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A Straight Talk on Higher Education with Dr. Ayoub Kazim

Dr. Ayoub Kazim is a Managing Director of the Education Cluster of TECOM Investments, a member of Dubai Holding.  He is responsible for strategically steering all Dubai International Academic City (DIAC) and Dubai Knowledge Village (DKV) academic entities and further consolidating their statuses as leading centres of learning excellence in the region. Dr. Kazim holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Alabama and a Master’s Degree from the Polytechnic Institute of New York University. He received his Doctorate in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Miami in 1998.

Being the Managing Director of the Education Cluster of TECOM Investments how do you foresee the future of DIAC and prospects of Dubai as a leading education hub?
As His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum rightly said during the launch of the National Agenda – an extension of UAE Vision 2021 – we are on a “great journey” over the next seven years. Education is the bedrock of the UAE’s long-term economic success. With the right mix of quality institutions, teaching and ambition, it is the driving force behind developing the workforce needed for our private, public and not-for-profit sectors.

Currently ranked 19th in the Global Competitiveness Index, the UAE’s target of a top 10 ranking by 2021 is achievable, given that we have all of the ingredients; advanced infrastructure, healthy economic growth, and strong and stable leadership to inspire innovation nationwide.

As we strive to deliver a ‘best in class’ education system, it is important to remember that no single education system in the world offers the singularly ideal model. Rather, complementing our ‘home grown’ innovation and approach, we should look to adopting the best of what we see in the pockets of educational success that exist across different parts of the globe, and seek ways to develop better, more efficient and pragmatic systems.

The UAE’s ambitions in relation to education are bold – and rightfully so, especially if we consider what has been achieved in such a short space of time. The sector has developed tremendously over the past 40 years. The country is now regarded to be the fourth most desired education destination in the world after the US, UK and Canada, surpassing emerging educational hubs such as Singapore and Malaysia, according to a recent DIAC/Deloitte study of over 2,400 students from 17 countries.

Despite this success, more can be done. The National Agenda presents us the opportunity to truly create a world-class education system, from pre-school through to university. Dubai will continue to forge its best in class approach to education, fostering Emirati talent and attracting the very best educationalists and academia that the world has to offer. We, at the forefront of education, are dedicated to realizing – if not exceeding – the UAE’s ambitions for education.

Education is very important in helping us determine and shape our future. How Education Cluster so far?
There is a significantly increased awareness for the crucial role that HR can play in making sure the right people are in the right jobs, are trained properly, are equipped for the working environment and are used to their maximum potential. Organizations now see talent management as a business imperative. They are willing to make necessary investment in effective and targeted learning and development initiatives to cultivate a highly qualified workforce; and DKV is a one-stop-shop for them.

Dubai Knowledge Village was established in 2003 as a home for corporate training to support the Government of Dubai’s vision to develop the region’s talent pool and transform the UAE into a knowledge-based economy. Over the past decade, it has evolved into a premier destination for training and development, human resource management and executive search in the region.

More than a decade ago, the Dubai Government had a vision to transform Dubai into a city based on a knowledge economy. After Dubai Internet City was launched in 2000, other ambitious projects followed including Dubai Media City (2001) and Dubai Knowledge Village (2003)

Dubai International Academic City (DIAC), on the other hand, was launched in 2007 as a zone dedicated to higher education. It was launched to cater to the increased demand for higher education for both regional and expatriate students. While DKV evolved to focus on HR, DIAC was created to host international and regional universities. It gave local and international students the chance to study in world-class international universities without having to travel abroad.

While certain political conflicts and rising living costs made it difficult for certain nationalities to obtain visas to the US and Europe, Dubai became a viable alternative to high quality international education.

Today, DIAC is home to 21 of the UAE’s 37 International Branch Campuses, and to universities from 10 countries catering to over 20,000 students from 125 different nationalities offering them more than 400 programmes. Since its inception, DIAC has witnessed over 300% growth in the number of academic institutions it hosts, with over 900% growth in the number of its student body.

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What is the mission behind DIAC formation?
DIAC was formed to support the Government of Dubai’s vision to transform the UAE into a knowledge-based economy. It was developed as a zone dedicated to higher education catering to the increased demand for higher education for both regional and expatriate students. It was designed to offer multi-tiered higher education institutions to the local, regional and international communities – giving everyone the right to an international education.

