Emiratisation won't work if people don't want to learn

Instead of acquiring a university degree to get a job or promotion, young Emiratis should acquire real knowledge and skills that prepare them for the workplace.

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During my interview for admission to graduate school to study diplomacy and international affairs, the interviewer asked me to name the major current global issues.

The question was not difficult, nor new to me. I often hear similar questions from my family and friends, who assume that I know everything just because I'm a journalist.

I started to list the most prominent topics: Syria, Mali, Egypt and so forth. The interviewer seemed happy and said my answer was "refreshing". He rejected many potential students, he said, because they failed to answer this simple question. How, he wondered, could they study international affairs if they start without any idea about what is going on in the world?

A university degree has always been considered the key to getting a good job, in any country. University graduates have more employment opportunities and higher earnings than dropouts or high-school graduates. And a higher degree can open doors for career advancement.

But how many students go to college with the right attitude? How many really want to learn and study?

Many young Emiratis see a degree as only a piece of paper that can get them a job or a promotion. Education is generally viewed as a means for that, and not as a learning experience that will increase their skills and make them more productive while working.

The result? Many students choose random, popular, or easily-mastered fields of study that do not necessarily match their interests.

The number of Emirati college students is increasing. In Dubai, for example, the number rose by 10 per cent last year to 20,619. Of these 43 per cent are in private universities outside the free zones, 16 per cent in the free zones and 41 per cent at federal universities. Business studies dominate: 37 per cent of university degrees awarded are in business across the country, according to the annual report published by Dubai's Knowledge and Human Development Authority.

During my undergraduate studies, I came across many students who said they chose their field of study because they thought it was easy, or because it is popular, or to be with their friends. And many would cheat to pass exams or finish courses, without realising that by doing so they waste an opportunity to be better people and more effective professionals in the future.

A recent survey in 10 universities, for the online recruiting firm Gulf Talent, said 86 per cent of male Emirati students, and 66 per cent of females, hope to work in the government sector after graduation.

We keep talking about Emiratisation and the need to engage citizens in the private sector, but we often neglect an important underlying issue: do we have enough skilled and competitive Emiratis to fill these positions?

Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed, Minister of Presidential Affairs and Deputy Prime Minister, talked about that at last month's Government Summit, saying that the Emiratisation of the private sector will not succeed unless we have more well-prepared Emiratis. The most essential element in that is people who have the willingness to gain real education, not only a piece of paper.

"We have to have a responsible and able Emirati," Sheikh Mansour said, "who can prove himself and can be more productive, to produce the best quality work to represent the UAE in a positive way."

A change in mindset is needed as well as the further development of the education system. Our country needs that more than ever before.

Finding a job is now more challenging and even with Emiratisation, unemployment rates for Emiratis are increasing. In Abu Dhabi, as many as 11.6 per cent of Emiratis are jobless. The rate is higher for women than for men.

One day, there will be no positions available for those who have university degrees but have not learnt enough to get the job done efficiently.

On Twitter: @AyeshaAlmazroui