PLANNING FOR THE FUTURE

Oman 2020 | EDUCATION | INTERVIEW

The education sector needs to be responsive and adapt quickly in terms of its educational offerings and its ability to equip students with skills for the future.

Rawiya Saud Al Busaidi
BIOGRAPHY

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 of Higher Education, she served successively as director general of two different directorates within the Ministry of Higher Education and then as undersecretary.

How do you assess the contribution of the private higher education sector in supporting the labor market with skilled workforce?
When the government decided to call on the private sector to assist in preparing the Omani youth for the labor market, a set of specific standards, procedures and guidelines on quality assurance were developed. Academic affiliations with overseas higher education institutions (HEIs) with internationally experienced staff and that have internationally recognized standards is one strategy that allows local institutions to learn from one another and exchange best practices with the partner institution. The government has also established the Oman Academic Accreditation Authority (OAAA) to ensure that the delivery of higher education by the local institutions is on par with international benchmarks. With regard to the employability of graduates from private HEIs compared to the employability of their peers who graduated from the public institutions, the outcomes of the graduate surveys regularly conducted by the Ministry of Higher Education show that the graduates from private HEIs account for around 64% of the employed graduates in 2019. The private higher education sector is facing a number of challenges that—if not addressed—will threaten its sustainability. Private institutions continue to heavily rely on government-funded scholarship students and have not been successful enough in attracting international students. They must increase their competencies to comply with the national, regional, and international standards to be able to sustain in such a dynamic and ever-changing market.

What is the best strategy to ensure Omanis are equipped with transferable skills to adopt to the evolving nature of today's job market?
The Ministry of Higher Education is aware that there is an urgent need to address the impact of new technologies on labor markets through upgraded education policies that aim to rapidly raise the education and skill levels of people of all ages. The higher education system must employ agile and flexible methods in view of program delivery, program design, and training that needs be responsive to varying employer needs. Other relevant intervention points include curricula, staff training, and a reinvention of vocational training to prepare for Industry 4.0, while broadening its appeal beyond the traditional low- and medium-skilled occupations at the same time. It is also important to promote collaboration and dialogue among all stakeholders. There are many stakeholders with an influence on education including local employers and government policymakers, business groups, and training providers. In addition, improvements in education and skills provision must be balanced with efforts to be made on the demand side. This means there is a need for accurate and updated information about the labor market needs in view of all types of skills in order for the education system can respond by equipping students with these required skills.

Where do you expect technology to impact the higher education system the most in Oman?
The strategic direction of Oman Vision 2040 has been carefully designed to ensure the educational system leverages human capabilities, as this is a necessary prerequisite for the development of a knowledge society and adaptable national talent with the ability to compete in the labor market. The National Strategy for Education 2040 outlines the guidelines and an action plan to achieve these objectives. It calls for improving the information technology infrastructure and for support of the use of cutting-edge technology, e-learning, and capacity building in our educational institutions. The educational developments in Oman witnessed system- and structural-wide changes, including a complete review of the curriculum, leading to a more practice-based curriculum attuned to the needs of the workplace, and pedagogical approaches and improving learning and teaching methods that encourages innovative thinking. The government has provided all the support needed by HEIs to provide an educational environment that encourages learning by practice and ensures that innovation is at the heart of their learning outcomes.