Adec to direct scholarships towards students pursuing in-demand careers

Abu Dhabi Education Council's higher education director explained changes to the scholarship programme that will better prepare graduates for employment.

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ABU DHABI // Abu Dhabi Education Council is offering scholarships to Emirati university students only in fields where jobs are in demand, according to labour market data.

Dr Mohamed Yousif Baniyas, Adec’s executive director for higher education, explained the changes to the scholarship programme and other efforts to better prepare graduates for employment.

Scholarships will be awarded only for students studying fields in demand by the private and public sectors, particularly science, technology, engineering and maths, Dr Baniyas said.

This year, more than 1,000 Emiratis were awarded academic scholarships from Adec. These cover tuition and monthly stipends for students studying abroad or at home.

Adec will also consider labour market demand when approving new programmes that universities want to offer, he said. Although higher education institutes in the emirate operate autonomously, new programmes must be approved by an Adec quality assurance department that works with the Ministry of Education to ensure high standards for licensing.

The council has been collecting data on graduates from public and private universities to make sure they are gaining knowledge and experience to meet current and future market demands, Dr Baniyas said.

“We look at employability per programme, per speciality,” he said. “We look at employability at different stages after graduation. We look at employee satisfaction with the graduate – how they rate them.”

Data also suggest that graduates need more practical experience to find employment, so Adec will require universities to include internship components in any new programme before it is approved.

“In general we found that the programmes that have more practicum, more hands-on experience, more internships – the employability is higher,” Dr Baniyas said.

“We don’t want to reach a level where we are micromanaging universities. This is not how we do it, but we are making it mandatory, more or less.”

Career counsellors are also using labour market data to steer students towards careers that are in demand.

“We are preparing the future manpower that is needed by the government and private partners,” said Dr Baniyas. “So, basically what they do is they counsel the students. ‘You want to study public relations, my dear, it’s a nice dream, but think again’.”

Adec’s latest graduate destination survey found that 87 per cent of Emirati men and 52 per cent of Emirati women who graduated from an Abu Dhabi university were employed nine months after graduation.

Engineering, business, and health and welfare graduates had the highest rate of employability, with 77, 76 and 67 per cent of Emirati graduates finding work in these fields within that time frame.

Students who earned a degree in agriculture and arts and humanities had the lowest rate of employment, with only 37 and 39 per cent of students finding work in those respective areas.

Dr Ahmad Belhoul, Minister of State for Higher Education, said internships were an excellent way for students to gain experience while learning about professional opportunities.

“Universities should look to incorporate internships as part of their curriculum, as this will help ensure that our graduates have both the academic and real-world skills needed to immediately enter and succeed in the labour market,” Dr Belhoul said.

“Ultimately, this will greatly benefit the UAE as it means our incoming workforce is losing no time in effectively contributing to the growth and development of the economy.”

Dr Tod Laursen, president of Khalifa University, said since most of his university’s graduates were majoring in engineering, internships have already become a central part of the training.

“Our students have been required to complete one, as a degree requirement, from the beginning of the university,” said Dr Laursen.

“Such internships not only give them exposure to real industrial work settings and work assignments while still a student, but also often stimulate them once they return to university, to continue to work on related topics and projects as seniors in our programme.”

Jane Tatterton, manager of Zayed University’s student careers and alumni relations, said all ZU students are required to complete an internship in their final year.

“It is a win-win situation for both the student and employer,” said Ms Tatterton.

“For employers it is an opportunity to find and road test future employees, increase their productivity by increasing manpower – an intern can bring in new ideas, creativity and different perspective to a company or situation.

“It is a chance for students to convert their academic knowledge to industry and a successful internship may lead to a permanent position after graduation.”