Higher Education System – The Weakest Link of MENA’s Entrepreneurial Ecosystem

Higher Education System – The Weakest Link of MENA's Entrepreneurial Ecosystem

  • Education & training, and the role of universities in developing entrepreneurs – both key pillars of an effective entrepreneurial ecosystem – are the least developed in the Middle East & Africa, as per entrepreneurs trying to grow their companies in the region.
  • The higher education system in the region is public and controlled by the political class, thereby denying universities the necessary academic freedom to breed next generation entrepreneurs.
  • Courses specific to developing communication and presentation skills of young graduates and future entrepreneurs are missing, and the brain drain following the Arab Spring has further depleted the quality of the region’s graduating workforce.
The higher education system in MENA is the weakest link of the region’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. This seems to be the key takeaway of a recent report by the World Economic Forum that compares the Entrepreneurial Ecosystems Around the Globe. As per the report, entrepreneurs worldwide view accessible markets, funding & finance, and human capital & workforce as the three most important pillars when it comes to the growth of their companies.
And while Middle East & Africa (MEA) is better placed as compared to other in emerging markets like Asia and South America in terms of market accessibility and access to funding, the region has the least developed human capital workforce among all the regions, required for the development and growth of a successful entrepreneurial ecosystem. And the reason is not very hard to find.
Education & training, and the role of universities in developing entrepreneurs, both key pillars of an effective ecosystem, are the least developed in the MEA as per entrepreneurs trying to grow their companies in the region. Therefore, it is not surprising that the region has the least developed human capital workforce worldwide, and human capital is cited as the biggest challenge to growth by entrepreneurs in MEA.
Higher Education System – The Weakest Link of MENA's Entrepreneurial Ecosystem1
Source: World Economic Forum – Entrepreneurial Ecosystems Around the Globe and Company Growth Dynamics
Entrepreneurs were asked to identify which of the eight pillars of an entrepreneurial ecosystem were readily available to them as they built their venture.
Most of the higher education system in the region is public and controlled by the political class, thereby denying universities the necessary academic freedom to breed next generation entrepreneurs. Education is a political topic in the region and the recent Arab Spring has only heightened the scrutiny faced by the academia as the political class tries to maintain its control over the content and pedagogy.
As a result, universities are denied the intellectual and academic freedom to develop degrees and content aimed at covering key subjects core to creating a successful business (such as business planning and risk management), with coursework consisting of specialised seminars in which students create business plans to be presented to angel investors or venture capitalists.
Courses specific to developing communication and presentation skills of young graduates and future entrepreneurs are missing. A May 2013 report – Unlocking Arab Youth Entrepreneurship Potential – by entrepreneurship training NGO Injaz al Arab highlighted that schools in the region are schools are focused on rote learning and memorisation rather than problem solving and critical thinking, and that CEOs in the region felt that the education system does not provide graduates with the necessary skills like communication, presentation, teamwork, analytical thinking, and initiative, all critical to developing an entrepreneurial ecosystem
The political instability caused by the Arab Spring has also resulted in a brain drain, as the best lecturers (and students!) in the region have decided to leave the region for better opportunities in developed nations. As per University World News, other problems facing universities in the region included lack of research and publication, challenges of accessibility and quality, and low levels of student and scientific mobility and innovation. The result of these problems is a workforce that is not ready for the development of an effective entrepreneurial ecosystem. This sentiment was further echoed by global entrepreneurship NGO Endeavor, which found that 39% MENA companies cited an inadequately educated workforce as their biggest problem.
Therefore, it is important for governments in the region who view entrepreneurs and their ventures as a vehicle for driving growth and reducing unemployment in their countries, to strengthen their respective higher education systems by giving higher degree of freedom to existing universities with respect to course content and pedagogy, increasing domestic- and foreign- private player participation in the higher education sector to bring in global best practices, tapping successful entrepreneurs living abroad for their advice and connections, and developing more training programs for entrepreneurs, among others.

The article was originally published at: Arab Business Review

To read more thought-leadership stuff by leaders from Arab Region, please visit Arab Business Review

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Social and Emotional Learning and its role in Collaborative Problem Solving

Social and Emotional Learning

  • Social and emotional abilities are emerging larger by demand in the job market with successful companies necessitating these skills alongside academic knowledge from apposite employees.
  • In today’s context, students spend qualitative and quantitative time in schools and schools play a significant role in imparting social and emotional learning to students. 
  • Good teaching and learning takes cognizance of the process of study, which includes group work and collaboration, while quality co-curricular and extra-curricular activities reinforce these skills in intangible ways but more effectively.

