TEST OF TIME

Saudi Arabia 2020 | EDUCATION | INTERVIEW

Overhauling Saudi Arabia's education system is central to Vision 2030 and could involve the introduction of student loans, which has been implemented elsewhere in financing education.

Mohanad A. Dahlan
BIOGRAPHY

Mohanad A. Dahlan is CEO of UBT Company. An experienced and performance-driven executive with a history of working in a multinational environment for more than 14 years. Dahlan's experience includes training, certifications, and degrees in various business projects, the most recent of which is a certificate focused on corporate social responsibility delivered by Harvard Business School. A skilled negotiator and business developer, Dahlan is experienced in analytics, financial modeling, and team building.

How does UBT regard technological advancements in its work?
Technology in education is essential. It has created efficiency on a large scale. We introduced technology at all levels, from curriculum to operations, and our next international advisory board in November 2019 will discuss the so-called “technolution," or technology evolution. It is all about how technology will take the level of education from where we are today into the future. We have around 20 chairmen, chancellors, directors, and global experts coming to discuss the role of technology and how we can move beyond standard, classic, instructional-type education to a new model, and how that will look in 2030. This advisory board will address what we need to start now to be able to lead tomorrow. The international advisory board is dedicated to UBT, and at every session we have a different topic for which UBT seeks answers. The question on technology will be dealt with in November under the framework of technolution.

UBT designed an activity-based costing module called Quswa Academics to measure its performance. How has that product influenced your work?
The word Quswa means “maximization," and we maximize the output of the five following factors: the book, the classroom, students, teachers, and the curriculum. This process of internal standards is significantly more difficult than accreditation. Every program at UBT is reviewed every semester, and we track those five factors. We track the evaluations of students against the faculty and faculty against senior faculty. We also track the relevance of the curriculum against local needs. Projects that are related to Vision 2030, for example, are being introduced to provide greater relevance and bridge the gap between theory and the actual requirements in the job market. Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman has emphasized he wants to focus on local content and increase it, and we take that to mean local military manufacturing, local plastic manufacturing, and also not to exclude local case studies for the academic sector to use. In many universities, data like that which we have from Quswa is only compiled for accreditation purposes, not actually taken into consideration. They do not drive a strategy or create a vision. We are keen to develop that strategy. Because one cannot develop something without measuring it, we had to come up with Quswa Academics, Quswa Operations, and Quswa Manpower. Everything must be challenged, and the only qualification is data; it drives everything. We have followed market practices and intuition more than data in the past, though that has no longer been the case for UBT since 2015.

How does Vision 2030 inform your viewpoint and approach in the sector?
Vision 2030 shifts the weight from the public sector to the private, enabling the latter to become a giant by 2030, introducing many new industries including sports and entertainment for both men and women to boost the economy, and creating holdings that fund other projects where the private sector can contribute. Personally, I have never been more optimistic in my life. The solutions may not be there yet, though the decisions will be made quickly. The higher education sector needs drastic change, and we truly need the Crown Prince's intervention, especially when it comes to educational loans. We do not need open-ended scholarship programs for the majority of high school graduates. They help the business model but have a long-term negative impact on educational quality.

Looking to the future, are there any challenges you want to highlight?
Despite the efforts and attempts made by concerned ministries and government bodies to enhance the quality of private education and training institutions, private education still faces challenges and is burdened by outdated bureaucratic procedures, overlapping regulations, and duplications in authority from and between different regulation bodies related to private education and training. We need to resolve this.