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Oman 2019 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | INTERVIEW

Oman is attracting international students, prioritizing quality assurance, and identifying key sectors of the future to prepare tomorrow's workforce, today.

Dr. Rawya Saud Al Busaidi
BIOGRAPHY
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.

How does the presence of international students in the system benefit Omani institutions?

There are many advantages of having international students at higher education institutions in Oman. They help create more culturally diverse classrooms, and therefore learning environments that are more experiential in nature. They also bring in more funding for institutions. All these in turn improves the general quality of education. More international students also help create additional economic activity through a knock-on effect on local businesses. Both overseas students and academic staff are valuable resources in increasing the level of internationalization of higher education institutions. International and Omani students engage and interact with each other inside and outside of the classroom, which helps students to expand their horizons as they learn more about traditions, norms, and values of different cultures. Thanks to this experiential learning experience, our students will develop indispensable intercultural communication and international skills that they will need to hold their own in an increasingly globalized economy.

How does the ministry work in partnership with the Oman Academic Accreditation Authority (OAAA) to establish standards and generally improve the quality of higher education?

First, I would like to underline that quality assurance is our priority. The Ministry of Higher Education strives to ensure quality through a number of strategies, including auditing by the OAAA, advocacy of best practice by the Oman Quality Network in Higher Education (OQNHE), and guidance, monitoring and inspections performed by the ministry. OAAA is charged with assisting in the development of the country's higher education sector through institutional accreditation, which includes quality audits, as well as thorough academic program accreditation processes. Furthermore, the OAAA and ministry work with international experts and representatives from Oman's higher education institutions. Undoubtedly, a major challenge facing Oman as a rapidly developing country lies in higher education institutions not being able to timely respond to new developments. In 2015, the Strategic Plan 2020 for the Colleges of Applied Sciences and College of Education in Al Rustaq was implemented, helping institutes become even more responsive institutions with job-ready graduates. The Strategic Plan 2020, which is in line with the Strategic Plan for the Education Sector, consists of policies and 40 mechanisms, whose aim is to further improve the quality of education offered by the colleges.

How does the ministry stay in touch with the private sector to determine which sectors of the economy have the most jobs in demand?

The ministry aims for students to study in areas that have been identified as national priorities and have potential for economic growth. Oman's scholarship students are meant to develop the knowledge and skills required for the development and diversification of the economy. In 2015, the ministry established the Graduate Survey Department, which evaluates how well prepared graduates are for the job market in terms of knowledge, competencies, and skills. Recent results show that many of the graduates who participated in the survey have been employed by the private sector in the areas of engineering, business, and information technology. The Graduate Survey department highlights areas according to demand, and valuable data that is used by many entities, including a research team that puts together the annual plan for undergraduate scholarships. One way to help students develop skills is through work placements or internships. In 2018, an online training portal was established to allow higher education institutions and companies to communicate in view of providing on-the-job training opportunities for students.

What are the ministry's primary objectives over the next 12 months?

Examples of the ministry's primary objectives are to further build a positive work environment and foster productivity through the implementation of the European Foundation for Quality Management (EFQM) criteria; to offer scholarships at the undergraduate and graduate level in areas of study deemed relevant to the needs of the diversifying economy; further update the ministry's electronic information systems and enhance electronic services; further streamline payment processes by moving toward a paperless payment processing system; further tailor the ministry's customer services to the needs of the public; and further improve the quality of education in Oman.