skills. All incoming students are tested on key competencies so that learning and development is personalised, with many being enrolled into a Microsoft skills development programme during orientation.

Ultimately, our programmes allow students to close the skills gap by developing ICT skills – we have the highest number of students enrolled in the Amazon Web Services Educate programme in the region – working on industry projects and taking on internship positions. Meanwhile, our curricula is shaped with the input and support of employers to ensure that it is both practical and relevant for every student.

In what ways has UoB tailored its research investment strategy to local and international needs?

HAMZAH: While investment into research and development (R&D) is an important element in producing research, several factors should be considered in shaping research policies. The drop in oil prices has influenced spending across the board; this presents a unique opportunity for the university to become more focused and innovative in our approach to R&D.

UoB has developed a clear research strategy, focusing on solving regional problems, namely water security, food security and renewable energy. In 2017 we were awarded funding and are now working on joint research projects with some of the best universities in the world, such as Oxford University. We have further accelerated our research by introducing more multidisciplinary programmes and a range of post-graduate programmes. If the focus on R&D is tied to regional needs and the local market it is possible to develop a high level of expertise, creating an environment where universities are partnered to the development of innovative local firms.

How can universities play a part in leading and developing entrepreneurship in Bahrain?

HAMZAH: By focusing on technology and entrepreneurship, students are becoming comfortable with skills and competencies which enable them to develop their own ideas. Accelerators are paying attention to students’ projects and ideas, and Bahraini ICT students are competing on the international stage. International organisations and firms, including the UN Development Programme and Microsoft, are working to develop programming skills with us. Through the introduction of coding clubs, students from multiple colleges are able to develop coding skills, regardless of their current level or technical expertise. Students who work in start-ups benefit those companies by having this skill set, even if it is not the central focus of their position.

While the Economic Development Board of Bahrain is supporting entrepreneurship and start-ups coming to Bahrain, it is the collaboration between universities, the private sector and accelerators that will ensure they are find the talent they need for their business to thrive.

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