The focus now is more on setting up universities with specialised programmes
The strategy of Oman government is to build a knowledge-based society through higher investment in education centres, streamlining curriculum and enhancing the role of private sector in higher education.
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 is one of the top priorities for the government. This is not different this year as well, despite a constraint in resources due to a drop in oil prices. Now the focus is more on setting up universities with specialised programmes.
After spending the rich oil generated funds for developing educational institutions across the country over the years, the planned budget allocation for education sector is RO1,596 million this year, constituting 13.6 per cent of total budget expenditure of RO11.7 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. 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.
Almost three years ago, the Ministry of Higher Education had unveiled 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. The recent formation of Muscat University is in line with the national strategy and is expected to help in enhancing the quality of education immensely in the coming years. The Muscat University, which is aiming at providing the best quality education in the country, is in line with the government’s strategy to mould skilled professionals for the sectors identified by the government for diversification programmes. In other words, students who come out of the university will be suited to the specific skillset required by the job market.
Muscat University, Oman’s higher education institution opened doors in September for its first student batch in Pathway Programmes. From 2017, the university started providing undergraduate and postgraduate degree programmes for Omanis and expatriates through its three faculties of business management, engineering and technology, and transport and logistics.
The university admitted 160 students this year, 80 in the foundation and 80 to be enrolled in the Per-Master’s programme.
It 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 has been granted a license to operate as a university by the educational council, the supreme educational body of the Omani government. The university seeks to attract a significant proportion of international students from outside the Sultanate. 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 is also focusing on research in science and technology.
Presently, there is a gap between the vacancies and the qualification and the Muscat University will pay extra attention on 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 Oman to take advantage of its strategic location as a transshipment hub of the region.
Muscat University is confident that this sector represents a key growth area for Oman, as well as a significant source of employment for many years to come. Also, in the past few years, the private sector in Oman started taking an important role in establishing colleges and universities. The private sector has been receiving support from the governments 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. 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. 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.
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 offer programmes such as 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 grants and easy availability of land. Several private entrepreneurs and business houses have taken advantage of the incentives to establish private universities.
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. Moreover, the use of internet and devices such as laptops and tablets is facilitating a more enjoyable and effective learning atmosphere, which is likely to result in improved grades of the students.
A plan to establish two major specialised institutes, including an engineering college, for meeting the demand for additional oil and gas industry professionals took a back seat with dearth of opportunities in the oil and gas sector. This was due to retrenchment in oil and gas sector, in the aftermath of a drastic fall in oil prices. The ministry was concentrating more on redeploying workforce in the oil and gas sector, rather than establishing new institutions. The earlier plan was to set up these technical training institutes 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. Another proposal was to establish an institution for conducting bachelors’ degree programmes in different fields in petroleum engineering, chemical engineering and mechanical engineering in Muscat.
- The Sultanate’s educational institutions are increasingly deploying information and communications technology to facilitate effective learning
- As 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 and higher education centres