Half of Emirati students expect a starting salary of Dh15,000 to Dh30,000 a month, a study has revealed.
The survey showed that 20 per cent of expatriate students expect the same, while 58 per cent aim for a starting salary of up to Dh7,500 a month.
The findings were revealed in the wide-ranging What About Youth? survey of about 11,000 students at 16 universities in Dubai’s Academic City, including Heriot-Watt, Middlesex and Wollongong.
Of those polled, 52 per cent were Emirati, 31 per cent were from Saudi Arabia and 17 per cent were UAE residents from other countries. All those polled were studying in the Emirates.
The survey also laid bare how poorly third-level institutions were preparing students for the real world.
Only three per cent of respondents said they had received formal careers guidance.
More than 60 per cent said they depended on family and friends for advice, while 17 per cent said they relied on teaching staff.
At least 70 per cent want more guidance while at college, while half said they would not study at the same college again.
Experts said shortcomings in higher education were contributing towards graduates’ unrealistic expectations upon entering the workforce.
“Universities need to really ramp up the role of career counsellors,” said Marketa Simkova, from KPMG, which ran the survey with Dubai International Academic City, and the Talent Enterprise, a psychometric testing firm.
“If you look at well-established universities in the Europe or the United States, the role of the career counsellor is paramount,” she said.
“Universities need to get employers on campus and tell students what it’s like to join the workforce as this will help students understand the gap.”
The survey was carried out in several phases starting in 2018 and finishing in early 2020. A follow-up study is under way to gauge how the Covid-19 pandemic has affected young people.
About 43 per cent of respondents were women.
Central to the survey was this lack of proper career guidance. At least 40 per cent reported they had never taken career assessments and only 56 per cent had a clear plan of what they would do after graduation.
But about 84 per cent students said they felt hopeful for the future.
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“Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, youth nurture optimism about the future,” she said.
“The research suggests that students demand more career guidance, and employers can certainly play a role here.”
Ms Simkova said employers could participate in university mentorship initiatives and graduate programmes that could help them tap into available talent pools early on.
Radhika Punshi, managing director of the Talent Enterprise, said there was a disconnect between employer, educator and student.
Schools needed to work with universities to help young people make informed career choices, she said.
“When you speak with employers they say youth are not ready and don’t have the skills,” said Ms Punshi.
“Students in general have high expectations and they don’t have experience around what work would look like. Their expectations are a bit naive,” she said.
“We often hear students say ‘I have learnt in a two-month long internship what I learnt in one year at university’.”
The most popular areas of study for young people pursuing bachelor’s or master’s degrees were business and management. But the survey also found that 21 per cent students were interested in science-based careers such as engineering, technology, robotics and artificial intelligence, suggesting the UAE’s space programme was having an impact on choices.