Combining education and entrepreneurship

March 13, 2014 11:17 am

Mathew Boice, vice-president EMEAI at Ellucian, discusses the importance of workforce skills for overall development



Is the current education system of the GCC region helping students to develop skills to be able to run and manage a business?

GCC education systems have the highest focus, when compared with any other region of the world. They are transforming, innovating and succeeding to elevate their standards. Governments are also recognising the challenge of educating innovators and business starters. By definition, many such students drop out of regular mainstream education early to start working on their ideas. We believe that a combination of great educational centres, research clusters, innovation parks and industrial hubs will spur greater start-up activities and local IPR developments.

For students to succeed, educators must understand not just what they will need to learn, but how they should learn them. And they need to do so on a personal or an individual student level. At Ellucian, we believe everyone has a dream worth pursuing. We are committed to finding new and innovative ways to help every student discover the future through learning.

The current education systems of many countries in the GCC region, such as the UAE, is now comparable to the best in the world and, in many cases, are the best in the world. However, there is a need to concentrate on vocational training, hands-on skills-based learning on actual market realities, new issues such as cyber security and, of course, changing market needs.

Key skills required for business success include the ability to multitask, prioritise and manage time. So, work placements, better connectivity with employers, new qualifications’ framework mapping or profiling course outcomes with specific job-ready attributes and skills are all important in the dialogue between educators and employers. We support universities and vocational institutes with sophisticated systems to help manage and develop the talents of students and we are investing today in solutions designed to help to promote their success.

We are witnessing a huge shift in the engagement model between employers and market needs, and government policy and frameworks, which help education be responsive, as well as educators innovating with traditional academic curriculum, new technologies, and the integration of practical support for students in developing themselves to be productive in society and the workplace. In Qatar, we are working with Hamdan bin Khalifa Univeristy to implement a portfolio system for students to allow dialogue with employers, along with mobile services and a new pupil management system. We believe that this is the type of thinking will prevail more widely, as institutions start to connect with learning groups, the building of talent communities and employers. We recently discussed, at a panel for Smart Workforce Development hosted by the Hamad bin Mohammed Smart University (HBMSU), its initiative to provide students a chance to review their skills profile, learn about potential career paths and jobs. Through this, students can be connected with other students that are interested in the same job field, and form a dialogue with faculty and industry experts that have experience in their chosen fields. This will narrow the gap between graduation and employment, as well as create a much better awareness of potential opportunities among students.

Are there enough entrepreneurship-related courses and/or majors being offered?

No. But, in fact, even defining entrepreneurship as a course is a challenge, as it is not just about teaching business skills as part of the curriculum – it is also about creating an entrepreneurial mindset through the right educational and general business environment.

Dubai is starting to feel entrepreneurial. This has taken a dedicated leader and his incredible determination, so now you can see people excited to establish new ideas in the market. This applies equally to citizens and expatriates, many of whom join together to form new ventures. Such economic freedom is a product of a well-considered policy. This allows educators to look at an incredible landscape and be innovate too. They have had to do most of their work at an individual institutional level up until now. This new phase we are entering will be far more networked and interactive. We are already seeing joint-degree programs, where institutions are mixing specialty components from different institutions to create new learning products that target market needs.

As previously noted, the dialogue between students and employers needs to be there, so part of the answer also requires ensuring that students have an opportunity and the tools to interact with future employers, so they can be aware of the requirements of the workplace and, of course, opportunities that exist for establishing new businesses that meet needs they have identified by talking to employers and business people.

At Ellucian, we support higher education institutes and vocational colleges by providing student employment tools, with a focus to create a talent community and connect employers with prospective new employees by providing pupils with online pre-employment support tools. For example, as noted, we are implementing this, along with a banner, for Hamad bin Khalifa University (HBKU), a member of the Qatar Foundation. Such initiatives are aligned with the Qatar National Vision 2030 to develop the right skills of future business leaders.

Great education institutions are part of the picture. But, as Silicon Valley illustrates, so is the wider environment. We believe this is being clearly established in the region in cities, such as Dubai, Sharjah, Doha, Abu Dhabi, Dammam, and Jeddah. Students are being exposed to increased opportunities domestically in the GCC region and those studying overseas are coming back to vibrant economies. While there is still the challenge of aligning local citizens with new workforce needs, we do not see a lack of overall opportunity. In discussions with the RTA recently, Ellucian was told that 50,000 skilled workers at all levels would be required by the agency in the coming years.

We do think there is still a challenge in communicating this future opportunity to educators and letting them create innovative responses that inspire innovators and employees to come from the current ranks of school, college and university students.

At what stage should entrepreneurship-related skills/courses be taught (primary, secondary or tertiary)?

We start with wanting to be a fire engine driver or an astronaut when we are five and, by the time we reach university, we often have very different ambitions. An entrepreneurial mindset should be encouraged from an early age, as should the desire to learn, and specific skills developed during tertiary education once students have had a chance to pinpoint their areas of interest.

Universities today increasingly need new tools to help students make more informed choices and ensure that they succeed. At Ellucian, we support more than 70 institutions across the Middle East region and 2,400 institutions worldwide.

The concepts of mobility and connectivity are pervasive in what we see as institutions needing from their systems. Increasingly, this requires sophisticated CRMs that are tightly integrated with students, before, during and after their time at universities. In addition, we see the need for the connectivity with social media, employers and, of course, the use of any device that students use to support their interaction within these communities.

Ellucian is now releasing solutions, such as Recruiter, which make it possible for university or college recruiting staff to engage in personalised communications with potential students and ensure a much more proactive approach to target potential pupils with appropriate courses, information about former students and their successes, as well as support services and follow-up that help them to make more informed choices.

Data from the Recruiter helps not only to better target and communicate with prospective students for courses that exist today, it also allows institutions to understand the potential for new offers, and look at who did not choose to enrol and why. In one example, we have an institution rejecting 250,000 students per year. While it is successful and recognised for what it does, we have been working with it to look at what learning opportunities can be offered to those that don’t meet the criteria for existing courses. Many of these 250,000 could be the next innovators and business start-up candidates that we are talking about here. That is exciting too.