UAE ranked No 5 globally in business skills and making strides in data science, Coursera says

Businesses are spending more money and time on building skills in technology and data science amid the pandemic, CEO says

People working in offices located in Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC), Dubai, UAE.

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The UAE is a global leader in business talent and is making strides in data science skills, according to the online learning platform Coursera, which was founded by Stanford University professors.

The UAE ranks 1st in the Middle East and Africa and 5th globally in business skills like management, marketing and sales. In data science, which emphasises mathematics and statistics and underpins automation, the UAE ranked 4th in MEA and 50th globally, according to the 2020 Global Skills Index.

"Even through layoffs and furloughs and this disruption, businesses are spending more money more quickly to build data science and technology skills than they were before the pandemic," Jeff Maggioncalda, chief executive of Coursera, told The National.

Coursera found institutions navigating the Covid-19 pandemic are continuing to prioritise the improvement of skills that underpin the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Over two-thirds of enrollments by governments, companies and campuses on the Coursera platform are in courses teaching business, technology and data science.

The uptick in engagement is important because rapid advancement in technology is putting pressure on labour markets around the world. Higher proficiency in these skills is linked to GDP growth, labour force participation and income equality, according to data from the World Bank.

While there were short-term increases in enrollments for courses in public health and well-being in the first few months of the pandemic, learners in automation and data science have increased, Mr Maggioncalda said. The company has seen 15 million new students on its platform since the start of the pandemic.

“During a global slowdown, public and private sector institutions across the Middle East must accelerate reskilling efforts that prepare workers for a rapidly changing economy,” Mr Maggioncalda said.

The study from the world’s biggest online learning platform assessed the skills of its 65 million learners in 60 countries based on test performance in business, technology, and data science over the last year.

Coursera has 350,000 students enrolled in the UAE. Its largest institutional client, the Abu Dhabi School of Government, is aiming to upskill 60,000 of its civil servants. Most are taking business courses, Mr Maggioncalda said, which accounts for some of the UAE's strong performance in the subject matter.

Vinod Bakthavachalam, a senior data scientist at Coursera, told The National that the foundational skills required for data science, like math and statistics, could be improved in the UAE.

The country is aiming to massively increase knowledge and investment in this domain over the next few years.

Earlier this month, the UAE announced a major cabinet reshuffle that established a Ministry of Industry and Advanced Technology, led by Dr Sultan Al Jaber. In January 2021, Mohamed Bin Zayed University, the world's first AI-dedicated research university, will open its doors at the new Masdar City campus in Abu Dhabi.

When asked about the start of the new school year in September, Mr Maggioncalda said he feels "dread" at the thought of places still being hit hard by the pandemic - particularly in the US - sending students and faculty back to classrooms and college campuses. But he added Coursera expects to play a major role.

As schools worldwide cobbled together remote learning curriculums, the company rolled out its Coronavirus Response Initiative in March, providing free access to the Coursera course catalogue through Coursera for Campus.

Universities were able to sign up and give their enrolled students access to some 4,000 courses from Coursera's 200 university and industry partners, which include University of London, University of Pennsylvania, Google and IBM.

Since then, 1.5 million learners have taken 7 million courses and have logged 20 million hours of online learning. Mr Maggioncalda said he expects to see more in the fall and hopes to see higher participation from emerging markets, which lag in skill-building for good jobs.

"People are interested in things that are going to help them get better jobs," he said.