Two major universities, which are expected to come up within two to three years in the capital city, are expected to change the face of higher education scene in Oman and reduce the dependence of students for higher studies on developed countries. Tremendous progress has been achieved in forming Muscat University and the University of Oman, which are in line with the long-term vision to change the country into a knowledge-based society. The major objective of Muscat University is to bring out graduates who have the aptitude and skills needed by the private sector; and the curriculum would be designed with the specific requirements of the private sector as a central focus.
Muscat University, the Sultanate’s only Oxford University accredited university, will start taking students for its first batch for its three major disciplines in 2016. However, the regular programme will begin only a year later after a one-year foundation programme, which includes courses for English language skills, technical aptitude and soft skills. Isis Innovation Ltd, the University of Oxford’s wholly-owned technology transfer company, has been appointed as lead consultant for the project. The Muscat University will be an innovative and entrepreneurial university set up by a group of prominent Omani business leaders and is conceived as a private non-profit institution.
The proposed national-level University of Oman, which will start functioning by mid-2018, is also expected to aid the growth of higher education facilities in Oman. The formation of a new university, which will come up close to Muscat, will not only improve quality of education but also reduce the number of students seeking admission abroad for higher studies. The new university is expected to bring in uniformity in curriculum, which is lacking in the country as several institutions in Muscat are now affiliated to different universities in various countries. The new university project will be dedicated to research in science and technology. A high-level steering panel, with members from different ministries, was constituted last year to oversee the design planning and development of this ambitious venture. Major consultancy agencies, including a project management consultant, have been appointed to oversee the implementation programme, in coordination with government agencies. The University of Oman will be built alongside the equally prestigious Science & Technology City on a 12 square kilometre-site near Barka. The campus will be designed to support academic programmes and research in various fields, including energy, resources and sustainability, systems design and technology, medicine and life sciences and community development.
Along with the university project, there will be a science park, convention centre, student activity centres, student sports complex with swimming pools and gym and community centre with club facilities. The Ministry of Higher Education has recently announced a long-term plan called National Strategy for Education 2040, which include a series of well-researched recommendations for effective education of students from early childhood to graduation level.
Of late, private sector is also playing an important role in the higher education field in Oman. The Sultanate has seven private universities, which include Muscat, Sohar, Dhofar, Nizwa, Buraimi and Sharqiyah, and 19 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 have programmes like pharmacy, nursing, engineering and information technology, which is in line with the specific private sector requirement. Several incentives were offered to private entrepreneurs to set up higher education facilities and universities, which include tax exemptions, grants and easy availability of land. Several private entrepreneurs and business houses have taken advantage of the incentives to establish private universities.
The number of students who took admission in higher education institutions touched 30,000 in 2014, which is equivalent to 89 per cent of secondary school leavers. There has been a close coordination between the Ministry of Higher Education and private universities for providing admission for various higher education programmes. Although Sultan Qaboos University (SQU) plays an important role in higher education field in the country for decades, the formation of private universities in several parts of the country also helped to create a large number of seats for students. As many as 3,000 students are admitted in SQU every year, while the total number students enrolled in the university is 17,000.
As one of the major objectives of the government is maximum Omanisation, there is an urgent need to make available skilled and semi-skilled professionals within the country, especially for oil field jobs. Major focus is on technical and career-oriented programmes to suit the requirements of labour market, compared to traditional degrees. The government is planning to set up two major specialised institutes, including an engineering college, for meeting the growing demand for 20,000 to 30,000 additional oil and gas industry professionals in the next ten years.
A technical training institute will come up in Adam 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. The second institute is coming up in Muscat for conducting bachelors’ degree programmes in different fields in petroleum engineering, chemical engineering and mechanical engineering. These institutes are planned in view of multi-billion investments in oil and gas sector and as part of a larger in-country value initiative a couple of years ago.
The Sultanate’s government attaches top priority for education and health in allocating budget year after year and it was not different this year as well.
Budget allocation for education sector this year is three billion rials, which constitutes 21 per cent of total expenditure. This is for setting up 41 new schools in different wilayats, for providing training within the country and outside with a cost of RO95 million.