“How on earth do you wake up your son in the mornings?” This tweet was from my son’s teacher who accompanied him on an educational trip. The message bolstered my views on the key attributes of school trips, mainly Social and Emotional Learning (SEL).

Social and emotional abilities are emerging larger by demand in the job market with successful companies necessitating these skills alongside academic knowledge from apposite employees. In 1995 Daniel Goleman, the leading expert in the field of emotional intelligence, stated “IQ is only a minor predictor of success in life, while emotional and social skills are far better predictors of success and well-being than academic intelligence. Aristotle puts it succinctly: “the rare skill to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose and in the right way.”

There exists an extent of fallacy that social and emotional skills are consequential to one’s upbringing. Whereas, the good news is, “emotional literacy” is not fixed early in life. Just like developing rational and thinking skills, these metacognitive skills which include higher-order thinking that enables understanding, analysis, and control of one’s cognitive processes, can be cultivated in children – in our homes, classrooms and institutions.

In today’s context, students spend qualitative and quantitative time in schools. Hence, schools play a significant role in imparting social and emotional learning to students.  Good teaching and learning takes cognizance of the process of study, which includes group work and collaboration. Quality co-curricular and extra-curricular activities reinforce these skills in intangible ways but more effectively.

This winning formula is well-integrated into Dubai’s education landscape, through the well-structured school inspections framework by the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA). School inspections in Dubai measure schools’ provision towards students’ personal and social development alongside attainment and progress in core subjects. Quality extra-curricular and co-curricular activities are catalytic to embedding self-awareness, moods management, developing team skills, empathy and self-motivation – which are outlined by Goleman as essential attributes to emotional intelligence. Certain that these five competencies power social and emotional learning, and gaging this provision in schools, the KHDA endorses a contented parent community in the region.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), a global education body that administers international benchmarking assessments, has announced emphasis on parameters including social and emotional intelligence to measure students’ success criteria. It identifies Collaborative Problem Solving (CPS) as a basic necessity and a critical skill in educational settings and the workforce. In conjunction, it is important to note that the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) used worldwide as an international benchmarking test will use CPS approach in its 2015 assessment. PISA assesses 15-year-old school pupils’ scholastic performance on mathematics, science, and on their reading skills. PISA results provide information about participating schools on two scales, at the national level and the global level. Benchmarking an individual school’s scores against national averages provides volumes of information on the impact of the curriculum offered at the school vis-à-vis the next level of preparation it extends to 15-year-old pupils. The national averages against the global averages perfunctorily highlights the quality of education framework in the country as against the best-achieving global counterparts.

Rightfully so, DSIB has stressed the need for private schools to work towards meeting international assessment benchmarks outlined this year by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, as part of his National Agenda. The targets call for the UAE to be among the 15 highest performing countries in Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study tests, and in the top 20 countries in Programme for International Student Assessment exams.

We are thus moving towards a system of learning, which emphasizes on the conglomeration of cognitive and metacognitive skills. Social and emotional learning apart from accruing to an individual’s success, given the momentum that the process garners contributes to the very fabric of a prosperous society.

Let us deem it necessary to advocate the fact, as rightly stated by David Caruso: ‘It is of the upmost importance to understand that emotional intelligence is not the opposite of intelligence, neither the triumph of heart over head nor the soul over the body, but the unique intersection of all three…”

The article is written by Fatima Martin for Arab Business Review

To read more thought-leadership stuff by leaders from Arab Region, please visit Arab Business Review

An Education Hub In The Middle East

An Education Hub In The Middle East

  • The UAE has some of the world’s best schools in terms of infra-structure, and the government earmarks approximately 25 percent of the total government spending on education.
  • The region has some wonderful schools but faces the “in between syndrome”, when it comes to providing affordable quality education.
  • It would perhaps he good for the region to create a kind of “free zone” for education from where global players, especially in higher education, can operate at costs which will attract students from around the world.

Four years into education in the UAE, after thirty years in various parts of the world, I am confronted by a thought provoking situation. The UAE has some of the world’s best schools in terms of infra-structure, the government earmarks approximately 25 percent of the total government spending on education, has achieved over 90 percent literacy, stands high on the United Nations’ Education Index, has a very high rate of female education, and gives free education to its citizens. The Ministry of Education has adopted “Education 2020” with emphasis on Mathematics, English and Teacher Training. All of this is greatly commendable. The next step would obviously be to move towards becoming a destination for the global diaspora seeking a quality education. It is one of the best parts of the world to live in; it must become a supply center of a globally employable workforce.

