STUDY HOUR

Oman 2016 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to HE Dr. Rawya Saud Al Busaidi, Minister of Higher Education, on the benefits of Omanis studying abroad, the public-private balance, and the sector as an investment draw.

HE Dr. Rawya Saud Al Busaidi
BIOGRAPHY
HE Dr. Rawya Saud Al Busaidi was the first woman to be appointed to a full ministerial rank in Oman. She has been in her position since 2004, and since the same year has also served as Deputy Chair of the Council of Education and Chair of the Sultan Qaboos University Council. In 2005, she was also appointed Deputy Chair of Oman’s Research Council. Other governmental appointments include membership on the Supreme Planning Council, Chair of the Executive Committee of the project to establish the University of Oman, as well as membership on the Supreme Committee for that project. Before her appointment as Minister, she served successively as Director General of two different Directorates within the Ministry of Higher Education and then as Undersecretary.

There are exciting opportunities provided by the Ministry for Omanis to study abroad. What is the outlook for this, and how can it benefit both the students and the long-term development of Oman?

Every year, the Ministry of Higher Education offers a number of scholarships to students passing General Education Diploma (GED). These scholarships are both internal and external scholarships with a wide range of programs that supply the manpower sector in Oman with qualified graduates in the selected areas, which will go along the economic growth and development. The number of external scholarships has increased dramatically in the past few years to cope with new economic projects that the country has started to build or plans to accomplish in different governorates, such as the railway project, the logistics city, and the industrial city in Al-Duqm. The opportunities for Omani students to study abroad have increased from 143 to more than 1643 annually since 2011-12. By providing these scholarships, the Ministry is contributing to the strategic plan of human resources development and adding a qualified workforce in specialized areas for the upcoming projects and long-term development of Oman. These scholarships also help students to gain the latest knowledge in their fields of specialties and open their minds to different cultures, education systems, and languages.

How would you assess the balance between private- and public-sector education?

As a result of the increasing number of school graduates who then seek access to higher education, the government has developed its policies and regulations to encourage the private sector to contribute to increasing this accessibility and participate in developing Oman by providing higher education programs that achieve the goals of the country drawn out by His Majesty's government in the path of sustainable development. At this stage, I think the balance between the two providers of higher education in Oman is there, in terms of government funding, student intake, types of programs, and the process of quality management.

Many sectors of Oman's economy are demonstrating increased potential for investment. What opportunities can the education sector provide for both local and international investors?

Oman encourages a great business-friendly environment, including respect of free markets, contract sanctity, property rights, low taxes, a convenient and growing transportation network, as well as a largely bilingual Omani work force. The Ministry of Higher Education encourages higher education institutions (HEIs) to build strong and fruitful cooperation with well-ranked international institutions in research and education through affiliation agreements. Such cooperation can also support local institutions to create a strong system for quality assurance. Moreover, all HEIs in Oman are to undergo an accreditation process in the near future to determine the level of education quality in these institutions. This has stimulated HEIs to develop relationships with highly experienced universities to build their capacity. Other forms of opportunities also exist for investors to promote the higher education sector, such as transferring technology and developing management expertise through joint venture initiatives that can benefit all parties on a win-win basis.

Oman has begun to initiate new locations such as Innovation Park Muscat and the Oman Convention Center. How can the Ministry contribute to, and benefit from, initiatives such as this?

As part of its vision for transitioning to a knowledge-based economy, Oman has invested greatly in major infrastructure facilities that are essential to achieving this target. Innovation Park Muscat (IPM) is designed to create an innovative environment for researchers, scientists, start-ups, SMEs, and multinationals. IPM will stimulate and manage the flow of knowledge amongst HEIs, R&D institutions, and the business community. This process can benefit HEIs a great deal.