Health & Education

Creating the Future Through Education

As Abu Dhabi develops its higher education sector, it has taken concrete steps to ensure that its institutions are world class.

Education remains a key priority for Abu Dhabi, and it is taking concrete steps to ensure that future generations of its citizens will be equipped with the tools and skills they need to lead the country. A strong reforming push undertaken in the early part of the 2000s is beginning to bear fruit, and core measures of education have been improving significantly. Literacy in the Emirate now stands at 92.8%, the primary enrollment rate is 81%, and the student-to-teacher ratio sits at 14.9. According to the most recently available statistics from the Statistical Center of Abu Dhabi (SCAD), the Emirate has 444 schools, of which 188 are private and 256 are government operated. The Emirate boasts 16,004 classrooms populated by 351,501 students and 23,571 teachers. The net enrollment rate for private schools stood at roughly 64%, while government schools accounted for around 36%. Primary and secondary levels accounted for 43.4% of total enrollment, and progression to secondary school has improved 4.6% from the previous year.

Education in Abu Dhabi is broken into three main categories by the Abu Dhabi Education Council (ADEC): public schools, private schools, and higher education. ADEC is responsible for the administration of all public schools in the Emirate. Part of ADEC’s mission has been to close small and underperforming schools and build new, more advanced schools. The program has already witnessed the merger of 40 preexisting schools, the opening of 23 new facilities, and 30 renovations or relocations. The Emirate’s most recent 10-year strategic plan calls for raising standards across the board, developing educators and honing teaching skills, improving staff to student ratios.

Private education is also an important component of Abu Dhabi’s educational mix, and the ADEC estimates that the sector is growing 5% per year. PPPs have begun to play an increasingly important role in Abu Dhabi’s education sector. Beginning in 2006 with a pilot program that included 30 kindergartens and primary schools, the partnerships have sought to outsource educational and administrative responsibilities to private contractors. These partnerships have succeeded in improving the quality of education and producing quantifiable and scalable outcomes. The program has grown sizably from the original 30 schools, and currently 176 schools participate, according to the ADEC.

Tertiary education has been the real standout in terms of development, though, and the Emirate has boosted the percentage of its population with university degrees from 14.2 in 2011 to 21.9% in 2014. According to SCAD’s most recently available statistics, 10,921 students graduated from institutions of higher education, of whom 47% graduated from government schools and 53% from private universities. Additionally, almost 51,000 students are enrolled in higher education programs in the Emirate, 37,292 of them citizens. R&D has been a major emphasis for leaders in the education sector, and many local universities have expanded while other internationally recognized institutions have established campuses. Khalifa University, Master Institute, New York University Abu Dhabi, and Paris Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi have all opened and expanded campuses across the Emirate, bringing a new standard of education to Emiratis

While many university students prefer degrees in the humanities, educators and officials recognize the importance of hard science degrees for the continued prosperity of the Emirate, and they have been pushing students to consider studying these fields. Improvements have already been made in increasing the number of college graduates coming from the hard sciences, and, according to recent statistics, 34% of all university graduates come from science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. ADEC has taken steps ensure that Emiratis receive the skills they need to positively contribute to the workforce, and critical thinking, communication, and creativity remain key components of the innovation curriculum.

ADEC has also taken important steps to ensure that students in the Emirate are being exposed to core competencies at a young age, and secondary education has become a key forum in their attempt to transform Abu Dhabi’s economy in to a knowledge-based one. Science, entrepreneurship, and innovation skills have become important parts of the secondary education landscape, and ADEC officials are working to ensure that the stage is set to propel more and more students into STEM fields at the university level. Eight distinct initiatives focusing on separate aspects of the educational process have been implemented. These programs—Innovation Centers, Programming Life Skills, “Our Scientists” Contest, Abu Dhabi Innovates, Innovation Clubs, Innovation Ambassador, Innovation Standards, and Innovation Leaders—promote scientific thinking, research, and mentorship.

Developing its human capital remains a core focus for officials across the Emirate, and officials have been developing strategies to align educational outcomes with the requirements of the economy. By emphasizing improved skills and work-place functionality, the Emirate plans on creating and sustaining a knowledge economy that can lead Abu Dhabi into the future. According to the Abu Dhabi Department of Economic Development, the number of managers per thousand employees has increased steadily in recent years, rising from 36 in 2011 to 52 in 2014, growth driven by a strong focus on workplace skills education. Work remains to be done, however, and employment figures remain less then stellar in some places due to educational missteps. According to the 2016 Abu Dhabi Competitiveness Report, Abu Dhabi’s youth comprise 37% of its unemployed population despite accounting for only 16% of its total population, and the main culprit for this is a lack of alignment between graduates’ specialization and market requirements. This mismatch is a key issue for Abu Dhabi and scalable pilot programs aimed at addressing it have been unveiled at a number of schools. In terms of mismatched statistics, college educated women are another notable category. Though 60% of students enrolled at tertiary education institutions are women, women represent only 14% of the workforce in Abu Dhabi. These statistics are, however, sizably skewed by the large percentage of men working in sectors related to construction and infrastructure; when one assesses the refined labor force, women represent nearly 45% of the workforce. Additionally, efforts to recruit females into STEM fields have been notably successful, and nearly 35% of tech entrepreneurs in the region are female compared to 10% globally.

As Abu Dhabi continues to work toward its Vision 2030 goals, education will continue to be a major part of that vision. Stakeholders across the Emirate are impressed with the improvements that have been made so far, but they recognize that complacency is the enemy of progress.