Thursday, January 28, 2010

Review of Oman Higher Education. Plus, an update on Muscat University.

Education in Oman is perhaps the biggest issue facing the country, what with half the population under 18, and expanding the economy away from hydrocarbons while replacing expats with locals of utmost importance to the medium and long term sustainability of this country. And even with the crappy standards we have now, I want to state for the record that I'm talking about the HE system in aggregate: there are many excellent graduates of local colleges, but they are excellent despite the system, not because of it. It's their own upbringing, intrinsic intelligence, hard work and personality type that rescued them.

I don't pretend its easy to fix this situation, but lets at least start by having some fact-based open discussions (itself a rarity in the region). A good start seems to be a recent academic paper on the very subject presented at the 53rd Annual Conference of the Comparative and International Education Society.

"Private higher education in Oman: The dilemma of quality"

Paper presented at the annual meeting of the 53rd Annual Conference of the Comparative and International Education Society, Francis Marion Hotel, Charleston, South Carolina, Mar 22, 2009

by David Chapman, Thuwayba Al Barwani and Hana Ameen.

While Oman is an oil-dependent economy, oil production is on the decline and reserves could be largely depleted within the next 10-15 years. Anticipating that an alternative economy will require an educated citizenry, the government has invested heavily in expanding its higher education system, largely by aggressively promoting and subsidizing private higher education as a way to reduce the enrollment pressure on public institutions and alleviate the associated fiscal pressures on government. However Omani colleges already produce more college graduates annually than there are jobs available in the country, an oversupply projected to worsen as college participation rates increase.

The expectation is that graduates will find work outside Oman. Yet there is widespread concern that the quality of private higher education is low and graduates may not be competitive for jobs abroad. Grounded in Kingdon’s (2003) multiple streams model of the policy formulation process, this study investigated the extent college educators and government leaders share an understanding of the problems now facing private higher education in Oman and agree on appropriate strategy for addressing these problems. Findings are based on a mixed-methods study of 252 college instructors and 56 government officials and private sector employers.
[emphasis by UD]

Seems pretty optimistic to me. Most of graduates don't even cut it in local businesses.

I also know the recent (now removed) interview and some of the comments to that post were printed out, scanned, and emailed to all the members of the Government's heavy-hitting Oman Accreditation Council. So they can't say they weren't aware of the problem.

Who are those officially responsible for the clearly sub-standard state of our Higher Education? Why the Board of the Oman Accreditation Council! They are:
Photo: Chairman of the Oman Accrediation Council.
Dr Hamed Al-Dhahab, Chairman, OAC

HE Dr Rawya Saud Al-Busaidia, Minister of Higher Education.
Dr Muneer Al-Muskary, Modern College of Business and Science.
Dr Abdullah Al-Lamki, Deputy Managing Director and Technical Director, P.D.O.
Eng Ali Al-Mahrouqi, Executive Director, National Office of Engineering.
Dr Amer Al-Rawas, Managing Director, Oman Mobile Telecommunications Company LLC.
Prof Ala’aldin Al-Hussaini, Professor, Faculty of Medicine, SQU.
Dr Hilal Al-Nabhani, Assistant Professor, College of Education, SQU.
Dr Sana Al-Buloshi, Director, Technical Office for Research & Development, Ministry of Education.
Dr Adil AbdulAziz Al-Kindy, Managing Director, Oman Refinery Company LLC.
Dr. Talib Issa Al Salmi (Board Secretary), DG Private Universities and Colleges, MoHE.

I must point out that these men and women are very well respected and honorable people, and the OAC seems to have all its procedures, policies, guidelines and external reviewers in order. It all looks great.

But clearly, this isn't working. Without compliance to all these good intentions, it's a waste of time. Perhaps worse than being a sham, it conceals the underlying malaise. When it seems common knowledge that in many cases lecturers write the very papers they grade for their students, tell them the answers to examination questions, or that students are passed through fraudulent means, by definition there is something fundamentally wrong with what these people claim to be doing. It's results that count, not procedures and good intentions.

