Students need to be academically ready

It would be good if students arriving from high school were academically ready, say officials at federal universities.

It would be good if students arriving from high school were academically ready, say officials at federal universities. They would not mourn the end of foundation programmes, but say schools will have to improve significantly if this is to happen. Currently 94 per cent of students who join UAE University, Zayed University and the Higher Colleges of Technology require remedial teaching before they can start their higher education courses. The Ministry of Education's 2010 to 2020 strategy, announced this week, indicates that schools should take over the teaching of material included in foundation programmes, which are estimated to take up one third of the teaching budget of the three federal universities. "What's important is the quality of what's in the schools, so the programmes become unnecessary, so they wither to a small but manageable size," said Bryan Gilroy, Zayed University's assistant provost for enrolment management. He said currently foundation programmes were vital to address shortages in basic skills among school leavers. "It's not primarily an [English]-language issue, although that is a big issue," he said. "Many of the students have inadequate Arabic and maths - arguable these are as poor as their English. "The basic skills at high school need to be relooked at. How we do that I don't know, because it's a major challenge." The HCT provost, Dr Mark Drummond, said Abu Dhabi Education Council was implementing "many things that will significantly improve" the emirate's government schools. However, he said changes would not happen overnight. "The problem is it takes time to produce better teachers, improve the curriculum and raise standards. Often people get impatient," he said. If improvements were sustained, he said the HCT would be pleased if the number of students taking foundation programmes was reduced. "We'd agree the colleges and universities should not be in the business of teaching material that should have been taught in high schools," he said. Dr Rory Hume, provost of UAEU, said his university "shares the goal" of the Ministry of Education of eliminating foundation programmes. "We'll do everything that we can to support the ministry and the other education authorities to achieve this," he said. The idea that the foundation programmes should be eliminated has not received universal support in the past. Writing in The National recently, Dr Mick Randall, the former dean of education at the British University in Dubai, said universities were well equipped to teach the courses and considerable investment had been made in developing this expertise. Also, he warned that increasing the amount of time spent teaching English in schools could risk compromising students' Arabic skills.