A new dispensation

The opening of the Muscat University has infused the education sector with a fresh sense of direction and purpose

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The newly-formed private universities and higher education centres are expected to strengthen the quality of education in Oman. The government strategy is to enhance quality of education in line with international standards, which will help the country to develop skills of Omani youth to meet the growing needs of a diversified economy. With 18 public colleges, 20 private colleges, a state university, and seven private universities, Oman is well on its way to fully implementing its long-term development goals for both general and higher education.

National Strategy

The formation of Muscat University, which is in line with the national strategy, is expected to help in enhancing the quality of education immensely in the coming years. The Muscat University, which aims at providing quality education in the country, is part of the government’s strategy to mould skilled professionals to work in six priority sectors – manufacturing, logistics, fisheries, tourism, transport and mining – of the government for strengthening diversification programmes. In other words, students who come out of the university will be suited to the specific skillset required by the job market. The university is offering both undergraduate and post-graduate courses in three main streams – Business and Management, Engineering and Technology, and Transport and Logistics from Cranfield University and Aston University. The university seeks to attract a significant proportion of international students from outside the country. The Muscat University has brought in uniformity in curriculum, which was lacking in the country as several institutions in Muscat were now affiliated to different universities in various countries. The new university is also focusing on research in science and technology. Presently, there is a gap between the vacancies and the qualification and the Muscat University pays extra attention to developing and nurturing the right skillsets of the Omani youth. Another major priority area for the university is transport and logistics, including supply chain management – a priority sector for the Omani government to take advantage of its strategic location as a transhipment hub of the region. Muscat University realised that this sector represents a key growth area for Oman, as well as a significant source of employment for many years to come. Also, Oman’s latest private university – the National University of Science and Technology (NUST) – plans to admit 680 students in engineering, medicine and pharmacy for its first group of students for the academic year starting in September.

NUST, formed by the merger of Oman Medical College and Caledonian College of Engineering, is the seventh private university in the Sultanate. The new university is offering three programmes – engineering, medicine and pharmacy – and is going to operate as a multi-campus university. The faculty at NUST aims to become an internationally recognised and renowned one for its excellence in education and research, driven by social values.

 

Private Sector

The private sector in Oman has been playing an important role in establishing colleges and universities for quite some time now, thanks to support from the government through investor-friendly policies aimed at augmenting the scale and quality of education.  Population growth and rise in disposable income have supported the growth of the private sector education, especially in far-flung places. In fact, government measures to encourage private sector investments alongside an increasing preference for international curricula among residents are also attracting renowned foreign education institutes to the country. Several incentives were offered to private entrepreneurs to set up higher education facilities and universities, which include grants and easy availability of land. Private entrepreneurs and business houses have taken advantage of the incentives to establish private universities.  The population displays a strong ability and willingness to spend on quality education at international schools, translating into a huge opportunity for the private players.  Although private sector is gaining prominence in the education field, Sultan Qaboos University still holds a premier position.  Besides, the Sultanate has seven private universities – Muscat, Sohar, Dhofar, Nizwa, Buraimi, Sharqiyah and NUST – and 20 private colleges spread across the country catering to the needs of students.  The formation of all these universities and colleges not only helped students in interior regions to pursue higher education, but also developed the country’s status at levels equal to or above other countries in Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region.

 

Regional Universities

Regional universities offer programmes like pharmacy, nursing, engineering and information technology, which is in line with the specific private sector requirement. The Sultanate’s educational institutions are increasingly deploying information and communications technology to facilitate effective learning. The gradual spread of technology across the education institutions is likely to prepare the students for a future in an increasingly technology-oriented job market.

Plans are also afoot to set up a major specialised technical training institute to offer diploma programme for school-leavers in various technical fields required by the oil and gas industry, which include electrical, mechanical, instrumentation and draftsman. Another proposal is to establish an institution for conducting bachelors’ degree programmes in different fields in petroleum engineering, chemical engineering and mechanical engineering in Muscat. However, these proposals took a backseat due to a slackness in oil price last year. In an attempt to revamp the education field, the Ministry of Higher Education has unveiled a long-term plan called National Strategy for Education 2040 four years ago. The plan include a series of major recommendations for effective education of students from early childhood to graduation level. It is aimed at equipping young Omanis with the skills required to compete and succeed in a knowledge-based economy.

Oman government has allocated RO1,587 million for education sector this year, constituting 13 per cent of total budget expenditure of RO12.5 billion. This is for building new schools, colleges and specialised institutions in different parts of the country, besides meeting the current expenditure of educational institutions. For more than four-and-a-half decades, the government has invested heavily in raising general education facilities as well as for setting up higher education centres since education was one of the top priorities for the government. Since a major chunk of the Sultanate’s 4.64 million population is below 25 years, there is a growing need for additional educational institutions, which include primary schools, high schools, higher education centres, specialised job oriented educational institutions and research and development centres.


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