United Arab Emirates Embracing Vocational Education

The trend toward vocational training is rapidly spreading across the United Arab Emirates, where some consider it a remedy to chronic, structural weaknesses in boys’ education. A striking 25% of Emirati boys fail to complete high school, according to 2012 statistics from the Knowledge and Human Development Authority in Dubai.

A study by the consulting firm Deloitte found that while jobs are available, students are not graduating with the skills needed. The National Institute of Vocational Education (NIVE) in Dubai was founded in 2006 and offers one- or two-year courses that aim to provide graduates with practical skills and qualifications and to prepare them to go on into international higher education if they should decide to do so, writes Sara Hamdan of The New York Times.

Unemployment rates among Emiratis stand at about 12%, according to a report by the independent research group the International Council on Security and Development and a separate study by the National Commercial Bank in Saudi Arabia.

“While the UAE has built a strong perception as an educational hub, there remain some important work force supply and demand gaps in a number of industries including energy and healthcare,” said Emmanuel Durou, a consulting director at Deloitte Middle East. The hope is that vocational studies may help to fill those gaps.

In last two years, others vocational studies institutions have also opened there. The Abu Dhabi Center for Technical and Vocational Education and Training was established in 2010 by the Abu Dhabi Executive Council and will have opened nine schools by the end of this year. Four are now fully operational.

Still, “vocational and technical education certainly doesn’t have its fair share of the education market in the U.A.E. yet,” said Leila Hoteit, an education consultant at Booz & Company in the United Arab Emirates. In countries like Finland, 50% of the children who go into secondary schooling choose some form of vocational or technical option, she noted.

Two more technical high schools were opened in the emirate of Ajman in August. The Institute of Applied Technology at the Ajman Technical Complex has already admitted 250 eighth-grade students at two campuses — one for boys and one for girls — bringing the total number of technical high schools in the emirates to nine. Most vocational and technical courses, however, are at post-secondary level.

The Higher Colleges of Technology, founded in the emirates 25 years ago, now educate about 20,000 students on 17 campuses. A move in recent years to raise admission standards resulted in a sharp drop in new entries, to just over 4,200 last year from about 8,000 in 2010, according to a report this year by the Oxford Consulting Group. For this year, the number of admissions rose slightly, to 5,479.

“For those who have dropped out of school, one has to ask why,” said Naji Almahdi, director of NIVE. “Our current education system does not yield itself to the individual, which is why vocational study is important: it gives students more choices and therefore, greater chances of success.”

The National Qualifications Authority was established in 2010 as a federal body to set guidelines for national academic standards across all levels of education in the emirates.