Velanand SR, Managing Director, University of Stirling, Ras Al Khaimah

Velanand has extensive experience in higher education, especially in the area of institutional building. His role has been to spearhead efforts to establish and develop the Centre of Excellence in UAE, and to partner with international professional certification programs. Before this, he has worked with the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad and was instrumental in setting up the IIM at Shillong. Mr Velanand has a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from the University of Madras and a Master’s in International Relations from Syracuse University’s prestigious Maxwell School.

 

UAE is rapidly transforming into a powerful and engaging knowledge-based economy. The number of educational institutions imparting various programs at all levels until tertiary has grown manifolds. We are witnessing more and more participation from local regulators, government agencies, communities, parents and students alike. And this is very encouraging. And this is rightly so for as far as I can remember and in this domain of passion every second count. Every second can inspire a spark in the young minds of the students and nourish a dream of incalculable value and a deep fondness for education and its manifests. Thus far and to that farthest, we are the change agents in shaping students’ lives.  Education is a sentiment and runs deep in people, and they are proud of it. Everybody is.

In UAE, what we see today is a sublimely matured educational ecosystem. And this is going to advance further, probably making UAE the hub of higher education in this region.

Steadily over the years, we have chosen to give equal importance to creativity as classroom literacy. We are passing through a phase of relatively uncertain future, and it is our endeavour to equip our students with multi-creative skill sets. We firmly believe that these have the power to even surpass the classroom literacy that we oftentimes lay heavy stress on. In times to come more people will be graduating worldwide and the most valuable skill set then will be creativity for the most part of the mundane skillset by then would have been taken over by technologies like artificial intelligence. We, as an institution, have always and consistently emphasized to impart creativity to our students either through structured programs or through informal events. This, we are convinced, will keep them in good stead when they graduate and face the real world. This will also make a holistic approach to endear life with all its subtleties, nuances, reasoning and flair for continuity.

UAE’s Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research is very actively involved in evolving and sustaining the education ecosystem in this country in line with the best in the world. Since 2010, we already have a robust National Qualification Framework that mandates the design, plans and policies to develop a comprehensive and unified national strategy for qualifications provided in the UAE. This Framework emphasizes the key baseline that had catapulted the education system here in the UAE as one of the best in the region. The key baseline says – ‘to establish and continuously maintain standards and regulations for qualifications of higher education, general education and technical, vocational and professional education and training to keep pace with the scientific and technological progress, and to meet the requirements of economic and social developments’.

This is one of the most comprehensive educational framework philosophies I have ever come across. It just encompasses every facet of community empowerment through the dissemination of knowledge. The emphasis is also to keep pace with the scientific and technological progress at the minimum and to further from there at the same time. Notwithstanding these, the Frameworks also lays principles, guidance and directives with regard to the development of policies and procedures for access, transfer and progression of students within the higher education – general, professional, vocational and technical inside and outside country. This Framework also aims to establish specialized committees to develop national occupational skills standards for all jobs in compliance with the National Qualification Framework levels.

So far, what we have seen is an unabating zest and a principled effort to develop the education ecosystem in the UAE. Since the initial days of the Framework, we have progressed in an exemplary manner to reach where we are today collectively. From the first University in Al Ain in 1977 called the United Arab Emirates University, today we have more than 60 Institutes and Universities of repute in the UAE. Some of the local universities are even listed in world rankings like the United Arab Emirates Universities. Today UAE has both; some of the best private and public universities – both, local and international. Students who progress to these Universities are mainly from the schools in the UAE, which again are some of the best international and local private and public schools. There are lots of fully funded to partially funded scholarships for the deserving students to achieve a quality University higher education. We at the University of Stirling, RAK Campus also offer partial scholarships to the deserving students so that they also can take advantage of quality education right here in the UAE.

COVID 19, the pandemic, had severe effects on every walk of life from the economy to the geopolitics, from cottage industries to the mega industrial complexes, from imports to exports and from certainty to uncertainty. COVID 19 almost attempted to foreclose all human aspirations, gaiety, hopes and happiness in as short a time as it could. Though mankind’s fight is still on with this pandemic and what we gather at the moment is that considerable progress has been made in this fight. Like other sectors, the educational sector is also severely affected. I appreciate the teaching community for being resilient during these times and coming back with new, imaginative and innovative ideas to impart teaching to the students. As we all know that education should be engaging and interactive. And one such thing to make interactions more meaningful and engaging is to make creativity the essence. A dose of creativity in everything we do will help us identify our strengths and the skill sets we are most suited for, while simultaneously seeking to develop those that we are mediocre at. This applies more to the students in their formative years and helps them to become more efficient and productive.

Immediately after world war II, importance was given to streams of science and applied sciences which we call nowadays as engineering. These were primarily to build or to run the already existing industrial complexes. So jobs were plenty for those who studied these streams. Humanities and Arts have relegated the bottom in the hierarchy and continue to be there in every part of the world. Now with science and technology having reached a certain level and artificial intelligence on the cusp of taking over most of the jobs performed by humans till lately, the focus will shift to the humanities and arts. This will enhance finer things like behavioural quotients, communication strategy and power, instilling virtues of happiness in workplace, society and community. And these will be the skills people will seek for in coming years.

Most of the professional institutes have a ‘continuing professional development’ program, and this is to ensure that their members learn the current and potential development in their fields. These programs make them adapt quickly to the new skill sets as are demanded by the industry or the profession, as these keep evolving. This should be replicated in the higher educational institutions and suitable skills enhancing programs should be tailor-made for the benefit of the employed and the employer and for that matter for anyone who wants to up-skill. Several online educational platforms, in partnership with various universities, have begun steps in this right direction. Still, a lot needs to be done further, especially in terms of their recognition and worth for the employers and the society in general.

Another most potent interface from the student employability perspective is the industry-academia interface. The role of this interface must be to strengthen the accumulated knowledge base of the student with the practical approach delivered by the industry experts and veterans. More often than not, their insights into a learned perspective by the student differs in its practical application in the real world. This skewness needs to be understood and corrected by encouraging more and more industry-academia symposiums, seminars, conferences or events as the title fits the scale of the interface.

This, in my view, would take UAE’s Higher Education to greater heights, and I wish all the UAE Higher Education policymakers all the very best in realizing this vision.

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