Dubai: Will online degrees replace traditional ones?

According to experts, it could be the way to bridge the gap in employability and skills for students in the UAE

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Nasreen Abdulla

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Published: Thu 16 Mar 2023, 6:49 PM

Last updated: Thu 16 Mar 2023, 9:18 PM

Will online degrees replace traditional ones? Maybe not entirely. However, online education providers are responding much faster to changes in the market than traditional universities, according to panellists at the ‘Remote’ conference held in Dubai on Thursday.

To keep in line with these changes, universities in the UAE will partner with online educational organisations to offer micro-credentials, according to UAE’s Minister of Education.

“You could be enrolled at a university and one of the courses, you can take online with an accredited institution that we provide,” said Dr. Ahmad Belhoul Al Falasi. “So, you don't have to do all your courses in person at the university you attend. You could choose a few that you can do remotely at another university and get credit for it at your own university.”

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According to experts, this could be the way to bridge the gap in employability and skills for students in the UAE.

“It is important to build a hybrid model [of education] that partners more intentionally and deeply with online educators or those seen as competitors to traditional universities,” said Prof. Michael Allen, Provost and Chief Academic Officer of Zayed University (ZU).

Ealier in the day, Noura al Kaabi, Minister of State and President of ZU, explained how the university had started a pilot partner programme where students are matched with companies to solve real world problems from their very first semester. “We are hopeful the results will be positive both in terms of employability and in developing a much closer relationship between industry and education,” said Prof. Michael.

The Google experience

Speaking at the panel, Basil Ayass, Regional Sales Lead at Google Cloud for education and healthcare sector in the region, explained how Google began its career certification programme out of a need for skilled employees.

“There was a lack of education around AI, IT helpdesk and so many other skills,” he said. “The conventional degree was not modernising fast enough to keep up with cutting technology. So, we began a programme to equip people in topics like project management and machine learning. At first, this was to help us hire. Then when you apply a job with us, we will treat you the exact same as someone who has done a traditional four-year degree.”

However, the program was so transformational that more than 153 companies across the world joined a consortium and signed a pledge to recognize Google’s program. “What needs to change is not the employer but the offering of the university,” said Basil.

Preparing students

Prof. Michael highlighted that it was important to prepare students for an online learning environment.

“We spent a lot of time equipping our teachers to teach online but how much time did we spend preparing our children for online education?" he said. “The answer is none. Just because they are digital natives, does not mean they are equipped to learn online as well. From taking responsibilities, to being the driver of your learning and what that means in an online environment, we need to prepare them.”

Fatma Belrahif, the CEO of Dubai Schools Inspection Bureau also agreed that there were several skills students could pick up from online learning. “There is a growing ability to self-manage,” she said. “For students to succeed in online learning, they need to have motivation and interest. They shouldn’t be waiting for teachers to tell them what to do. These are skills that can be transferred to higher education.”

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