MID-TERM ASSESSMENT

Oman 2018 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | FOCUS: OAAA STRATEGY 2016-2020

TBY takes stock of the Oman Academic Accreditation Authority's progress toward reaching its nine goals related to education accreditation and quality improvement at the current strategy's mid point.

Oman is about half way through the timespan of its current strategy to regulate and improve the quality of higher education in the Sultanate. The country has been making great strides to bring education up to international standards.

In 2016, the Oman Academic Accreditation Authority (OAAA) set out to enact a set of strategic goals to be delivered and implemented by 2020. The “Strategic Goals 2016-2020” concentrate on nine areas, including governance and management, human resources, international accreditation, program accreditation, the general foundation program external review, the Oman qualifications framework, quality enhancement, research, and external relations.
Perhaps most intuitively, aligning education, in particular higher education, with international standards has led to a great emphasis on partnerships with international institutions and enhancing external relations. Updates from November 2017 alone show the Sultanate's efforts to boost education ties with Malaysia, Pakistan, Cyprus, and India.
Interviews with Caledonian College of Engineering, Gulf College, and Takatuf (the Sultanate's human capital development company) revealed that colleges, universities, and institutions are all focusing on partnerships with international counterparts. Of note, Gulf College became a member of the Arab European Leadership Network in Higher Education (ARELEN), which was co-founded by Cardiff Metropolitan University and Association of Arab Universities, and functions as a platform for over 200 Arab universities and 100 European universities to collaborate and cooperate. In addition, universities and colleges are increasingly pursuing bilateral partnerships with individual universities abroad.
OAAA's Strategy 2016-2020 has also resulted in an updated Oman Qualifications Framework (OQF) to sync Oman's internal qualifications with international standards of accreditation. OAAA introduced the revised framework in 2017 with the aim of including all public and private education providers, creating a common definition of qualifications, and enhancing and harmonizing quality standards.
With regards to accreditation, recent institutional standards assessments (ISAs) of three higher education institutions (HEIs) in Oman resulted in the announcements of new accreditation outcomes from “on probation” to “conditionally approved.” As conditionally accredited institutions, the Scientific College of Design, Dhofar University, and Modern College of Business and Science do not meet one or two of the applicable international standards. All three schools did not meet the standard for “student learning by coursework programs” and will undergo an international standards reassessment.
The outcomes of the ISAs indicate Oman still has room for improvement regarding its individual programs. HE Dr. Hamood Khalfan Al Harthi, Undersecretary of Education and Curriculum, shared with TBY the Ministry of Education's priority objective to improve educational quality throughout the country. He emphasized, “In 2018, we are looking forward to a new curriculum, including international series of math and science.” Looking a few years down the road, a culmination of curriculum modernization and updates should result in the termination of the “foundation year” for freshmen university students, according to the undersecretary. In line with these sector-wide targets, Caledonian College of Engineering is working to offer more engineering programs at the master's level, and several private universities are exploring the possibilities of introducing doctoral programs to the Sultanate.
The development of Omani educational institutions is directly related to workforce Omanization efforts. The Sultanate seeks to align an Oman-educated Omani workforce with the nation's specific economic needs. Effectively educating Omanis will be an important part of infusing the economy with local talent. Current figures for enrollment in tertiary education indicate a need for more serious effort in this area. With a 7.78% tertiary education enrollment ratio, Oman ranks 18th out of 19 countries in the MENA region, ahead of only the UAE's 6.11%, according to USAID. Iran is far and away first at nearly 72% enrollment in higher education.
Progress in accreditation, qualifications frameworks, programs, and external relations have Oman on the right trajectory, and further efforts will help the country to continue its development in education and more broadly.