AHEAD OF THE GAME

Oman 2016 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Prof. Ahmed Khalfan Al-Rawahi, Chancellor of the University of Nizwa, on the successes of graduates entering the workforce, and engaging with the private sector to meet their needs for human capital.

Prof. Ahmed Khalfan Al-Rawahi
BIOGRAPHY
After completing his primary education in Oman, Prof. Ahmed Khalfan Al-Rawahi joined North Carolina State University, Raleigh, USA, where he completed with Honors his B.Sc. in Biological Science in 1988. He earned his M.Sc. and Ph.D. in Plant Pathology from the University of California at Berkeley in 1992 and 1995 respectively. He was appointed lecturer at Sultan Qaboos University. From December 1997 until May 2005 he served as Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries. There after and up to September 2011, he served as a member of the State Council holding several positions. From April 2000 to 2004, he has served as a core-founding member, Chairman of the Academic Foundation Committee, for the University of Nizwa Project. In 2004, he was appointed as Chancellor of the University of Nizwa where he embarked on bringing the project to reality, creating a functioning campus that adheres to quality standards, ethics, and procedures. In December 2006, he was promoted to the academic position of Founding Professor.

Can you highlight some of the major developments of the university in terms of new programs and courses?

The University of Nizwa has been working hard on implementing a new strategy of expansion from 2015 to 2020. There are several new programs that have been added for both the undergraduate and Master's degrees. We have finalized the license for visual arts and fine arts. We have also added several Master's programs one of which is for teachers of Arabic as a second language. We also have a master's degree for technical staff in applied chemistry. We have several programs related to pharmacy and nursing in the pipeline. We introduced several programs for economics and finance, and we are including Islamic finance and related issues. We also have sustainability management, and in terms of research, we managed to acquire the national chair for materials science and metallurgy. We are doing this in collaboration with the University of Cambridge. Oman has been blessed with great mineral resources so the aim is to add value there.

What have been the results thus far for Nizwa graduates entering the national workforce?

In order to be ahead of the game, we are reviewing all of our academic programs. A major part of this is revising curriculum development and delivery. The government has conducted surveys, and we have conducted surveys as well to see what our graduates are doing. We have seen an enhanced positioning of our graduates, and many are employed sooner after graduating. The government has also hired many of our graduates in the past few years, and over 80% are employed which is a high rate. Many of our masters students graduate straight into a job, and it is an added value and life improvement tool for them to shift to a new position shortly thereafter. We have graduated overall 6,800 students, which is now around the same number of students we have on campus. Our graduates in engineering especially are well received by international companies, and our graduates in pharmacy and nursing are well received by hospitals.

Do you engage in talks with the private sector here in Oman to see what their human capital needs are?

Higher education is increasingly engaging with the private sector. However, there are some issues right now. The private sector has a problem because most of it is made up of small companies who cannot afford to employ graduates. The multinational companies also have limited human capital costs. We are now producing many female graduates, and our student population is 85% female. We have created advisory councils for each college of the university that composed of potential employers of both public and private companies. We are also working hard on entrepreneurial studies, creating a center for entrepreneurship in order to help students start their own businesses. The government is requiring all students to take a course in entrepreneurship before they graduate. We are trying to be part of the solutions, and we want to enhance opportunities for our students.