What needs to be done for local universities to produce the talent that companies are seeking?
This is a chronic problem in the Saudi education system. Generally, graduates, private or public, are difficult to place in the workforce. There is a gap between market needs and the skills and knowledge being taught to the students graduating from our universities, which feeds unemployment and enhances the need to bring qualified manpower from abroad to fill this gap. We are constantly in touch with the business community to gauge what it needs and how to tailor our programs accordingly. Every program we offer is based on whether there is a market demand for its graduates. Change in the system is difficult because of restrictive bureaucracies in universities. But at this university, changes can be quick, feasibility studies can be done efficiently, and resource deployment can be done effectively. This makes UBT a more flexible and dynamic organization that is quicker to respond to market needs.
How do you help your graduates find jobs in the field?
We have established a Career Center (CC) in charge of this responsibility. The CC supervises a program whereby students spend three to four months working in a company as part of their studies. This helped many students find jobs and companies to find needed talents. We help to place our students in the market and find them jobs. About 30-40% of our graduates receive our help and find jobs through this program. We also offer through the English Language Academy (ELA) a preparatory year after high school that includes English-language proficiency, research methods, study skills, elementary math, and many others. We reshape our students to help them qualify for university challenges, and then we help them find jobs once they graduate from UBT. We also greatly emphasize work ethic along the whole journey, until the student enters the job market.
What are the biggest challenges for the education sector in Saudi Arabia in the coming years?
The biggest challenge is to reduce the percentage of expats in the total population, which currently stands at 30%. We want Saudis to be qualified enough to fill the needs of their own economy and country. The biggest challenge is also to provide an education system that reduces our dependence on non-Saudis throughout all skill levels and sectors, right down to unskilled labor. This is not just about today but also about preparing for the future, for a growing and young population. All families in Saudi Arabia want their children to enroll in a university. In Germany, only 20% to 25% of high school graduates go to university because the majority choose to join excellent technical institutes. We need to have this option in Saudi Arabia. It is not just about creating intellectuals, engineers, academics, or executives; we also need to have plumbers, electricians, and technicians and many other skills. We have to convince parents that there are other options besides universities and other career paths that can be equally, if not more, rewarding and beneficial.
What are your goals and expectations for 2016?
We want to become an education-research organization and focus more on research, and emphasize research skills in student performance. Furthermore, we want to gain international recognition. We recently signed an agreement with the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), whereby we will be doing joint research and our faculty can use KAUST facilities for research purposes. We signed another agreement with Rouen University in France, with which we are working closely in preparation for a College of Medicine. We have another partnership with Connecticut University to review our curriculum for engineering. Our strategy is to expand vertically as well as horizontally, with more and more emphasis on quality. We do not aim to become a big university; we aim to remain a small university with a strong education and research reputation that puts us on a par with well reputed universities around the world.