FNC member says education is a matter of national security

The funding crunch facing the Higher College of Technology could be a threat to national security, an FNC member has said.

ABU DHABI // The funding crunch facing the Higher Colleges of Technology could be a threat to national security, an FNC member said yesterday.

Dr Amal al Qubaisi, a member of the FNC's education, youth, media and culture committee, warned that students denied a place because of cost might become radicalised.

She claimed that although the number of students had increased from 14,000 to 19,000 since 2007, the budget granted to the HCT had not increased.

The lack of funds will translate into them accepting fewer students, she said.

"They [students] either bear an extra financial burden at private universities … which is against the Constitution, which guarantees free education to nationals," Dr al Qubaisi said. "Or they get disappointed and leave higher education completely which will leave bigger negative consequences and affects the country's national security."

Such students, she said, would be susceptible to "deviance" and radicalisation.

The committee has drafted a report on the HCT which will be released today. The findings will be debated with Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, the Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research and the HCT's chancellor.

The report focuses on the funding shortfalls facing the federal university; the loss of Emirati faculty members due to low salaries; whether the curriculum is suitable for the work environment; the teaching of Arabic and the colleges' general strategy, said Sultan al Suwaidi, the chairman of the committee.

The debate will allow for a broader look into higher education, he said.

Funding promised by the Government has not materialised despite the significant increase in the number of students.

Dr al Qubaisi said the HCT plays a critical role in ensuring Emirati high school graduates receive a university education.

Presidential and vice-presidential directives have instructed the HCT to admit more students. "Until now the Ministry of Finance has not given them their funds," Dr al Qubaisi claimed.

The lack of funding has halted plans to build new facilities and is the main complaint of the HCT's staff.

"The Ministry of Finance has to review the way it deals with the educational institutions," she said.

Education is not the sole item on the FNC's agenda for today.

The Minister of Economy is expected to respond to a question about government efforts to curb price rises in consumer products.

At the heart of the debate is the increase in oil prices, which has led to a rapid rise in food prices.

"We noticed a large rise in the price of food products, especially those whose price is affected by transport - foods that have to be imported, particularly vegetables," said Khalid bin Zayed, an FNC member from Dubai.

Citing figures from the Ministry of Economy, he said some food prices in the UAE have increased by up to 36 per cent this year, the highest increase in the GCC.

The Minister of Health will also be questioned about government hospitals in the Northern Emirates that turn down emergency cases because they have no health cards.

Hospitals in the northern emirates have lost a lot of staff because they lack the resources to pay high enough salaries, which means they often cannot afford to take emergency patients who do not have full insurance, said Khalifa bin Huwaidin, the member from Sharjah who posed the question.

He said labourers, for instance, should have comprehensive health insurance tied to their labour cards to ensure they always receive treatment.

There is a "shortage of doctors, shortage of nurses and crowding of hospitals" are ongoing trends, and doctors are "seeping out" of the ministry to the private sector and local health authorities, Mr bin Huwaidin said.