TBY talks to HE Dr. Rawya Saud Al-Busaidi, Minister of Higher Education on making Oman's higher education universities competitive, private sector cooperation, and growing enrollment.

HE Dr. Rawya Saud Al-Busaidi
HE Dr. Rawya Saud Al Busaidi has a strong background in Science Education, including a Doctorate in Philosophy from the University of Oxford. She was the first woman in the Sultanate of Oman to be appointed to full ministerial rank. HE Dr. Rawya Saud Al Busaidi has held the post of Minister of Higher Education since March 2004, when she was also appointed as Chair of the Sultan Qaboos University Council and Deputy Chair of the Council of Higher Education. Other key posts currently held by Her Excellency include Deputy Chair of Oman’s new Science Research Council, Deputy Chair of the Accreditation Board, and Chair of the Board of the College of Law.

How is the Ministry guiding and fostering the development of the higher education sector in the Sultanate of Oman?

The Ministry of Higher Education is responsible for Oman's Private Universities and Colleges as well as the Colleges of Applied Sciences. Other Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) are under the jurisdiction of other ministries or agencies. In the enactment of its role, the Ministry of Higher Education takes a planned approach. The Ministry has played a leading role in developing the National Strategy for Education 2040, an umbrella plan under the aegis of the Council of Education, which contains a series of well-researched recommendations for the coordinated and effective education of students from early childhood education to graduate studies. The overall goal of the Strategic Plan is to help ensure that the Sultanate is able to develop a competitive niche in the global economy. An important element in this plan is the rationalization and coordination of governance systems for education in the interests of better preparing all students with the skills necessary for success in the knowledge economy of today's globalized world. The implementation of this recommendation would include the consolidation of responsibility for degree education, improved collaboration between the Ministries of Education and Higher Education, and more emphasis on the importance of vocational education through the Colleges of Applied Sciences and the Colleges of Technology, which are under the aegis of the Ministry of Manpower—all of which is expected to increase the efficiency and output of the overall system of education. The government's system of awarding scholarships based on merit for Omani students to study abroad plays an important role in preparing students for the global market as well as in acquiring degrees in specialized fields. Today, more than 4,000 scholarship students are studying at reputable universities abroad. The undergraduate scholarship program, which commenced in 2001, offers 1,500 scholarships annually to meritorious secondary school graduates. The Ministry emphasizes diversification in receiving countries so that students benefit from varied systems of higher education. The scholarship program includes 1,000 scholarships for graduate studies in areas that are vital for Oman's economic development.

What role does the private sector play in higher education in the Sultanate?

The support of the private sector was crucial to the expansion of the higher education system, which grew from one private college in 1995 to the present system of seven private universities and 19 private colleges. With incentives from the government that include land endowments, tax exemptions, matching grants, and, in the case of qualifying private universities, an OMR17 million grant for quality improvement directly related to the classroom, private investors from Oman and abroad have taken responsibility for funding Oman's private higher education institutes.

What main trends have you noted in the higher education field in Oman?

The number of students enrolled in higher education in the Sultanate has grown rapidly over the past 14 years, and is now around 100,000 students. In 2014, the number of the new entrants to Oman's higher education institutes totaled about 30,000 students or approximately 89% of qualified secondary school leavers. While expansion of the system and access are not issues since the current and planned seat capacity will meet market demand with respect to qualified students, improving quality will continue to be an important thrust throughout the system. Diversification of program offerings within and among institutions is an important trend that is also continuing, particularly with the plan for a government university of science and technology and the aim of the planned University of Muscat to make entrepreneurism and job-orientation strong priorities.