ABU DHABI // Higher education and nuclear power are areas in which the UAE and Australia will start collaborating.
During a visit to the UAE this week by Andrew Robb, Australia’s trade and investment minister, an agreement was signed with Sheikh Hamdan bin Mubarak, the Minister for Higher Education. The countries will collaborate on vocational education, training and research cooperation in higher education.
“It is an all-encompassing memorandum of understanding (MoU)that will provide for increased government-to-government consultation,” said Pablo Kang, Australia’s ambassador to the UAE.
“It also includes the exchange of students, academics and researchers, and sharing of information on issues such as teaching, curriculum materials, standards and accreditation systems.”
Other areas will focus on policy developments, benchmarking of occupational standards and the development of credit transfer arrangements between educational institutions in both countries.
“It is now operational as it does not require ratification,” he said. “We hope it will be the catalyst to increasing numbers of Emirati students travelling to Australia to study, or to study at Australian institutions in the UAE.”
Mr Kang said he hoped more Australian schools would be set up in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
“There are no student numbers specified in the MoU but the sky is the limit as far as I am concerned.”
Mr Robb said Arabian Gulf countries faced challenges in providing education and skills development for their growing and youthful populations.
Mr Robb said the UAE was investing in infrastructure and restructuring its economy, creating opportunities in sectors where Australia had a proven track record.
He also met senior ministers to advocate for a resumption of negotiations for a free trade agreement with the GCC.
“I [used] my visit to set out the Australian government’s trade and investment agenda, to emphasise that Australia is open for business and that we are committed to deepening our economic engagement with the region,” he said.
Australia will also begin to export uranium to the UAE for its nuclear power plants.
The Nuclear Cooperation Agreement was signed in July 2012 but was ratified and came into force only on Monday. It could lead to the export to the UAE of up to 800 tonnes of uranium a year by the end of the decade.
“The agreement should now pave the way for separate commercial agreements between potential Australian uranium suppliers and the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation,” said Mr Kang. “The [first exports] are subject to the timeline for the construction of the UAE’s nuclear power plants, but I understand the first of these plants is scheduled for completion in 2017.”
Under the agreement, Australia will supply uranium for use in the UAE's developing civil nuclear power programme and cooperate in nuclear-related activities, such as safeguards, security, safety and science.
“The agreement has been secured because Australia is a reliable supplier of uranium and the UAE is a responsible user of nuclear energy for civilian purposes,” said Mr Robb, who met Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the Foreign Minister, this week in Abu Dhabi.
“This will open up a new long-term market for Australian uranium producers.”
He said the agreement reinforced Australia’s close and expanding relationship with the UAE, based on mutual political, strategic and economic interests.
Australia exported almost 8,400 tonnes of uranium in 2012 and last year, worth about AUS$823 million (Dh2.82 billion). According to the Australian Trade Ministry, the UAE would hope to import about 800 tonnes a year from 2020.
“It is important for the UAE’s civilian nuclear energy programme to have a safe and reliable source of uranium,” Mr Kang said. “Australia holds the world’s largest known uranium reserves – about 40 percent of the world’s total reserves – and, from Australia’s perspective, the agreement opens up a potential new source of exports from Australia to the UAE and hence a considerable diversification in our current terms of trade.”
Sheikh Abdullah said the ratification of the agreement would offer more opportunities for collaboration between the Government and private sectors of both countries. He said this falls in line with the UAE’s policy of developing its peaceful nuclear energy programme in collaboration with other countries that shared the same commitment.
Hamad Alkaabi, the UAE’s permanent representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency, said the agreement constituted a governmental framework for cooperation in nuclear activities between both countries.
“It allows for the transfer of nuclear material from Australian sources to the UAE’s nuclear sector, once the administrative and commercial arrangements are put into place,” he said.