Gulf oil producers need to increase their budgetary allocations for scientific research as part of an overall educational reform process intended to fill the existing gap in their foreign-dominated job market.
The government-controlled Emirates Industrial Bank (EIB) made the proposal in its latest monthly bulletin, which showed the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries spend just a tiny fraction of their massive oil export earnings on educational development and scientific research.
Its figures showed the average GCC allocations for scientific research stood at around 0.03 per cent of the gross domestic product in 2009 compared with nearly 2.6 per cent in Switzerland and 2.7 per cent in the United States.
Despite a sharp expansion in the number of internet users in the region, it still far lags behind other countries, with the ratio of users standing at around 265 per 1,000 people in the GCC against 508 and 645 in Switzerland and the US.
EIB said it saw a substantial development in the educational process in the GCC over the past three decades but added educational spending remains low.
“If we look at expenditure on research and development in the GCC, we can notice that it is only a tiny portion of GDP…this means that the region’s economic development with all its elements depend almost entirely on imported technology at a time when member states possess sufficient human and financial resources needed for the creation of major research institutions,” it said.
“In our opinion, research and training centres in the GCC need additional support, which can become available through larger financial allocations that should be included in the GCC budgets on an annual basis…these allocations should not be below two per cent of GDP in each member…this issue has become one of the most important issues that must be given due consideration by the GCC countries in the next years as it is time that members give priority to improved education and scientific research along with economic diversification.”
EIB noted that oil export earnings have allowed the GCC countries, which control nearly 45 per cent of the world’s proven crude wealth, to largely develop the educational sector and increase the number of universities.
From only six in 1980, the number of universities in the six members jumped to 72 in 2000 and 85 in 2010, the report said.
“Despite this remarkable increase, such a process was mostly quantitative as it failed to satisfy domestic development needs…this has led to a massive influx of foreign labour covering all specifications and fields… as a result, the GCC countries are still heavily reliant on foreign labour for domestic development…it is time for the GCC nations to reform their educational sector and give more attention to scientific research and innovation,” EIB said.
“In this regard, member countries should consider the establishment of an infrastructure for scientific research as all of them still lack this infrastructure…this constitutes a serious flaw in the educational process.”
In a recent study, an Abu Dhabi-based think tank urged GCC nations—UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and Bahrain—to reform their educational systems within a three-pronged strategy intended to bridge the gap between those systems and the labour market and ensure jobs for nationals.
"The GCC countries need to draw up a three-tier strategy. The first tier is reforming or developing education in its different stages to guarantee graduates the necessary skills to operate in all jobs," the Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research (ECSSR) said in the study at a regional conference on “Education and the requirements of the GCC labour market.”
It said the second tier should involve stronger emphasis on programmes of rehabilitation and training in the fields of technical education and vocational training as well as increasing enrolment in tertiary education institutions that offer specialization demanded by the labour market in the GCC.
"The third tier is involving the private sector in organizing courses that are appropriate to the actual needs of the labour market, directing students to the specialization that guarantee job opportunities and linking courses in community colleges, higher institutions of learning and scientific faculties of regional universities to the requirements of the labour market.”
ECSSR, which is funded by the Abu Dhabi government, warned that failure to achieve real balance between education and the labour market in the GCC countries would block the achievement of "the kind of success in human capital investment that is consistent with our goals".
“This necessitates a comprehensive review of the strategies and policies pursued either in education or in the regulation of the GCC labour market," it said.