Conclusion of the Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research (ECSSR) 10th Annual Education Conference: Prepare Human Capital to Respond to the Technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution

The Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research (ECSSR) 10th Annual Education Conference, titled ‘Education and Jobs of the Future: Developing Qualified Human Capital to Secure the UAE’s Progress’, came to a close on Wednesday, November, 13, 2019. His Excellency Prof. Jamal Sanad Al-Suwaidi, Director General of the ECSSR, delivered closing remarks, thanking the distinguished gathering of officials, researchers and experts for attending the two-day conference. His Excellency explained that their participation had a great impact on practical recommendations from the conference, as a result of the comprehensive strategies and insights they suggested to ensure education prepares UAE human capital for advancing the national development process. He also emphasized that the ECSSR is continually focused on staying abreast of the latest developments in all fields.

The conference discussed a vital issue, across four panels, namely, the role of education in qualifying the UAE workforce to master future jobs, particularly in light of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) and advances in Artificial Intelligence and communications technologies. This in turn will help meet the requirements of the next phase of the labor market. His Excellency told participants: “We would like to assure you that we will do our best, to ensure this conference and its recommendations become an important addition to the education development strategies in the UAE. We believe in the importance of scientific research in informing development strategies in all areas.”

The final day of the conference began with a keynote address from H.E. Sarah bint Yousif Al Amiri, Minister of State for Advanced Sciences, United Arab Emirates. She stressed that education is a fundamental pillar of the UAE Centennial 2071 Plan, which aims to see the UAE become the best country in the world. She explained that there is a need for technological development, in order to develop human capital in a manner that ensures skills are in line with the dramatic changes caused by the Fourth Industrial Revolution. She confirmed that the state is focused on developing technology by encouraging knowledge, training students to master the radical developments the world is witnessing in the technological sphere, and developing new knowledge and employing it in an appropriate way. H.E. Al Amiri outlined the essential pillars for developing human capital, which include providing a motivational environment conducive to innovation, adapting a lifelong learning strategy, the diversification of resources and ideas, and a focus on skills and concepts of sustainability. She described educational reform as indispensable to developing education, indicating that there is particular need to develop teaching methods to become more effective in transferring knowledge to students.

During the third panel, titled ‘Exploring the Future through Higher Education’ and presided over by Mr. Sulaiman Al Kaabi, Founder and CEO of Future Foresight Foundation – Abu Dhabi, three research papers were presented. The first paper was from Prof. Martina Newell-McGloughlin, Director of Research, Innovation and Knowledge Division, Department of Education and Knowledge-ADEK, United Arab Emirates. She touched on the role of scientific research in the advancement of education and building a knowledge economy. She underlined that higher education in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi plays a crucial role in the advancement of a knowledge-based economy and in contributing to a productive society. One of ADEK’s principal strategies in helping achieve these goals is the enhancement of research and development, particularly in the Emirate’s priority sectors. ADEK is in the process of creating the Abu Dhabi Research and Development Authority (ADRDA) to help support and promote research. The ADRDA will establish a support structure for research and innovation, to act as a driver for economic transformation and the development of a skilled and competitive national research community.

The second research paper was presented by Dr. Loh Ai Poh, Associate Professor, Director of Innovation & Design Programme, National University of Singapore, Republic of Singapore. In her lecture, titled ‘Future Universities: Novel Specializations for Innovative Jobs’, Dr. Loh stressed that the rapid development of technologies in the Fourth Industrial Revolution is disrupting the way industries and societies operate. This is driving the evolution in the workplace, which is now ubiquitously digitally connected. Connectivity is at least three-dimensional: worker to worker (social networks), worker to the workplace (digitalization in companies), and, worker to information online. Dr. Loh explained that each of these connections presents unique opportunities to revolutionize the way we interact, work and learn. Useful information can be harnessed relatively easily if these connections are exploited. She also discussed how we should prepare young graduates to function more effectively by leveraging these connections, and she considered the skills students need and how they can be trained. The researcher also discussed the pedagogical changes that could contribute to relevant outcomes for the future labor market.

Prof. Calin Gurau, Professor at Montpellier Business School, France, delivered his presentation on ‘Promoting International Cooperation in Higher Education and Technology Transfer’. He described a widespread consensus on the importance and benefits of international cooperation in higher education. However, he pointed out that there is still a lack of understanding when it comes to the critical elements and factors that can enhance these processes and contribute to their success. He analysed the main challenges in promoting and organizing international cooperation at the university or business school level. He also outlined three strategic principles that can reduce or eliminate most of these challenges. First, the alignment and harmonization of objectives, capabilities and actions at individual, institutional and state level, and second, the importance of close and permanent collaboration between school management, professors and administrators. The third strategy involves adopting a flexible, long-term strategic perspective in planning, organizing and implementing international cooperation projects. These principles represent important levers of strategic action for university managers, professors and administrators, as well as for government representatives.

