QUALIFIED TALENT

Abu Dhabi 2019 | EDUCATION | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Dr. Ahmad Alawar, Managing Director of the Institute of Applied Technology (IAT), on the challenges of a technical education, demand, and expansion plans for the future.

Dr. Ahmad Alawar
BIOGRAPHY
Dr. Ahmad Alawar received his bachelor of mechanical engineering degree from the Sultan Qaboos University in the Sultanate of Oman in 1996, followed by master's degree in mechanical engineering and PhD in engineering and materials science in 2005 from the University of Southern California. Dr. Alawar was appointed as Managing Director of the Institute of Applied Technology in December 2014. He also served as an assistant professor at the UAEU. Dr. Alawar has more than 30 research and refereed publications in world-class scientific journals and international conferences. This is in addition to his participation in the organization of a number of committees and many conferences and educational seminars.

What challenges have you faced in your integrated approach to technical education?

People typically resist uniqueness, and our approach is extremely unique. Second, there was a negative view of vocational education in Abu Dhabi, largely because of bad experiences with vocational education prior to the introduction of our programs in 2005. When IAT was founded that year, we changed the entire image of vocational education by updating the curriculum, language of instruction, and our entire approach. In 2006, we began teaching at the secondary level, and by 2007, although there was already a large demand for graduates with a background in avionics from the military, there was no school or college to meet their needs. This was the catalyst for the integration of the secondary and tertiary education with the aim of producing qualified talent from IAT high schools in the areas of engineering, nursing, and health sciences. That same year, IAT also established the Al Ain International Aviation Academy to train aviation engineers and maintenance technicians, and in 2010, we merged our aviation engineering campus with Abu Dhabi Polytechnic. With regard to the health sector, Fatima College had an agreement with Griffith University in Australia that helped it maintain quality assurance. Since then, Fatima College has had a more local focus to meet the market needs of Abu Dhabi and the UAE in the form of health science and nursing.

What is your assessment of the degree of demand on the aviation side?

Demand continues to increase because there are many airports in the UAE, and Abu Dhabi Airport will continue to grow significantly. In four years, the number of passengers will triple, by which time the Midfield Terminal Building will be completed, Dubai Airport will have reached full capacity, and Al Maktoum's full capacity will be utilized. All these developments require Emirati manpower, so every graduate we produce can be absorbed by the market, either in health or aviation engineering. Our unique integrated system at IAT gives all our high school graduates the option to continue on our path, allowing them to shorten their study time from one to two semesters. We thus promote the development of hands-on technical skills in high school. Our high school students can go anywhere else besides our colleges, with around 30% of IAT high school students continuing within the system and 70% going on to other universities and HCTs. At IAT higher education facilities, 33% are students from our own schools, with the remaining 67% coming from other schools.

What are the challenges of creating a curriculum when technology is constantly changing and advancing?

Schools and universities do not teach any new technologies, but rather basic ones that allow students to get familiar with technical thinking. At IAT, we use computer numerical control (CNC) from desktop computers and are rolling out 3D printing capabilities next year. By teaching students logic and programming, they get to understand the basics that will allow them to adapt to other new technologies. Receiving this level of knowledge in high school will allow students to manipulate machines and gain experience with programming from a young age. We can already see the difference in our higher education facilities between our graduates, who have been more exposed to technology, and other students.

Are you looking to expand into any other sectors?

We are looking for new technologies as they arise. We now teach our students coding from eighth grade onward, a UAE mandate that we are leading. We do not introduce technologies purely based on whether they are available, but based on the needs of the country. Abu Dhabi Polytechnic collaborates with a few public and private companies to work on manufacturing diplomas, particularly for CNC and 3D printing. In 2010, when we started Abu Dhabi Polytechnic, it was based on the market need for technicians in nuclear technology.