Four years ago I was Head of an international school in India which had 63 nationalities of students. Most of these were people of Indian origin coming in from around the world for a taste of India and for an affordable world class education. There are many schools and colleges of this kind in India and they attract a healthy clientele. There are two key words here: world class and affordable. This is what brought in huge numbers of Korean students as also students from other non -English speaking countries where quality education either does not exist or is very expensive. There is further synergy with a plethora of higher education opportunities, both traditional and those which can be exciting for the seekers of the more exotic courses; and all of this at an affordable price.

Let us now look at the scenario in the Middle East. The region has some wonderful schools but faces the “in between syndrome”. In terms of affordability the area is disadvantaged by far cheaper options in other countries; in terms of quality there is a lack of synergy with higher education within the countries of the region and a lack of confidence which makes parents move children to their home countries closer to the school leaving stage. This is to a large extent because the variety of tertiary education in the region is limited and because it costs a fraction in many other countries.

It would perhaps he good for the region to create a kind of “free zone” for education from where global players, especially in higher education, can operate at costs which will attract students from around the world. As of now the conditions prevent education companies from lowering fees and from introducing new and quality courses to attract foreign custom. Add to this the shortage of university courses with global placements and you have the reasons for the “in between syndrome”.

If countries with much poorer infrastructure and little political will can attract students who want to become eligible for global careers, the Middle East has all the essential requisites to make it big in this field. If a degree in medicine costs 50000 dollars in the US, it is much lower in Ireland and in parts of Southeast Asia.

But cheaper and quality education needs support. One would be the creation of a special package for education companies. With a large percentage of expat population, that too of diverse ethnicity, competition with home country options becomes fearsome both in terms of quality and costs.  The second would be a quality control regime which is not based upon a system with limited success, but a system modified to suit local needs. The region has to cater to varied output standards at the K-12 level to suit differently perceived success criteria in home countries. Alternatively, the region must provide attractive options for tertiary education in conformity with standards established locally at the K-12 level. Together this could lead to a new era of education in the region.

The article is written by Dr. Aninda Chatterji for Arab Business Review

To read more thought-leadership stuff by leaders from Arab Region, please visit Arab Business Review

Good Bye Training, Welcome Learning

Good Bye Training, Welcome Learning

  • The importance of training for individual and organizational development is evident from the fact that United States spent USD 210 billion on training budget in 2013
  • However, some governmental organizations started performing training activities because it is one of the key performance indicators or is just a part of the strategy to win awards of excellence.
  • I would suggest an approach where the focus is on the outcome of learning activities, and the learning process becomes a product of conscious activity

Nobody can deny the importance of training for individual and organizational performance improvement across all levels. In a country like the USA, the 2013 training budget that has been amounted is $ 210 billion, which in fact is equivalent of the national income sum of several countries.

However, researchers and specialists in the field of learning and development noticed that traditional training started losing its actual value. Nevertheless, some governmental organizations started performing only training activities because they become more focused on the outside noticeable image of their key performance indicators achievements or just for winning one more award of excellence. The latter is one of the things I can bravely share that I have noticed due to my experience in the region, as an assessor and arbitration team leader in several of excellence awards and it became one of my main points of concern as well.

The approach I would like to bring upon into the audience attention is related to suggesting focus on the learning activity’s outcomes.  In addition to that and regardless of its nature: i.e. formal or informal learning, learning process will be much more efficient if it becomes a product of conscious activity. In fact, the phrase “learning and development needs” has successfully replaced the term “training needs” and the 10:20:70 model has emerged to the effect that 70% of learning comes out of work itself. Problem solving, challenges, and 20% come out of co-workers and direct line manager interaction and 10% comes out from self- learning. This model is the foundation for a new thought where the Chief Learning Officer as a position and functions replaces the traditional training officer.

The Chief Learning Officer position holder is a person who performs strategic tasks and he is managed directly by the general manager or the chief executive.

The CLO becomes the hub of all learning activities. Assessment reports, market analysis results, competitors’ analysis results, benchmarking, and the best performances have to be submitted to him. Part of his duties also include gathering all conferences and workshops feedback  summaries that  employees participated in; conducting  proper analysis   of  data and figures afterwards ; spreading around awareness of the lessons learnt and changing, establishing policies and procedures  that promote innovation  and improvement solutions for the organization.

In conclusion of all listed above I would say that new methods should be introduced, implemented and followed in the organizational learning field and traditional learning have to be   replaced. It’s widely known fact that after attending traditional training trainees usually forget 80% of what they have been exposed to during the training in eight weeks’ time after training completion.

Last but not the least let us all remember some of the thoughts of the quality guru Deming in the context of importance of measurement: “What you cannot measure you cannot improve”

The article is written by Dr. Alaa Garad for Arab Business Review

To read more thought-leadership stuff by leaders from Arab Region, please visit Arab Business Review