As an industrialised emirate with limited petroleum resources, Ras Al Khaimah has witnessed considerable economic diversification in recent years, driven in large part by government plans to equip the emirate with a knowledge-based economy that includes a profitable education sector.
In the wake of rapid population growth, the emirate has seen enrolment in both the K-12 and post-secondary segments swell in recent years, particularly in private schools. The education sector’s transformation is ongoing, and new research and tech-based industries are poised to work in partnership with the public sector to bolster learning and career prospects in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) segment. This increased emphasis on scientific research may be especially effective at the RAK Free Trade Zone (RAK FTZ), which is expected to undergo a major expansion of its education cluster in the coming years following a period of rising foreign investment, and should bring about opportunities for involvement with domestic industries.
The sector is not without challenges, such as staff shortages in certain segments and matching education materials to market needs. “My main line of concern is bridging the gap between the workplace and the classroom,” Hassan Hamdan Al Alkim, president of the American University of RAK (AURAK), told OBG. Nonetheless, the sector is expected to continue on a strong growth path, presenting considerable opportunities for private investors in the coming years.
Education in RAK is administered at the federal level under the supervision of the Ministry of Education (MoE) and the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research (MoHESR.) The MoE is responsible for regulating the sector and planning education strategies within the framework of its general education policy, and operates in RAK through a local government unit, the RAK Educational Zone (RAK Ed Zone.) In 2009 the ministry launched a new accreditation process with the goal of improving educational outcomes, announcing that all schools in RAK and the Northern Emirates will be assessed and accredited by 2017. The K-12 education system is regulated by the MoE, which plans educational strategies within the framework of its general education policy. The ministry’s mid-range policy, approved in October 2014 for the 2015-21 period, targets knowledge integration in STEM-related industries. MoHESR, meanwhile, oversees the post-secondary sector, while the Commission for Academic Accreditation (CAA) licenses degree-granting public and private institutions in the country. The CAA is less active in RAK, because the majority of the emirate’s post-secondary institutions are concentrated in RAK FTZ’s Academic Zone. The Academic Zone regulates post-secondary institutions registered in the zone, and in mid-2014 it announced plans to introduce an accreditation system modelled on the CAA and Dubai’s Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA).
Education spending has become a major federal priority, and 21% of the UAE’s Dh140bn ($38.1bn), three-year draft budget covering 2014 through 2016 was allocated to public and higher education. The MoE’s 2014 education budget stood at an estimated Dh9.8bn ($2.7bn), or 21% of the total annual budget, the majority of which was earmarked for general education improvements. The 2015 budget allocated 49% of Dh49.1bn ($13.4bn) in total spending to social services, including education and health care.
RAK has undertaken a number of initiatives that aim to boost the quality of the system. The areas of focus include improving the English language proficiency of Emirati secondary school graduates given that English is the language of instruction at all public universities; promoting the academic success of male Emirati students; recruiting and retaining male Emirati teachers; effectively using technology in educating students; and advancing research at the higher education level and incorporating its contributions into policies. For example, efforts targeting student enrichment in public schools include Hands on Learning and the Sheikh Saqr Student Enrichment programmes, which are initiatives of the Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research (AQF), a think tank established to study education, health care, urban planning and social demographics in the emirate. The former is a vocational learning scheme aiming to reduce male secondary student drop-out rates, while the latter supports the development of talented Emirati secondary school students and prepares them to undertake university studies in the UAE and overseas.
The national focus on STEM activities has influenced education development in RAK. Although the UAE has two federal research bodies – the National Authority for Scientific Research and the Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies – RAK has a number of its own such facilities, including a graduate research centre of École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), a research branch of the eponymous Swiss institution; the RAK Research and Innovation Centre (RAKRIC); and the AQF.
K-12: RAK’s public primary and secondary school system is divided into five segments: kindergarten, cycle one, cycle two, secondary school and vocational school. Kindergarten starts at age four and cycle one covers grades one to five. Cycle two covers grades six to nine, while secondary school serves grades 10 through 12. In its 2014 “RAK Statistical Yearbook”, the RAK Department of Economic Development (RAK DED) and RAK Ed Zone reported the emirate’s public school portfolio comprised 15 kindergartens, 20 cycle one schools, 16 cycle two schools, 12 secondary schools, 26 schools teaching both primary and secondary students, and one vocational school, the Practical Technology Academy. Although the number of public schools in the emirate has remained relatively stable since 2009, RAK DED reports that the number of students enrolled in these institutions has shown a modest increase in recent years, rising 8.9% between 2008/09 and 2013/14 to reach 33,610 students. Of this, 3990, or 11.9%, were enrolled in kindergarten, 12,424 (37%) in cycle one, 9532 (28.4%) in cycle two and 6906 (20.5%) in secondary. The number of students enrolled in the Practical Technology Academy has risen sharply in recent years, from 475 in 2009/10 to 758 in 2013/14.
