Shooting for Mars: how education underpins the past, present and future of the UAE

17 June, 2020Ouida Taaffe

Why the strategic plans of the United Arab Emirates, to prepare its country and people for the challenges of the next 50 years, will be more than just a wishlist – thanks to the educational partnerships it has set up.

Horizon on MarsIn 2021, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) celebrates its 50th anniversary. As that suggests, the UAE is a young nation. It is also a relatively small one. Native Emiratis make up around 12% of approximately 10m inhabitants.

Though the UAE has not existed long in its current form, it has long-term strategic plans for improving the quality of life of its people – and the means to finance them. Carefully invested oil wealth and a AA debt rating make the UAE well placed to fund its future.

Its economic goals include being sustainable, food secure and a leader in the knowledge economy. The Dubai Clean Energy Strategy announced in 2015, for example, is to have 75% of the UAE’s energy generated by clean sources by 2050. 

That is not a small aim, but next year’s anniversary will see the country update and ambitiously expand its strategic goals.

How ambitious? The UAE wants to establish the first habitable human settlement on Mars by 2117.

Forging the foundations

The year 2117 is not one that any of us will live to see, of course, and the extent of that time-frame might raise eyebrows.

As an old saying has it, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.”

However, the Next 50 Year Agenda for the UAE is, arguably, as much about putting in place the foundations that will ensure the country continues to thrive, as it is about particular milestones.

The real challenge for a wealthy country, after all, can be encouraging people to make the best and, most stretching, long-term use of their abilities rather than opting for the short-term ease of investment income.

Setting tough goals is not only the best thing for the country, but also for its people.

What does the UAE have in mind?

Education underpins it all

Education is central to the UAE’s plans.

It has a National Youth Agenda that seeks to ensure its young people can drive its economy forward. The National Employment Strategy 2031 is for the wider workforce – empowering UAE nationals to forge a new knowledge-based economy.

It will focus on building skills, productivity, research and development and on bringing more women into the wage economy – particularly in finance, education and artificial intelligence.

The National Strategy for Higher Education 2031 is there to set the bar high for scientific and professional education standards.

But as initiatives like the National Employment Strategy show, the UAE takes a holistic view of education.

For example, it works with The London Institute of Banking & Finance to provide specialised training programmes and qualifications at Abu Dhabi Global Market’s Academy (ADGM Academy).

The London Institute of Banking & Finance is involved in three of the main schools at ADGM Academy:

  • the School of Banking & Finance
  • the School of Digital & FinTech and
  • the School of Sustainable Finance.

These all offer thorough-going technical training to their students, but students are expected to gain more than that.

By working with an Institute with 140 years of experience in training financial services professionals, which is staffed by former practitioners, ADGM Academy wants to help its students become rounded leaders.

 They should be able to ensure that Abu Dhabi becomes a respected, global financial centre.

Why is a tough, theoretical degree not enough?

Bankers certainly need to understand the technical requirements of, say, a particular financing facility, but their work also demands much more. In times of crisis, for example, difficult decisions have to be made about the fair and prudent allocation of capital. How best to help and advise clients throughout the lifecycle of a company is complex.

It requires understanding that goes beyond the purely technical.

That is why the students at ADGM Academy can only progress when they demonstrate practical as well as theoretical knowledge.

If we compare the Academy’s goals with the plan to set up a station on Mars – ADGM students are not just required to understand how a spaceship might be built, they need to be able to show they understand the challenges of flying it.

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