UAE Country Report: Overview

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We wanted to understand how the aims of the Effective Education for Employment project tallied with the views of educational and economic stakeholders in the United Arab Emirates, so we went there to meet them. This section is the fruit of that labour and provides some background on the factors which have influenced economic development within the United Arab Emirates as well as a description of some of the most recent influential changes in educational policy and practice. It will help you understand the importance of some of the critical educational issues identified within the country as well as some conclusions on what changes need to be made.

The Economy

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. Figures suggest that between 2005 and 2006, it had the highest increase in GDP of any country.

Until recently, the economy, strengthened by a strong petrol and gas industry, was pursuing diversification into the manufacturing and services sectors. The unprecedented property boom created significant demand for a skilled and capable workforce. Although the fall in the price of oil and the downturn in construction and real estate has seen the UAE significantly affected by the global economic situation, GDP growth in 2008 is still estimated at around 8.5%.


The Workforce

The population of the UAE is almost unique in its make-up. Only a fifth of residents in the seven Emirates are native Emiratis. The other 80% are immigrants drawn from across the globe - mainly from India and South Asia. The UAE also has the highest gender imbalance in the world, with more than twice the number of males to females.

Until recently, there were comparatively few formal education institutions and professional education programmes. Political influence over the education of the workforce was minimal. Drawn in by high wages and a good quality of life, imported labour has provided some sort of solution to the challenge of filling the demand for skilled workers. However, new thinking has been driven by changes in the global economy and a realisation of the long-term weaknesses associated with relying on imported skills.

Furthermore, the UAE currently has high levels of unemployment among its native population. This is partly due to the lack of incentives which might encourage unemployed people to seek employment. Social security payments are high, and the standard of living for the unemployed is such that working does not seem an attractive option to many. To address this, and to reduce the country's reliance on foreign labour, a process of 'Emiratisation' is currently underway. By law, many jobs have to be filled by UAE nationals - particularly those in the public sector. And, while this process will have little impact on the education of current or future employees, it does indicate a change of direction on the part of the governing authorities. Additional requirements include increased investment in the up-skilling of the Emirati workforce and a greater focus on national initiatives to develop skills for the future.


Professional Education

Over the last two or three years, there have been a number of government initiatives that show intent on developing the local workforce, though the scale of these initiatives is still relatively small.

The National Institute for Vocational Education (NIVE) was opened in 2006. It is an organisation that is managed autonomously and wholly owned by the Knowledge and Human Development Authority in Dubai. Its initial intake was 200 students, and the organisation is looking to grow this number year after year.

The aim of NIVE is to provide world-class vocational education, benchmarked to professional industry standards. NIVE claims its focus is 'to provide students with the opportunity to gain specific job competencies geared towards enhancing their employability'. A key priority is to 'ensure [the] study program adheres to the latest international standards and earns accreditation from internationally reputed educational institutions'. NIVE identifies parents, students, teachers and businesses as key stakeholders in this process, and it is seeking to improve participation and effectiveness across the board.

The Abu Dhabi Vocational Education and Training Institute (ADVETI) also opened in September 2007. An initiative of The Abu Dhabi Education Council, ADVETI is a partnership between the Abu Dhabi government and New South Wales Technical And Further Education (TAFE) in Australia. Its aim is to offer Emirati students locally and internationally-recognised qualifications at diploma and certificate levels. Students taking a three year course at ADVETI will spend the first two years in full-time study and the third year in a part-time work placement. According to the institute's own publicity, their diploma 'is designed to meet the specific needs of industry in Abu Dhabi within a framework of international industry standards'.

While the scale of these initiatives is currently very small, as mentioned previously, the fact that both organisations have clearly articulated their objectives demonstrates that education policy makers are aware professional education has to be addressed if long-term economic growth is to be sustained and societal issues around employment are to be addressed.