The fourth panel, titled ‘Successful International Experiences in Education’, was chaired by Mr. Juma Al Rumaithi, Director of the Scholarships Office, Ministry of Presidential Affairs, United Arab Emirates. During the panel, the educational experiences of Singapore, Canada and Finland were discussed. Prof. Guaning Su, President Emeritus of Nanyang Technological University, Republic of Singapore, delivered a presentation titled ‘Singapore’s Experience’. He explained that when Singapore became independent in 1965, the per capita GDP was around $500 and it was one of the poorer Asian cities behind, for example, Manila and Colombo. By 2014, the GDP had grown 100-fold, to more than $50,000, seeing the nation rise from the Third World to the First World. Education played a major part in this progress. Prof. Su demonstrated how Singapore achieved this growth and the charted educational development in his country. He also highlighted the successes of Singapore’s education system and explored some of its challenges.

Dr. Saul Carliner, Director of Educational Technology Program at Concordia University, Canada, presented his paper, ‘Canada’s Experience’, and explained that Canada has one of the highest levels of education attainment among developed nations. Over 55 percent of adults participate in higher education, compared with an average of 35 percent in other OECD countries. He explored some of the key factors that contribute to the success of this sector, including the unique structures, missions and relationships between Canadian universities and colleges; support for student success in higher education; an emphasis on work-integrated learning in higher education; an emphasis on durable curricula; the growth of complementary curricula at the undergraduate and graduate levels; and, the nature and size of research grants for graduate students and faculty.

The final presentation, ‘Finland’s Experience’, was delivered by Dr. Eila Lindfors, Professor at the Department of Teacher Education, University of Turku, Finland. She said that in the 1850s, there was profound discussion among Finnish philosophers on what kind of educational system would best serve the nation. One option was to provide basic skills in reading, writing and math, whereas another offered a more holistic approach to learning, in addition to basic skills. Fortunately, the latter option prevailed and since the 1860s, education has been developed as a holistic combination of basic skills, arts and crafts, in addition to learning by doing and inquiry orientation. One successful idea was to integrate various subjects into thematic learning projects. The researcher also explained that the master’s level and research-based teacher qualifications required in primary and pre-primary schools guarantees a high quality of professional teaching staff in Finnish schools. Concluding, Dr. Lindfors confirmed that the Finnish success in education is a result of an equal and comprehensive school system; one that has been developed by qualified master’s level teachers. Meanwhile, its National Basic Education Curriculum uses technology to integrate schools within current and future societies.

The conference proceedings concluded with an array of recommendations; chiefly, the need to continue efforts to develop the Emirati workforce in response to the changes the world is witnessing, particularly in relation to knowledge-based economies, the Fourth Industrial Revolution and Artificial Intelligence. Continuous development of academic programs and school curricula was also suggested to ensure education can cope with accelerating developments in areas related to the Fourth Industrial Revolution and Artificial Intelligence. Within this, a special emphasis should be placed on science, mathematics and technology curricula, as well as enhancing coordination and collaboration between the labor market and all those involved in education. Governments, universities, recruiters, employers and students should establish, through collaboration, plans for developing education and defining the basic skills required for the labor market in the near and long term.

The conference also recommended increasing investment in qualifying human capital through lifelong learning and training processes that aim to continuously improve the skills of the workforce, ensuring adaptation to the requirements of future jobs. Closer attention should be paid to developing students’ basic skills to ensure they can adapt to future jobs; particularly skills of complex problem-solving, critical thinking, creativity and innovation, with an emphasis on developing programs and mechanisms that identify skills and talents of students at an early stage in order to properly nurture those skills. Retraining teachers and academics was also identified as important, in order to ensure they possess the expertise required to transfer new knowledge and skills to students.

Conference participants called for a review of current student assessment methods and mechanisms, in addition to the development of new assessment programs that measure skill level and knowledge development through sound scientific methods. There should be a focus on providing school and university environments that support students and help them learn and acquire modern skills and knowledge, while at the same time, enhancing their health, nutrition and wellbeing. Emphasizing the social and ethical features of Fourth Industrial Revolution and Artificial Intelligence applications was also identified as crucial, because these technologies can have extremely negative effects on societies if not properly managed and utilized.

Other recommendations from the conference emphasized vocational and technical education so that vocational and technical school graduates can enrol in specialized branches at university. Increasing scientific research budgets and incentivizing the private sector to provide funds for different areas of scientific research and development was also prioritized, alongside increasing long-term investment, especially in areas of computer science, as a driver of creativity and innovation. The conference also recommended building productive academic and educational partnerships with well-established institutions in areas of integrating education and technology within educational systems around the world.

Conference participants also called for promoting employment that integrates people of determination and develops the required educational programs and curricula to achieve this goal. They also called for making use of the expertise, experiments and successes of leading international educational systems, such as those of Singapore, Canada and Finland, familiarizing with these systems and implementing the latest educational programs, curricula and teaching methods within the UAE context.