RAK’s private K-12 segment offers vast potential to investors, with the sector recording high growth since 2009. The number of private K-12 schools operating in RAK has fluctuated between 24 and 25 establishments since 2009, and in 2013/14 the private K-12 segment comprised one kindergarten and 24 other schools. The number of students enrolled in these institutions has risen sharply, with RAK DED reporting a 41.2% rise – from 15,152 to 21,398 students – in enrolment between the 2009/10 and 2013/14 academic years. The cycle one segment accounts for the majority of private K-12 students in RAK: 9958, or 46.5%, in 2013/14, compared to 4790 (21.8%) in kindergarten, 2198 (22%) in cycle two and 1945 (9.1%) in secondary schools.
Staff shortages have long been a significant challenge for the private K-12 segment, with the emirate reporting shortages from 2002 onwards. This remains an obstacle in the wider UAE, with rapid population growth and stringent accreditation criteria adding to the burden. The MoE reported an estimated shortfall of 800 teachers in Dubai and the Northern Emirates in 2012. At the RAK Education Zone, 73 staff resigned in 2013/14 and 78 in 2014/15 – mostly to retire, but also to take up better-paid jobs elsewhere or enter higher education, as its director, Sumaia Abdullah Al Suwaidi, told the Khaleej Times. The need for a constant supply of teachers thus looks set to continue, especially as new institutions open. GEMS, the largest private provider in the emirate, opened its GEMS Westminster Academy in RAK as recently as 2013. However, the private sector remains constrained by a lack of available highly qualified staff. Yousef Al Achkar, chairman of RAK Academy, told OBG, “Good teachers make good schools. This is a basic formula.”
RAK Academy’s network of private primary and secondary schools represents the largest body of private institutions in the emirate. Comprising the Primary Years Programme School (PYPS), British Curriculum Primary School (BCPS) and the RAK Academy Secondary School, the network has captured an increasingly large market share in recent years; PYPS, for example, reports that its student numbers rose from 850 in 2010 to over 1200 in 2015, following its recent move to a new campus building in September 2014, while RAK Academy’s secondary school boasts 750 students, nearly 40% of the emirate’s total private secondary cohort. BCPS, established in 2008, accepts students from kindergarten to grade six and offers subject specialties in ICT and computing, sports, design technology and art.
Private school fees are lower in RAK than elsewhere in the UAE: at RAK Academy, for example, during the 2014/15 academic year fees ranged from Dh12,490 ($3400) to Dh22,600 ($6150) annually for pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students; between Dh22,900 ($6230) and Dh31,780 ($8650) for primary students; and between Dh32,466 ($8840) and Dh33,850 ($9200) for secondary students. The RAK American Academy for Girls charged between Dh15,120 ($4115) annually for kindergarten students and Dh31,920 ($8700) for grade 12 students in the same year. In contrast, Dubai College and the Dubai American School charge between Dh70,000 ($19,000) and Dh100,000 ($27,200) annually.
The number of post-secondary students in RAK has soared in recent years, with MoHESR reporting a 46.9% rise in enrolment between 2008 and 2013, with 3846 students reported as of 2013. Emiratis numbered 2590 students, 67.3% of the total, according to MoHESR. Major government-supported institutions include the RAK Medical and Health Science University (RAKMHSU), the Higher Colleges of Technology (HCT), and the AURAK.
The Academic Zone (part of the RAK FTZ) hosts seven of the emirate’s 14 post-secondary institutions, including India’s Birla Institute of Technology; the UK’s Bolton University, which was established in partnership with India’s Western International College group; and a branch campus of Pakistan’s Abasyn University, which opened in June 2014. Institutions and students benefit from RAK’s affordability, with many RAK FTZ institutions offering internationally accredited degrees at comparatively lower costs, while a rising emphasis on STEM careers at the national and emirate level has created favourable conditions for new education investment (see analysis).
