One of the UAE’s highest priorities has always been education. As His Highness (H.H.) Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, founder of the UAE, noted, “The greatest use that can be made of wealth is to invest it in creating generations of educated and trained people.” and “The real asset of any advanced nation is its people, especially the educated ones, and the prosperity and success of the people are measured by the standard of their education.”
On February 8th, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, held a three-hour live Twitter conversation with millions of followers at the World Government Summit held in Dubai. During the conversation, he announced the largest change to the structure of government since the founding of the country. These changes effected almost all levels of government; significantly added the number of women to the level of Minister; and made innovation, accountability, and happiness high priorities.
In the new structure of the federal government, there is a roadmap for outsourcing most of the government services to the private sector.”
In the new structure:
- The ministries of Education and Higher Education have been merged. The Ministry of Education will now supervise all levels of learning, from nurseries to higher education.
- Two Ministers of State will support the Minister of Education.
- E Hussain bin Ibrahim Al Hammadi, was named Minister of Education
- Ahmad bin Abdullah Humaid Belhoul Al Falasi, was appointed Minister of State for Higher Education and
- Jameela bint Salem Al Muhairi, was appointed Minister of State for General Education.
- A Higher Education and Human Resources Council has been established to restructure the development of our human resources.
- Emirates Foundation for Schools has been created and will be accountable to the government for achieving national targets in education. It will be run by an independent board of directors In addition HH established the Higher Education and Human Resource
- The UAE Council of Scientists will be established as an advisory body. It will include leading researchers and academics. He named to head the Council 29-year-old Sara Al Ameri who served as Emirates Mars Mission Science Team Leader to head the Council.
In the National’s February 9th article, “UAE educators give cautious welcome to ministry merger” experts have mixed views on the impending merger of the ministries of education and higher education, raising questions over details that have yet to be finalized. In the article I stated that the new structure would have a positive impact on preparing students for higher education: “The merging of the two offices under one minister will enhance the ability of the Federal Government to promote and direct lifelong learning throughout the UAE. I also believe it will have a positive effect on students’ preparedness for higher education”. I also stated I hoped the Government will commit to new funding, which is critical for the development of the knowledge economy. My partner at Edu Alliance, Dr. Senthil Nathan, said the merger, which was first discussed in 2004, could help the Government to be more efficient in making policies. He said administrative duties could be delegated to other agencies.
Others voiced concern that the merger of the education ministries might slow down government spending on the sector. Phil Baty, editor of Times Higher Education, said: “While of course national education systems, from primary to higher education, should be streamlined and integrated as part of a coherent policy, the loss of a dedicated ministry for higher education may raise some concerns.”
After speaking with educational colleagues over the past two weeks there is a level of uncertainty about how the new structure will work and concerns for the funding of education could go down or stay stagnate. This is due to price of oil staying at $30 or less. However there is excitement in the education community because with a new structure new funding ideas will be given serious consideration to improve education and research.
I have an idea for consideration on how funding could be more effectively used: Establish an educational national purchasing cooperative.
A purchasing cooperative according to Wikipedia is a type of cooperative arrangement, often among businesses, to agree to aggregate demand to get lower prices from selected suppliers. It is often used by government agencies to reduce costs of procurement. Purchasing Cooperatives are used most frequently by governmental entities or consortiums, which require competitive bidding.
The concept has existed in other nations for decades and the positive results include:
- Saves time
- Drives down cost
- Improved response from vendors
- Better terms and conditions
- Generally results in lower administrative costs
- May enable standardization
- Potentially provide a higher quality product or service
Potential Disadvantages include:
- Pricing not aggressive enough
- Must I buy everything through a co-op?
- Concern that the education institution is losing control on the purchasing of what it needs
- Small local vendors will likely lose business from schools
- Take too much time to purchase items as a co-op vs. individual institution
Who would be in the Co-op?
There seems to be a few options to consider.
- The Ministry of Education takes the lead in establishing a co-op. All schools under its domain may join or be required to join. It would take a dedicated team at the Ministry to make this work and collaboration with the education institutions. This could be two groups; one for Nursery/K-12 and the other higher education schools accredited by the CAA.
- An independent co-op organization be established in which membership would be voluntary.
- Co-ops by segments. A co-op is established for “private schools” (segments could be nursery – K-12 – higher education) and a co-op for the government/semi government supported schools. This would be public K-12 schools, federal and local government supported higher education.
- Co-ops by emirates. It may work well for Dubai and Abu Dhabi but likely not as well for the other Emirates. In addition some institutions like Higher Colleges of Technology and Zayed University are in multiple emirates.
The UAE education community does not have a co-op but with the changes in the government structure this may be an opportunity to do so.
I would recommend the Ministry of Education, working in tandem with the state ministers and new boards, take the leadership role and initiate a brain storming session with K-12, higher education, and community leaders. The session would discuss ways to make the limited funds to go further and included in this would be the co-op option.
My view is such a cooperative would generate significant discounts from vendors who sell to the education community. These savings in turn would stay with the home schools that would use the savings for furthering teaching and learning and research.
I would like to know your views on whether such a concept as merit or not. Possibly there are other ideas how to generate new funds or savings for education or perhaps you believe funding should be reduced. Whatever your position, present your thoughts and make a case.