Oman Tourism College attaches great importance to making the academia more compatible with the industry requirements. Excerpts from an interview with Dean,  Dr Abdulkarim Al Mughairi. Muhammed Nafie reports

Tourism is one of the vital sectors in Oman’s economic diversification plans. The government has outlined an ambitious tourism development strategy. How are your college’s vision and mission aligning with the objectives of the government’s strategy?

Our college’s vision and mission are very much aligned with the government’s Tourism Strategy 2040. We are working very closely with all relevant stakeholders towards achieving the goals of this strategy. We have been equipping our college with the right tools, procedures and facilities as well reviewing programmes required to meet the objectives set by the government. We are focussed on bringing out skilled and qualified young Omanis who can compete with expatriate professionals in the job market.

Can you talk about the various measures taken to enhance students’ learning experiences and your partnership with foreign countries?

For our academic programme, we have tied-up with Dublin Institute of Technology. We offer diploma and bachelor’s degree in three different specialisations: tourism marketing, tourism & hospitality management and event management. For our vocational and professional programmes, we have partnered with various international awarding bodies such as High Field, Lobster Ink, The REDglobal Foundation, etc.

The college is running from time to time various short courses related to the hospitality sector and the tourism industry in general. The duration of these courses range from one week to eight months to one year, covering a wide range of areas such as front office, culinary, food safety, air ticketing, tour guide etc.

Right now, we have teamed up with various tour operators as well as the hotel industry who have committed themselves to hire our students on completing various short courses. We offer tour guide training focusing on different languages such as English, German, French etc. We have also partnered with international training providers and are open to do some of the training outside Oman, if required.

Is the local tourism market big enough to employ all your graduates?

Oman has got a fast growing tourism industry and the demand for talented workforce is also on the rise. The 2040 Tourism Strategy aims to create 500,000 jobs. Tanfeedh aims to create 21,000 jobs by 2020 of which 11,000 are for Omanis. All these job opportunities need educated, well-trained and qualified Omani candidates. Oman Tourism College and other training providers in the country are required to play their role in providing education and training. The local market is big enough to absorb graduates from our college but also graduates from other education and training providers that are existing in Oman. We at OTC, strive to develop students’ knowledge and skills in order to be successful professionals in a rapidly changing global tourism market.

There has always been a mismatch between the requirements of the industry and the skillsets of the students coming out of the universities and colleges? How are you going to address this concern? How are you making the academia more compatible with the market?

Matching the skillsets required by the employers with those taught in educational institutions is extremely important. We at OTC are consulting stakeholders, whenever we are in the process of developing or reviewing our academic programmes and the various long and short-term courses. We have always been in full consultation with the employers, in particular when developing new programmes. We also consult other stakeholders and relevant government entities.

Our academic programmes are approved by the Ministry of Higher Education, only if they meet their requirements and if all the relevant stakeholders are consulted, such as employers and parents. Accurate data are provided in terms of the number of job opportunities. For the vocational and short training courses, they should be developed according to the occupational standards and the requirements of the employers and approved by the Ministry of Manpower. In summary, there are a set of criteria that we have to demonstrate to the Ministry of Higher Education for academic programmes or the Ministry of Manpower for vocational programmes in order to obtain approvals.

Can you talk about the measures taken to make education more industry-centric?

It all has to do with engaging the various stakeholders which involves several stages. First, in terms of programme offered, they should meets the requirements of either the Ministry of Higher Education (for academic programmes) or the requirements of the Ministry of Manpower (for vocational/short courses training programmes). We involve the subject matter experts, in particular the potential employers, from the private sector. Secondly, in terms of delivery of the programmes, we are involving the employers through internship, on-job training, industry guest lecturers, and a lot of other functions which provide our students the needed exposure and the industry expectations. These actions ensure that the college meets the industry needs as well provide the graduates with the skillset and the needed industry exposure.

Can you talk about your tourism awareness programme and how effective has it been in encouraging youngsters in taking a career in tourism?

The number of the students who attended our awareness programmes is a clear indication that there is a willingness to learn and know more about the sector both from the students and the schools. However, it is too early to talk about the effectiveness of these events.

What are the challenges facing your college?

In Oman, Oman Tourism College is the only college which is 100 per cent dedicated to offer tourism and hospitality programmes. In order to provide education and training for candidates according to the number of job opportunities projected in the Tourism Strategy 2040 or Tanfeedh programme, then we definitely need to improve the facilities and increase the number of programmes offered in order to meet the growing demands. The process of developing new programmes is time-demanding. This may require affiliation with international institution of higher education specialised in tourism and hospitality. This means additional financial burdens on the college.

Another challenge is to make tourism jobs more attractive in terms of pay for our graduates, in comparison to other sectors such as oil and gas or banking. Generally speaking, if the employers are not willing to offer good packages, tourism graduates will migrate to other lucrative sectors. This issue cannot be addressed by the college only. We need to have collective efforts by the government and stakeholders to find a solution to it.

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