Founded in 2006 with just 22 students, RAKMHSU has become an important training ground for medical personnel in the Northern Emirates and beyond, with enrolment standing at 1120 as of March 2015. The university offers four constituent colleges dedicated to medical sciences, dental sciences, pharmaceutical sciences and a Ministry of Health-sponsored nursing college that has bachelor’s programmes in medicine, dentistry, pharmacy and nursing, as well as two-year master’s degrees in nursing and pharmacy. RAKMHSU’s medical degree programme spans six years, including three years of clinical training at federal hospitals in RAK and Fujairah, and a one-year internship. The RAK College of Pharmaceutical Science is the first such establishment in the UAE to host a separate clinical pharmacy department in local hospitals, while the nursing programme emphasises clinical experience (the RAK College of Nursing offers a bridge programme for diploma students hoping to earn a four-year bachelor’s degree in nursing).
In September 2014 RAKMHSU hosted its fourth convocation, with 171 students graduating, including 41 medical, 19 dental, 46 pharmacy and 65 nursing students. Of these, seven graduated from the university’s master’s of science in nursing programme, launched in 2011, and seven with a master’s of science in clinical pharmaceutics, introduced in the same year. RAKMHSU was the first post-secondary institution in the UAE to establish master’s programmes in these disciplines.
The number of master’s graduates will likely rise in the coming years, after the university introduced new master’s of science degrees in paediatric nursing, community health nursing, psychiatric nursing and pharmaceutics, and a doctor of pharmacy in 2014.
RAKMHSU’s role in the education sector is set to expand. Administrators plan to raise its enrolment cap to 1600 students by 2017, with construction of a 100,000-sq-metre expansion and a new academic block and sports complex now under way, and expected to be completed before 2016. The recent inauguration of the new Sheikh Khalifa Specialty Hospital (SKSH), which has faced a shortage of qualified personnel (see Health chapter), will also benefit RAKMHSU students and the school will send its first batch of interns to SKSH in September 2015.
Offering vocational and applied training for Emirati students, the HCT stands as the UAE’s largest higher education institution and offers degree and diploma programmes to 20,000 students at 17 men’s and women’s campuses. RAK is home to two of these campuses, the RAK Men’s and Women’s Colleges (part of the HCT system), which specialise in work-related, English-language programmes in business, applied communication, computer and information science, engineering, health sciences and education. Both were established in 1993, with enrolment at the Men’s College standing at 524 as of 2014, while the Women’s College had a total of 1887 students enrolled. Men’s College programmes include a bachelor’s of applied science in applied communications, business administration, information technology, information systems and mechatronic engineering technology, as well as diplomas in applied engineering technology. In addition to these programmes, the Women’s College also offers a bachelor’s of education in primary education, English language teaching and educational technology.
AURAK: Established in 2005, AURAK is an independent, co-educational, state-owned institution, originally established as a branch campus of US-based George Mason University (GMU). GMU discontinued its operations in RAK in 2009, with Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi, ruler of RAK, moving to establish AURAK in its place. Early offerings include four CAA-accredited bachelor of science programmes in biotechnology, business administration, computer engineering, and electronics and communication. Expansion saw the university introduce 18 new programmes, including a bachelor’s of science in accounting and a variety of engineering disciplines, a bachelor’s of arts in English language and mass communication, and a bachelor’s of architecture. Graduate programmes include a master’s of business administration (MBA), an executive MBA, and master’s in engineering project management and education. Enrolment has grown considerably since 2009/10, rising from 126 students to 431 in the 2013/14 academic year, according to CAA data. In July 2014 the Swiss Centre for Electronics and Microtechnology (CSEM-UAE), a joint venture between Switzerland’s CSEM and the RAK Investment Authority, transferred assets and activities to AURAK and was re-branded as RAKRIC.
Although the Academic Zone’s schools do not fall under the supervision of the CAA, in June 2014 RAK FTZ announced plans to improve the reputation of its schools by setting new standards for institutions in its education zone. The zone’s academies director at the time, Seda Mansour, told The National, a UAE daily, that the free zone plans to introduce annual school inspections before moving forward on major expansion plans, including construction of new residential campuses for the recently established Abasyn University, which is based in Pakistan and opened its first branch campus in the zone in 2014. According to Mansour, an inspection model based on that of the KHDA in Dubai would be optimal for the Academic Zone, with improved operations expected to attract new foreign investment, which has been on the rise in recent years (see analysis).
