Interview: Rawiyah bint Saud Al Busaidiyah
How is the Ministry of Higher Education working to respond to the needs of local industry?
RAWIYAH BINT SAUD AL BUSAIDIYAH: Local industries and higher education institutions (HEIs) are working together to further economic development through a range of new initiatives. Indeed, many of Oman’s HEIs are already involved in mutually beneficial cooperative arrangements with the local business community.
The Colleges of Applied Sciences (CAS) have programme advisory committees that include business representatives, who sit alongside programme directors and faculty members to share information and ensure that industry skills requirements are included in the curricula. In addition, the CAS and local businesses work together to arrange six-week internships. Accordingly, a plan for co-op education has been agreed upon, which will see the introduction of six-month student job placements that will be recognised and credited as part of the CAS curriculum.
Regular environmental scanning in cooperation with the Department of National Economy has been recommended in the National Strategy for Education 2040. The results of this scanning will then be shared with all HEIs so they can act upon it in accordance with their missions. The government has embarked aggressively on job creation, including the establishment of a manpower registry project as well as other initiatives to align graduates with the job market.
What interim criteria must be met to develop research and development (R&D) facilities?
AL BUSAIDIYAH: R&D refers to commercially oriented research and technological development activities taking place in corporate businesses. Not much research along these lines is currently being undertaken, and most research is conducted by universities, some ministries and the Research Council.
It is necessary for academic, governmental and corporate parties to work together in conducive infrastructural arrangements. Indeed, there are presently important initiatives under way to help achieve this goal. For example, the state-of-the-art Science and Technology City is being developed alongside the University of Oman. At the same time, the Innovation Park Muscat project is under development by the Research Council in cooperation with Sultan Qaboos University, with the aim of stimulating innovation and making Oman into a hub for scientific research.
Moreover, Innovation Park Muscat is expected to maintain important links with the new Science and Technology City, as well as the University of Oman. This in turn will be operating alongside the expanding industrial developments at the Port of Sohar, as well as with enterprises in the Barka Logistics Corridor. This is a dedicated area that is made up of advanced business and industrial developments in the region between Muscat and Sohar.
To what extent can the private sector contribute to the development of the education sector?
AL BUSAIDIYAH: Support from the private sector has been absolutely crucial to the expansion of the higher education system, which has grown from just one private college in 1995 to the present system, which comprises seven private universities and 19 private colleges. The sultanate’s private universities and colleges are fully owned by investors, although they are also partially supported by government grants, tax exemptions and scholarships covering tuition fees.
We expect that the owners of Oman’s HEIs will continue to increase their investments in ways that can improve the quality of both the programmes and facilities at their institutions. The private sector is expected to invest heavily in the Science and Technology City as well as in Innovation Park Muscat.
Oman’s National Strategy for Education 2040 also includes initiatives for partnerships with the private sector for a diverse range of activities. These are set to include joint research, building projects, internships, job placements and funding academic chairs.
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