How has the pandemic changed university course offerings in the Gulf?


Economic News

14 Jul 2021
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– GCC universities are adapting their offerings to the post-pandemic economy

– Boom areas include cybersecurity, software design, robotics and fintech

– There has also been an increase in drug development and supply chain courses

– Some institutions are teaming up with private players to help meet industry needs

With the current semester winding up, many higher education institutions in the Gulf are already planning an expanded offering of courses for the next academic year – with a focus on supporting the needs of the region’s post-pandemic economy.

As OBG detailed earlier this year, the economic fallout of Covid-19 has encouraged higher education institutions in the Gulf to adapt their course offerings to help drive their respective countries’ economic recoveries.

The coronavirus pandemic both highlighted and heightened the importance of digital systems in many areas of life. As a result, there has been an increase in digitally oriented courses throughout the Middle East.

For example, in the Autumn semester – which starts in late August – Canadian University Dubai will launch of a series of new courses in the fields of cybersecurity, software design and computer science.

Meanwhile, in addition to its existing courses in areas such as information technology, robotics, data science, and network management and cloud computing, Middlesex University Dubai will launch new courses in both electronic engineering and cybersecurity and pen testing, which trains students in the field of network security.

Aside from new courses, a number of educational institutions have bolstered or expanded their existing offerings in the digital sphere.

“To ensure graduates are ready for the next digital revolution and can work in multidisciplinary settings across several industries, academic programmes should provide a digital foundation, as well as options to further specialise in a specific domain,” Muhammad Al Saggaf, president of Saudi Arabia’s King Fahd University of Petroleum & Minerals, told OBG.

“This will enable future employers to fill particular functions – in cybersecurity or data analytics, for example – with graduates already well versed both in the subject matter – be it engineering or finance – and in digital skills, without the need for extensive in-company training.”

Driven by the market

Another area that is seeing increased interest among universities is that of financial technology.

In the immediate aftermath of the outbreak of the virus, online and digital payments systems were seen as crucial, helping consumers to pay for essential goods while at the same adhering to social distancing guidelines. As a result, online payments have increased in both importance and frequency over the past 18 months.

“In the financial sector, technology is rewriting the rules of the game, with competition being driven by the emergence of disruptive companies. This must be reflected in academic programmes,” Anis Moosa Al Lawati, dean of Oman’s College of Banking and Financial Studies (CBFS), told OBG.

“CBFS used to focus its programmes and research on the banking sector, but now we are broadening our activities to also cater to the needs of non-banking financial players, ensuring that our graduates have the necessary skills.”

Aside from strictly tech and IT-focused areas, a number of other issues have been given greater prominence by educational institutions as a result of pandemic-related developments.

For example, among its new courses, the Gulf Medical University, located in Ajman in the UAE, offers a dual PhD programme in Precision Medicine, along with a Master of Science in Drug Discovery and Development. Meanwhile, given the pressure that the various global lockdowns placed on the movement of goods and resources, the University of Sharjah is for the first time offering courses in chemical and water desalination engineering, as well as supply chain management.

Meeting national targets

In many cases, these shifts towards specific fields are complementing long-term governmental development strategies.

This is a particularly pressing issue for the Gulf, where a number of countries have already launched long-term plans to ease their dependence on hydrocarbons. In Saudi Arabia, for example, the government launched its Vision 2030 economic development plan in 2016, which outlined a blueprint to bolster the non-oil economy and increase the participation of the private sector.

“At Prince Muqrin University, a focus on the country’s development priorities has resulted in colleges and programmes specialised in tourism, IT and cybersecurity, and engineering, which are fields with strong investment potential,” Ahmad Hawalah, vice rector for business development at the University of Prince Muqrin, told OBG in March.

Elsewhere, some educational institutions have established specialised academies in partnership with leading private sector companies to help address the needs of the labour market.

One such example is in Bahrain, where Bahrain Polytechnic launched its Artificial Intelligence Academy, in collaboration with Microsoft and government organisation Tamkeen, in September last year.

The first of its kind in the region, the academy will offer a specialised programme designed to enhance innovation and creativity capabilities in the field of artificial intelligence.

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