As the world celebrated International Youth Day on August 12, several Arab academics and public policy experts shared with Al-Fanar Media their ideas about how to promote innovation and creativity in universities to prepare young Arab men and women to achieve their goals.
According to the United Nations, young people ages 30 and younger represent half of the global population, and that figure is expected to hit 57 percent by the end of 2030. In the Arab world, young people between the ages of 10 and 24 account for more than one-fourth (28%) of the region’s total population of 468 million, according to the United Nations Population Fund.
Sonia ben Jaafar, chief executive of the Abdullah Al Ghurair Foundation for Education, said that Arab youth “embody resilience and enthusiasm, and strive with passion, despite widespread challenges like unemployment, climate threats, and economic obstacles.”
“Through unremitting efforts and strategic investments, we can create a hopeful path for our youth, and transform today’s challenges into tomorrow’s opportunities.”Sonia ben Jaafar, chief executive of the Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation for Education
“History has often shown how our current decisions create a legacy for the future,” Ben Jaafar told Al-Fanar Media. “Regional leaders strongly advocate for collaborative action for our youth, as collaboration between governments, businesses and civil society is vital to our shared vision of sustainable development, also known as a ‘better tomorrow’.”
Ben Jaafar believes that the dynamism of youth highlights the demand for innovation and societal transformations. “Their genuine participation can turn dormant talents into achievements,” she said. “However, to harness it, we need supportive learning spaces that nurture hope and harmony, and reduce disappointment and pessimism.”
Transforming education systems, reimagining skills acquisition, and championing entrepreneurship are ways of creating more job opportunities, she said. “This vision is more than a strategy,” she added. “We are committed to empowering young people to shape their own future.
“Partnerships in education and specialised programs are essential, especially when the goal is to bridge skill gaps and prepare future leaders for success.”
She mentioned the Al Ghurair Foundation’s efforts to enhance academic and professional prospects for young men and women, and also noted that young Emiratis work hard, in harmony with the “We Are the UAE 2031” Vision.
“On International Youth Day, let us pay tribute to those who, despite challenges, relentlessly strive for innovation and progress for the development of youth,” Ben Jaafar said. “Through unremitting efforts and strategic investments, we can create a hopeful path for our youth, and transform today’s challenges into tomorrow’s opportunities.”
Ahmed Alomosh, a professor of sociology at the University of Sharjah, spoke about Arab endeavours to raise the efficiency and skills of young people.
“In the U.A.E., for example, there are strategic plans to link education to the labour market, by developing advanced skills among university students.”Ahmed Alomosh, a professor of sociology at the University of Sharjah
“In the U.A.E., for example, there are strategic plans to link education to the labour market by developing advanced skills among university students,” Alomosh told Al-Fanar Media. He explained that training young people to keep abreast of modern technological developments is a practice that has been repeated in Saudi Arabia, which followed a similar path years ago.
Hisham Zakaria, dean of the College of Communication at Al Qasimia University, believes that scholarships and training grants, during and after study, are among the solutions that can help reduce youth unemployment.
“Emirati universities are distinguished by qualitative training, which makes the graduate ready for the labour market,” he told Al-Fanar Media.
Zakaria also noted the importance of job fairs to give students an opportunity to showcase their skills and market their graduation projects. “Students at our college succeeded in designing an application that provides media laws in the world,” he said. “The app is available in three languages, to help media reporters as they while roam from one country to another.”
Regarding the Saudi experience, Zakaria pointed to the kingdom’s efforts to involve Saudi youth in the private sector and reduce unemployment rates as a success story. That happened amidst government efforts to provide quality training programmes, increase privileges in the private sector, create job security, and provide clear employment mechanisms in public institutions, he said.
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In Egypt, El-Sayed Khedr, a professor in the Faculty of Commerce at Benha University, said governments need to increase the grants they allocate to promote and support entrepreneurship.
“We must open up to new jobs created by entrepreneurship and good marketing. This requires developing the idea of adventure among young people and university students, in order to find real opportunities for work.”El-Sayed Khedr, a professor in Benha University’s Faculty of Commerce
“Entrepreneurial projects need more marketing in Egypt and other Arab countries,” he said, “as many youths still aspire to holding a government job or working in a private company.”
“We must invest in young people to convince them that there are better opportunities than government jobs,” Khedr said. “We must rely on entrepreneurship, change youth culture, and enable them to move away from typical jobs, which have become rare and no longer require as many fresh graduates as they did before.”
Noting that many jobs will go extinct in the changing labour market, he added: “We must open up to new jobs created by entrepreneurship and good marketing. All of this requires developing the idea of adventure among young people and university students, in order to find real opportunities for work.”
Khedr concluded that private projects contribute to reducing unemployment rates and migration between Egyptian governorates, but they need more government incentives. He cited China as an example of a country that invests in people, in a way that enables many young Chinese to launch their own startups.
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