Stakeholders across the UAE have called for a greater focus on research and development (R&D), and in January 2014 the Federal National Council reported that research funding comprises just 0.15% of MoHESR’s education spending. A number of institutions have rolled out new programmes in partnership with the private sector, including Abu Dhabi’s Petroleum Institute and Zayed University, and RAK is now moving to employ similar approaches to develop its own targeted R&D strategy.
The government of RAK has taken an active role in promoting and financing R&D activities, while the emirate’s existing national research facilities – AQF, RAKRIC and EPFL – have increasingly coordinated their activities with the private sector across key policy areas including renewable energy, urban planning and waste management. Private companies themselves are also moving to capitalise on RAK’s untapped potential. The R&D push affects a range of sectors but has created challenges for some segments, such as health-focused educational facilities.
Even so, these institutions are utilising connections with the private sector to bridge funding gaps. S Gurumadhva Rao, vice-chancellor of RAK Health and Medical Sciences University, told OBG, “As R&D funding is limited, we adapt our curricula to meet the developments of the professional sector.”
Development of new renewable energy sources is a prerogative for the national government, with the UAE announcing in January 2015 that it had tripled its renewable energy target. The goal is to meet 15% of total energy demand in the country via renewable sources by 2030.
RAK’s research institutions have been increasingly involved in launching their own applicable renewable energy projects, most notably RAKRIC and EPFL. RAKRIC is an R&D centre specialising in solar energy development and operating on 8700 sq metres of land in RAK FTZ’s industrial zone. The facility houses seven R&D test platforms focused on green energy projects including solar-driven cooling systems and desalination, and operates in partnership with the private sector to develop specialised projects on a case-by-case basis. In March 2015, for example, RAKRIC launched a joint research partnership with private firm Reed Bed Construction to develop new wastewater treatment processes.
EPFL has also been active in renewable energy and waste management R&D, hosting roughly 20 graduate interns selected from its main campus in Lausanne, Switzerland to spend one year conducting research at its RAK branch campus. Recent research offerings include a model vertical-axis wind turbine, which generates power regardless of which direction the wind blows, and cost-effective, high-capacity solar energy storage units.
The emirate is also active in conducting policy research through the AQF, which has consistently been ranked as one of the MENA region’s top think tanks by the Global Go To Think Tank Index. Established in 2009, the foundation aims to support the social, cultural and economic development in RAK and the UAE through three main areas of activity: research, local capacity development and community engagement. The foundation was initially established with a focus on education, but has since expanded its remit to cover public health and urban planning. Officials in RAK pursue evidence-based policies, and the foundation acts as a bridge between researchers and policymakers. The AQF equips policymakers with relevant research findings, which it publishes in the form of working papers, policy papers and other reports. Moreover, the foundation collaborates with other local and international organisations to support research on and capacity development initiatives in RAK by providing a variety of grant opportunities to researchers and institutions.
Significantly for the emirate, in early 2015 Google established an Innovation Hub in RAK. The supplementary learning and teacher-training centre focuses on STEM content, offering classes in robotics, 3D printing, aerospace, electronics, computer coding and programming and green energy to K-12 students. Citing a regional shortage of STEM-trained workers as the main reason for its decision, Google launched the facility in partnership with Al Bayt Mitwahid, an association set up by employees of the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince’s Court and managed by EduTech, a private learning services provider.
The project will offer classes three days a week and has the capacity to reach a total of 500 students every year, in addition to providing 150 hours of training to 200 teachers. According to media reports, the lab has been equipped with learning tools including programmable robots, humanoid robots, radio-controlled model aircraft with simulators, drones, scientific tools like data loggers and probes, 3D printers and scanners, virtual robotics, as well as ICT and math-graphing tools. The establishment of this lab is significant for RAK and marks a promising step towards developing an R&D landscape on par with the UAE’s larger emirates.
RAK’s education sector holds tremendous potential for future expansion. The emirate’s cost advantage and a growing emphasis on renewable energy and STEM-focused R&D activities have had an impact on the sector, which is expected to experience an increasing level of private investment. Although RAK, like the wider UAE, will continue to grapple with human resource challenges and the expansion of accreditation and monitoring activities, its rising population, ongoing diversification and state support for the development of a knowledge-based economy bode well for the growth of the sector.
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