Students in the Arab world need improved access to career and academic counselling that will help them gain real-work experience before they graduate, a forum heard on Tuesday.
A recent survey of about 3,000 Arab youths in the region conducted by the Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation for Education found that nine out of 10 students said that it was important to complete an internship, but only 55 per cent had actually done so.
And while the students said they needed support looking for jobs, building networks with potential employers, preparing for interviews and writing resumes, only 34 per cent had met with an academic counsellor who could direct them to resources or support services.
“What we know is that academic or college and career counselling is not a service that’s widely available in schools across the region,” said Dr Samar Farah, the foundation’s research manager who presented the survey’s preliminary findings at “From Co-Ops to Start-Ups: Graduating Work-Ready Youth” forum in Dubai.
Meanwhile, she said, past studies have shown that most Arab employers have said that graduates lack the skills to succeed in the workforce, and half of employers said they must provide extra training to Arab graduates.
In addition to receiving more academic and career counselling, students would benefit from completing meaningful internships of at least three to six months to introduce them to world of work before they graduate, the forum heard.
“Often in the market, we see these students have a degree, but they are really not ready to participate in the market,” said Abdul Aziz Al Ghurair, chairman of the foundation. “So, how can we give the students experience to be ready on-the-job? What distinguishes a good student from a not-so-good student is their internship. That gives them discipline, that makes them understand what work really looks like.”
The students themselves were asking for it, said Dr Farah.
“Once Arab students are in university, they’re not getting the career support that they expect,” she said. “When asked about the types of things that are missing from their university experience, again the top three things were primarily points related to their career preparation — career related events, counselling services and extra-curricular activities.”
Only one university in the region — the American University of Beirut — ranked within the Top 100 QS Graduate Employability Rankings.
“Arab students seek more work experience and better career support,” said Dr Farah. “More than 1/3 of them didn’t agree that their universities were effectively preparing them for their first job or an internship, and the areas they could use more help in included everything from looking for jobs, building networks, preparing for interviews and writing CVs.”
The foundation recently partnered with the University of Waterloo, which is recognised by Maclean’s magazine as Canada’s most innovative university, and offers what it says is the largest post-secondary co-operative education programme of its kind in the world.
Students at the research-intensive university can enrol in one of more than 120 co-op programmes, which allows them to gain up to two years of work experience before graduating by alternating one semester of academics with one of full-time employment.
“They hit the ground running,” Dr Feridun Hamdullahpur, president of the University of Waterloo, told the audience. “Not only are they job-ready, they are career-ready.”
The university ranks 24th in the QS Graduate Employability Rankings.
Maysa Jalbout, chief executive of the Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation for Education, said partnerships would be key in promoting and replicating the Waterloo model in the Arab world.
“That’s the kind of experience that we’re looking for,” said Ms Jalbout. “We need partnerships, other philanthropists, we need the education sector, we need the private sector, we need government to work with us on making this kind of change happen.”