TBY talks to Mohammed Abdullah, Managing Director of Dubai Knowledge Park and Dubai International Academic City (DIAC), on changes in the employment market and how the education infrastructure is changing to cater for that.

Mohammed Abdullah
Mohammed Abdullah obtained his bachelor's degree in mass communication/media studies with a minor in French literature from United Arab Emirates University. He then completed his master’s in mass communications, broadcast journalism from Emerson College, Boston, US. He has also held various positions at Emirates Media Inc., including Director of Strategy & Planning, Press Director, Dubai Bureau Chief, and Head of News Centre before becoming Executive Vice-President of CNBC Arabia & Managing Director of TECOM Group's Media Cluster.

Why has there been a shift away from public-sector employment in UAE nationals?

This reflects the overall strategy and objectives that the government of the UAE has adopted over the last few years. Both the federal and local governments support and encourage entrepreneurship, through many different channels, to encourage people to move into the private sector. There has since been an increase in the popularity of the private sector and entrepreneurship as a career path among Emirati graduates. According to the latest study, only 17% of Emiratis opted to work in the public sector compared to 53% in the previous study, while 26% said they wanted to start their own business. A further 22% said they wanted to work in the semi-government sector.

How will sub-sectors, such as big data and renewables, be integrated into the curriculum?

The objective of the government is to support and work toward creating a pool of talent for these sectors. This is complemented by international trends toward new technologies to which universities have to react. The UAE and Dubai is including these issues and these emerging specializations into its plans and it is the duty of universities to create programs in order to equip the students with the right skills and knowledge to complement the demands of the labor market. There are many formats and forums for this, and we strive to create an innovation-friendly ecosystem. For example, three years ago, TECOM Group created the in5 Incubator, an ecosystem specifically designed to launch ideas in ICT, where entrepreneurs are assisted from idea generation to market success. Following this, TECOM Group launched in5 Media, as part of its USD1.2 billion Innovation Strategy announced last year, to develop new business platforms to drive entrepreneurship and SME growth, and stimulate creativity and innovation across different sectors in the region. This should result in tangible innovations in both these sectors. In addition to this, TECOM Group launched the Dubai Institute for Design and Innovation (DIDI), which is just one of the elements that was launched in preparation for Expo 2020.

How might the current infrastructure of the two free zones be developed to encourage business and learning?

We try to create infrastructure that can cater to each industry. For media, for example there are studios, sound stages, and the ICT infrastructure. For education, we have specific infrastructure that caters to the requirements of academic institutions. With the growth of international campuses in the UAE, we also have infrastructure that supports robust connectivity with their main campuses. For example, Amity University came to DIAL in 2012 and immediately set up shop in one floor of a pre-built learning space, which was followed by an expansion the next year into a second floor, and, in 2016, it launched its brand new campus. Infrastructure has been put in place to help these universities be proactive and grow. We can now proudly say that we have five universities that have their roots in DIAC's main campus, and now have expanded to campuses of their own, including Heriot Watt University, IMT, BITS Pilani, and Manipal University.

How do you maintain standards in the education sector?

Quality is a major concern in every field, including ICT, media, science, and education. We ask what programs they are offering and where they are coming from. Rigorous education licensing, accreditation, and high-internal quality standards also ensure that students receive the best learning services. We want to ensure that they are responsive to all the needs and demands of the market in terms of the programs of study they offer. We are also interested in minimizing unnecessary competition between universities; there is no benefit for our education sector to have large degrees of overlap where several universities compete for the same demographic of students. The international component is also key because it means that institutions are crafting curricula that have utility beyond the UAE. For example, the large number of Indian residents in the UAE has prompted our universities to develop Indian law courses, making the institutions the first to deliver law degrees approved by the Bar Council of India outside of that country.