How school-university partnerships can strengthen the UAE's education sector
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How school-university partnerships can strengthen the UAE’s education sector

How school-university partnerships can strengthen the UAE’s education sector

Such collaborations offer enhanced learning for students and professional development opportunities for staff

Professor Ammar Kaka_Provost_Heriot-Watt University Dubai copy

One of the UAE’s highest priorities has always been education. As a result of the keen focus over the years, the nation has seen the rate of adult literacy zoom from 54 per cent among men and 31 per cent among women in 1975 to 95 per cent today for both genders. This is commendable, given that the education system itself is relatively new, compared to those in several other parts of the world.

As an industry, it has grown and aimed for continuous improvement. The nation’s commitment to education has helped diversify the economy and prepared a new generation of young people possessing skills that are sought after in the global marketplace.

Recent reports state that the UAE education market is expected to grow from $4.4bn in 2017 to $7.1bn by 2023.

Additionally, the Ministry of Education (MoE)’s Education 2020 strategy is designed to bring significant qualitative improvement in the education system, especially in the way teachers teach and students learn.

There are several ways to achieve this, however one of the most effective routes, is via collaboration between educational institutions. In other words, school-university partnerships are a fundamental link to strengthen teacher education reform.

Historically, various studies have supported this claim, having concluded that, with a clear agenda and goals, all parties benefit.

At one time, such partnerships were limited merely to managing the school to university transition. However, today’s collaborations focus on areas well beyond that in several ways:

Enhanced learning opportunities for students – When schools collaborate with universities, it opens up a completely new window of opportunity for students. The most obvious one is having better-prepared students for higher education. It allows students a view into a world beyond school, a chance to ask questions and seek out new educational and career opportunities. At the same time, such partnerships can also assist the school with their high school student recruitment efforts.

Sharing of best practices – Across all industries, sharing of best practices is an excellent way to improve performance and productivity. The education sector is no different, and school-university partnerships can greatly improve learning and teaching outcomes. Some examples of best practices are collaborative teaching initiatives and joint professional development which can result in better-prepared teachers entering the workforce, which in turn results in improved learning outcomes.

Professional development opportunities – The quality of teaching has long been recognised as a key factor contributing to student achievement, and classroom teachers often benefit from having access to professional development opportunities as a result of school and university collaborations. These could include workshops and training which will allow exposure to new techniques and teaching methodology, understanding expectations of college instructors or even networking, which can help create mutually beneficial ties.

Universities provide students with the skills to compete in increasingly global workplaces and are agents of social mobility. They can bring about tremendous impact in the society, however working closely with schools can ensure that an early start is made.

Equally importantly, such interactions prepare university academics for the new students each year, all of whom are more evolved and digitally able than the batch before them, thereby resulting in a better connect between the two.

An example of such a school-university partnership is the memorandum of understanding signed by Heriot-Watt University with Taaleem Education, which provides private K-12 English language education in the UAE. The agreement is targeted at creating mutually beneficial educational opportunities for staff and students in the next three years.

Under the MoU, Heriot-Watt University will provide Taaleem staff and students with invitations to events such as guest speaker series and experience days, organise faculty development workshops for professional staff, provide work experience opportunities to Taaleem students for two weeks each year and appoint a designated admissions team member to support Taaleem students through applications and enrolment.

Meanwhile Taaleem will include Heriot-Watt University at all their student career fairs, permit the university to communicate with Taaleem students and parents with regards to higher education and distribute Heriot-Watt’s publications in Taaleem schools.

Professor Ammar Kaka is the provost and vice principal of Heriot-Watt University Dubai

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