The future is now

In a region with a highly youthful population, it has become imperative that educators understand how to predict the technological trends of the future. Piers Ford asks regional education specialists and IT professionals what the students of tomorrow can expect to see.

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By  Piers Ford Published  October 17, 2008

In a region with a highly youthful population, it has become imperative that educators understand how to predict the technological trends of the future. Piers Ford asks regional education specialists and IT professionals what the students of tomorrow can expect to see.

The higher education Sector in the Middle East has never looked more exciting. Deregulation is well advanced in many states and countries, with the UAE, Jordan and Qatar leading the way.

And more embryonic private markets like Saudi Arabia are fast catching up, causing the public institutions to consider their own strategies as the competition on an increasingly international playing field heats up.

Higher education ICT strategies used to be about fighting the fire. Now it’s about performance management and proactive implementation. My job only exists because of our students – so if I make it hell for them, we don’t have a university.

Youth is the watchword, not just in terms of the students and their demand for state-of-the-art facilities and access, but also in terms of the universities themselves. In 2003, the United Nations' Arab Human Development Report estimated that 75% of universities in the region were created in the last quarter of the 20th century.

As more private universities and colleges are licensed, the proportion of new institutions is becoming more pronounced continuously - and governments are starting to invest more money in the sector than ever before. In 2008, for example, the UAE government planned to spend US$2.64 billion on the advancement of general and higher education - the largest allocation within its its entire budget.

ICT underpins this dramatic growth at every stage. University CIOs and IT managers are under tremendous pressure to deliver infrastructures that can meet student expectations for top quality e-learning models and 24-hour access to academic resources and communications.

A 2006 study, ICT Experiences in Two Different Middle Eastern Universities, clearly identified how intrinsic technology had become involved every aspect of students' academic and social lives.

According to the report's authors - Abdallah Tubaishat (Zayed University, Abu Dhabi), Arif Bhatti (GIFT University, Pakistan) and Eyas El-Qawasmeh (Jordan University of Science and Technology) - their research showed the positive impact of new technology across the spectrum: improving student motivation and confidence, improving both communication and technical skills, encouraging students to collaborate together using ICT tools, and allowing them to become more independent.

In the heat of competition, ICT decision-makers are also expected to enable administrative models that allow information to be captured and used to the best advantage in the quest for optimum student enrolment figures and international accreditation.

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