Leading employers have backed Zayed University's mission to develop the UAE's "future changemakers" through the launch of interdisciplinary degrees equipping students with the skills required for the careers of tomorrow.
More than 120 members of the UAE government, employers, education experts and students came together to discuss a new age of learning at a virtual meeting on Sunday.
The second Enduring skills event featured a series of conversations hosted by Zayed University.
Noura Al Kaabi, Minister of Culture and Youth and President of Zayed University, spoke of the importance of future-proofing students.
“Education is becoming an important tool for our future where we are creating ways of thinking and connecting knowledge in a coherent way for our future changemakers," she said.
"The strategies and action plans being taken are steps towards preparing leaders of the future and instilling within them new ways of thinking, adopting a solution-based mindset and equipping students with the skills to attain success in a rapidly changing world."
Zayed University plans to transform the way it teaches students over the next five years by offering programmes that better prepare them for the workplace.
The university has enrolled 125 students out of 850 that applied to the Zayed University X Minerva programme.
In June, Zayed University signed a deal with American innovator Minerva Project to create a new vision for how its students learn. The agreement is aimed at ensuring students have cross-disciplinary skills that are relevant in a fast-changing global job market.
In August, the institution launched the first three of its “interdisciplinary degrees”.
It will provide courses from different disciplines, mixing ideas from political science and psychology, for example, as well as offering real-world, workplace experiences.
"Why did we choose the path of interdisciplinary? We saw the way the majors are constructed in a way that gives students more than one dimension to be able to begin in one of the futuristic sectors," Ms Al Kaabi said.
The three new courses for the programme are computational science, social innovation and business transformation.
Focus on the person not the CV
Employers at the roundtable said they were increasingly moving away from traditional CVs, with skills that candidates bring to the table playing a more important role than in the past.
Dena Almansoori, chief human resources officer at Etisalat, said the interdisciplinary approach was important in this regard.
“We no longer really focus on the resume, it's not a predictor of success or fit or potential," she said.
“What we have realised over the years is that you have a higher chance of being successful the more you have moved into multiple disciplines.
“The inherent traits that you learn such as resilience or adaptability or problem-solving makes you more successful down the line."
Instead, candidates were monitored on how they performed in their assessments, she said.
“If you are more resilient, adaptable and have a higher aptitude of problem-solving, that makes you much more successful in a job versus having a strong GPA or coming from an Ivy League school," she said.
Ms Almansoori spoke of the responsibility of organisations to change the way they assess talent and ensure the processes are fair, and employers said personality and background were now critical in the recruitment process.
Zayed University approach 'more meaningful' for students
University degrees are like litmus tests for those who are starting their career, Ahmed Alnaqbi, chief executive officer at Emirates Development Bank said.
“It’s generally the personality that we are looking at. It’s the people that go out of the way and take the initiative and are self-thinkers," he said.
"Education really needs to transform and adapt the way that Zayed University is. I wish to see more universities adapting the same practices where it's a more meaningful experience for students.
“This is what we need in education. We need to develop people who are critical thinkers, who are problem-solvers and when put in a situation can adapt."
The roundtable addressed crucial issues such as the role of employers and how recruitment processes needed to evolve to offer graduates relevant jobs.
Speakers discussed the role of schools and how teachers could prepare the next generation for the rapidly changing world
Speakers also said that achieving a truly interdisciplinary study needed the involvement of stakeholders from multiple disciplines.
Creating a level playing field
Ben Nelson, chief executive officer of Minerva Project, said students should be judged on their achievements and what they bring to a role, rather than the status of the university they attended,
“We often encounter graduates from even the most prestigious university and we cannot tell what university a graduate came from," he said.
"We evaluate the graduates based on their merits. The imprint of the university is quite small."
He said employers should be able to see the value of their education.
“Success comes not in the practice of academic silent disciplines," he said. "The world requires an interdisciplinary approach.”
Majed Al Mesmari, a managing director at JP Morgan Chase bank and its senior country officer for the UAE, said he sought candidates with different backgrounds.
He encouraged students to explore all options and have the confidence to create novel ideas.
"Traditionally people think universities are the first port of call for students knowing about the future of jobs. Having graduated from The Higher Colleges of Technology in 2000, I had no clue of future jobs," Mr Mesmari said.
"I had teachers around me who always encouraged me to think differently and said, 'don’t be afraid to explore something uncommon'. I found this to be extremely powerful advice."
Mina Al-Oraibi, editor in chief at The National, moderated the panel discussion.