What DIAC offers for pupil interested in international education, and also how the Academic City is accessible to international students?
The UAE is strategically located as a central trade hub strategically acting as a gateway between east and west. Dubai is reachable to more than 1.5 billion people within a three-hour flight, and more than 4.5 billion (around 65% of the world population) within an 8-hour flight radius, connected to areas such as India, Pakistan, Europe, Africa and the GCC. Dubai gives these people access to an international education from multiple countries. While certain political conflicts and rising living costs made it difficult for certain nationalities to obtain visas to the US and Europe, Dubai became a viable alternative to high quality international education.

What are your plans for magnetizing recognized institutions and talents to DIAC?
Our strategy is more focused on attracting new students for our current academic partners. We continue to develop the higher education sector with a large number of varied undergraduate, post graduate and doctorate degrees being offered.

To ensure that we are continually offering in-demand, relevant courses while still meeting the needs of employers, we encourage our business partners to offer degrees that are needed by the industry. In fact, DKV and DIAC witnessed significant growth in the number of academic programmes offered by its academic partners. A total of 35 new programmes were introduced during 2013, including 11 undergraduate programmes, 17 post graduate, and seven new PHD programmes. The new courses are being offered by institutions such as the University of Wollongong Dubai, British University in Dubai, Heriot Watt, Middlesex, Amity, Manipal and SP Jain – whose global MBA programme has been ranked among the world’s top 20 by Forbes magazine.

We continue to offer value added support services to our business partners. As part of our effort to ensure we are aligned with the human capital needs of business and the wider market, two new research studies were commissioned over the year. DIAC collaborated with Deloitte to launch the region’s first comprehensive, independent Workforce Planning study, which identified gaps that currently exist between graduate skill sets and industry demands.

The second research was the Qudurat Student Wave study, in collaboration with Aon Hewitt. This focused on identifying key drivers for employers and the aspirations of employees.

Besides the large number of K12 schools and students feeding in to the university sector in the UAE, we have various international student recruitment efforts, and we participate in various key education events in Dubai and abroad throughout the year. These events allow us to network with a large number of academics and experts who are interested in setting up in the Middle East.

Any future plan of initiating the Academic City in other part of country?
At this point of time, we are focusing on refining DIAC’s product and services as well as human capital development to fulfil H.H. Sheik Mohamed Bin Rashid’s vision of Dubai to be a smart city as well as a global hub in Islamic economy.

The reality is that today, youth unemployment is a bigger problem, what measure you have taken to curb this problem related to placements, do you have some innovative solutions to help collegiate students?
DIAC has a variety of innovative initiatives to help solve youth unemployment issues. One of our initiatives is the annual DIAC Career Fair. Bridging the gap between potential employers and job seekers and potential interns, the DIAC Career Fair is set to become a forum to a large group of talented graduates, representing a range of academic disciplines, to network with some of the UAE’s most prestigious employers.

The DIAC Career Fair, along with DIAC’s other initiatives and studies, are very valuable to governmental institutions, private sector organisations, academic institutions, and other stakeholders looking to advance the UAE’s future talent pool in diverse capacities.

Aimed at empowering students and graduates to take charge of their own future, DIAC provides youth with the ideal environment to understand their prospects in the UAE job market in terms of career orientation, key areas of employment, skill requirement, and training and development opportunities. This comes in line with the objectives of the Workforce Planning study that DIAC launched last year in collaboration with Deloitte. The study identified industry verticals where Dubai has developed a strong niche and emerged as potentially high on future employment demand. Those industries include hospitality and tourism, Islamic finance and energy. The study also identified each sector’s employability skills gap in areas like culinary arts in the hospitality and tourism industry, customer analytics and data planning in telecom, Islamic banking in finance and banking, as well as risk management in the energy and resources industry.

DIAC’s Student Hub has also enhanced the DIAC students experience with other valuable initiatives. Student Hub initiatives include the Week of Welcome, an annual orientation event held for new and existing students that comprises a range of exciting activities;  and the DIAC Sports Cup, the annual inter-university sports contest that offers a holistic approach to education.

Lastly, we thank you for your valuable time. What is your message for The Young Vision readers who are High School and University Student?
I strongly believe that the youth at this present time have a great opportunity to rapidly develop their skills through outstanding programs offered by our reputable institutions and hence significantly contribute to fulfilling Dubai’s and UAE’s leaderships visions of positioning Dubai to be a global hub in Islamic economy, a smart city and above all transform UAE’s economy to be based on knowledge and innovation.