ABU DHABI // The number of Emirati students opting to enrol in Stem courses is slowly increasing, educators say.
While about 70 per cent of students choose to study business or business-related subjects, more are looking at the benefits of choosing science, technology, engineering and mathematics courses, said Dr Warren Fox, head of higher education in Dubai’s education regulator, the Knowledge and Human Development Authority.
“There’s change happening,” he said. “In the last five years, engineering has grown to second place, with around 15 per cent of students doing these subjects now. Business remains the most popular, but engineering has now overtaken IT, which for a long time was in second place.”
With degrees now offered in areas such as construction and architecture, options are growing, although attracting Emiratis to areas like health science remains a challenge, he said.
On Wednesday, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed urged Emirati youth to learn skills that will make them globally competitive.
The Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces told an audience of students at the Mohammed bin Zayed Majlis for Future Generations that the UAE will need generations of engineers and scientists as it shifts from oil towards a knowledge-based economy.
“We have to ensure the new generation is equipped with knowledge and science so they can represent our competitive advantage in front of the whole world … We need engineering, we cannot have enough of it,” Sheikh Mohammed said.
Dr Aly Nazmy, interim provost and dean of the college of engineering at Abu Dhabi University, said there is interest from Emiratis in engineering but not enough places at federal universities or semi-private institutions such as Khalifa University and the Petroleum Institute.
About 16 per cent of undergraduate engineering students at ADU are Emirati, but this number would be higher if financial support was available, Dr Nazmy said.
“These majors are quite demanding, so they need to be studied full-time, but many young Emiratis have reasons they need to work, they want to get married, they need to support the family, but this makes the studies much harder,” he said.
“What I would propose is increasing the number of scholarships to allow these students to study at the private universities with good programmes in these areas.”
Dr Richard Tracy Schoephoerster, dean of the college of engineering at the American University of Sharjah, said more involvement from the industry would help to increase student numbers.
“We believe that industry should be engaged in K-12 and university level programmes by providing mentors, speakers, field trips, and practical experiences. We would support the government’s efforts in providing incentives for Stem education in the form of financial aid and investment into K-12 and university level Stem education.”
Although the public school curriculum has recently been updated to give a better foundation for pupils in science and technology, teachers must also update their training, according to Dr Natasha Ridge, head of research at the Al Qasimi Policy Foundation in Ras Al Khaimah.
“The new curriculum is a step in the right direction, but there still needs to be work with teachers,” she said. “They must be brought along with the curriculum reforms.”
Additionally, improved career counselling at school would better prepare students to study these subjects at university.
“We need the students to understand what kinds of careers these subjects can lead to, so they make better choices about higher education,” she said.
Prof Ammar Kaka, head of Heriot Watt University in Dubai, a university based around engineering, agreed support from schools is key.
“To do engineering you must do maths and science, so they need to push more interest towards these subjects.”