GRM 2010 GRM 2011

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Aligning educational systems and local labour market needs in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC): the need for holistic strategies.
Paper Proposal Text :
Aligning educational systems and local labour market needs in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC): the need for holistic strategies.
In the 21st century, countries all over the world are looking to have high skill economies. In advanced countries, there is a clear link between economic success and levels of educational achievement; in other countries, a high-skilled economy is still missing. In the Gulf States, the concept of a ‘knowledge economy’ or ‘knowledge- based economy’ has become the centre of development strategies for economic growth and the well-being of their nations. It is generally assumed that, in order to increase economic competitiveness, nations must acquire knowledge, skills and attitudes necessary for the knowledge-based economy (1). The key role of higher education systems in contributing to economic growth and building a knowledge economy is widely acknowledged .The quality of an education system plays a key role in producing a well educated and skilled workforce for the labour market. The majority of countries that are members of the GCC, namely, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman, have not yet experienced any economic downturn (2). . However, the next two decades will be critical since the region is currently facing one of the biggest challenges in terms of alleviating problems arising from unemployment, underemployment, skill mismatching and shortages of skilled people. Therefore, there is an urgent need for GCC countries to improve the employment levels and employability of their growing young population. To become successful knowledge economies, the GCC countries have to rethink and, simultaneously, act on their education base and bridge the gap between the education sector and the economy. To do so, governments and policymakers should consider embarking on a knowledge-based development process and bringing the education system into line with the needs of the labour market.
In recent decades, GCC economies were dependent on oil revenues. It is acceptable to consume oil revenues to build infrastructure, but it is not healthy to depend on oil, as a natural resource that can be consumed and not renewed, to run the entire economic cycle. The massive development in GCC countries in recent decades has created more challenging demands for a specialized and skilled workforce. After the mid 1970s most university graduates had guaranteed government jobs. In fact, in some cases, they were forced to work in government departments for at least the same period that they had studied since higher education was free, and still it is. Most private sector companies were dependant on expatriates for all levels of workforce; they needed staff ranging from top level executives to janitors and handy men. The situation has changed dramatically in the last two decades. Governments are unable to recruit all graduates, and policies are now requiring the private sector to localise more jobs. There are fundamental differences between government jobs and private sectors jobs in GCC countries. For example, government jobs follow a strict grade system in most government department with similar salaries and contracts, but one of the main differences is that the private sector is more demanding and specific in the skills and knowledge that the person should have to be employable. Thus, the role of higher education institutes has changed from producing graduates capable of filling government vacancies to a more diversified role including graduates employable within the private sector. (3)
This paper aims to discuss the broad opportunities and challenges facing the GCC countries; the role of quality management in the higher education system in fulfilling the needs of the labour markets; and how GCC policy makers and stakeholders are responding to challenges of creating a knowledge based economy. It also considers what strategies are needed to alleviate pressing problems facing GCC countries today. Finally, the paper assesses what lessons can be learned from cases of successful education systems, like those found in the UK and Germany.
(1) Aho, E., K. Pitkanen and P. Sahlberg (2006), Policy Development and Reform Principles
of Basic and Secondary Education in Finland since 1968, World Bank, Washington, DC (2) Althani, Mohamed. The Arab Spring and the Gulf States: Time to Embrace Change.
Profile Books, 2012.
(3) `Isá, Ahmad. Al-Ta`lim Al-`ali Fi Al-Sa`udiyah : Rihlat Al-bahth `an Huwiyah. Bayrut: Dar al-Saqi, 2011