Gulf Education Conference's focus on unemployment issue

February 20, 2018
Layan Damanhouri

Saudi Gazette

— The Saudi education system is at a pivotal point in preparing graduates for the job market, experts and stakeholders discussed at the two-day 7th Gulf Education Conference held at the University of Business and Technology (UBT) here on Tuesday.

Delegates from international and local educational institutions gathered to address unemployment challenges, opportunities, and future needs of higher education in the Middle East and North Africa region.

Unemployment has posed a burden among many Saudis, with graduates unassured about landing a job once they complete their degrees.

The third quarter of 2017 saw more than 745,000 unemployed Saudis, according to the General Authority for Statistics. The majority are youth and women with bachelor’s degrees and higher.

Saudi Arabia strives to become one of the most advanced nations in science, technology and innovation by 2030 through transforming into a knowledge-based economy. Education plays a key role in achieving such, academic leaders said.

“Saudi public universities focused on education for the sake of education. However in the last ten years, a new orientation of education to prepare the job market was adopted by universities such as UBT,” Dr. Abdullah Dahlan, chairman of UBT, told Saudi Gazette. “This stream addresses a major issue in the Kingdom which is unemployment. Universities are responsible to link education with training and qualifying graduates for jobs whether in the private sector or otherwise.”

He further said, “While it is important to have research centers, not all universities specialize and become research universities. UBT values research that serves the labor market.”

Dr. Basma El Zein, dean of scientific research at UBT, sayid: “The job market today is in need of graduates who not only have degrees but are capable of using that knowledge and become problem solvers and entrepreneurial in their communities. Universities should focus on building the character of the students and equip them with the required skills.”

Asked about ways to be compatible with the labor market, she said, “It’s important to constantly review and update the curriculum accordingly in addition to have meetings with industry leaders to find what skills are needed.”

One of the major obstacles facing academics is bureaucracy when changing the curriculum, Dr. Rufaida Khashoggi, UBT’s assistant rector commented.

The conference further held workshops to examine job opportunities in the future entrepreneurship, and implications of privatization of education, among others.

UBT signed several MoUs with local and international partners, including Cisco, the Global Council for Tolerance and Peace, Makkah Techno-Valley, and the University of Sharjah, to partner on building skill sets for graduates and explore collaborative research.

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