I also enjoyed the recent comment that highlighted the really, really terrible English on the official home page of the Ministry of Higher Education. Perhaps someone is just taking the piss...

The Ministry of Higher Education has been trying for the last 4 or 5 years to establish a "Muscat University". At the begining they tried to create this university by merging 4 local colleges: Modern College, Mazoon College, Oman Medical College and Caledonian College. The carrot that was shown to these colleges was RO 17 million in grant money, ++. Though all of them have very poor standards, and a diverse shareholding, they were encouraged to come together to get that 17 million.

However, Galfar wanted the largest share of the dosh as they have 2 of the colleges (Oman Medical College and Caledonian). The others then realised that if 65% went to Galfar and also management control, they would be left with peanuts and the discussion collapsed, and with it Plan A for Muscat University.

But wait. 17 million rials you say?

Now, two groups have come togther to see if they can establish a "Muscat University" from scratch and grab that soft money: Bahwan and The Oman Chamber of Commerce (oh, there are rumours that mega-influential Zawawi Trading or Omzest would also plunge in too). Apparently the Chamber of Commerce is conducting a feasibility study right now. But I'm told the Director of General of the Chamber of Commerce wanted to bring in a partner university that could deliver nice pre-cooked but, most importantly, piss easy courses which Omanis could actually do despite a poor high school education, and therefore make sure of big pass rates, so the coalition have spurned the advances of higher quality university partners.

Once again, we will get another third class tertiary institution which will be no different from most of the existing ones. After all, business is business. And the Chairman of the Chamber of Commerce is a good businessman.

Why bother producing decent graduates AND having to fail people (uncomfortable, after all, and in the short term v. bad for business), plus deal with having to pay more for high quality staff and courses, at the expense of profits, when the Government will force businesses to hire anyone you give a useless degree to anyway? (and give you the 17 million either way).

And what student would want to suffer by paying to work hard with the risk of failing?

Makes sense. After all, the big businessmen can afford to send their kids to proper Universities overseas; and the big boys and girls in the Ministries get their kids scholarships paid for by the Government. Perhaps the members of the OAC should be made to send their own children to the Universities and Colleges they are accountable for?

Lets finish this depressing tale with a joke (as borrowed from this weeks' Economist):

"What do you say to a recent graduate of SQU*?"

"A double cream decafe frappachino please."

(* Note: SQU can be replaced with any Omani University of your choice)


  1. Hello,

    I love your blog. Altough I never post comments, I just discovered something hilarious.

    The MHE website might be written in very bad English but my new absolute favourite is the list of the Omani Embassies abroad (MOFA website).

    The huge?

  2. one can be confident that after the feasibility study - it will be have sure fire success at getting the grant.
    BTW - what about this

  3. I feel certain that the Ministry front page was translated by an intern and cannot be intended as the final web site

  4. What about 17 million which was given to other 4 private universities. Sohar, Nizwa, Sur, Dhofar. What was the cut for Ministry officials in that? Ghaddafi rightly said: Why fight Israel? Just make sure you appoint two ministers from Oman as ministers of Israel and Israel will automatically collapse under the burden of corruption. Wise and honest Sulatan is not suffecient. You need able and honest administrators too.

  5. One of the member of Oman Accreditation board Dr, Muneer is CEO of Modern College, another third class college.

  6. AZ,

    Nice one. It took me a while to get it... The huge = The Hague! You'd think they would at least know how to spell Sultanate... instead there's:

    Even the rolling banner text in the header reads Welcome to Ministry of Foreign Sultante of Oman.


    Looks like another ponzi scheme, only this time pretty huge. There are greedy idiots everywhere. Little mini-pyramid schemes come through regularly. Mostly these things affect the Indian community.

    I would say someone with a Masters in English Literature...

    Nothing wrong with subsidising education per se - its a 'public good'. I'm sure there was no cut involved. And good administrators are hard to find everywhere. This a one reason a free press is so critical to doing better.

  7. UD ..

    You'd be surprised to know that many Omani high business men and ministers actually send their kids to these colleges (especially those that own the college, then it’s the whole family). It is shocking; I know!.. they subject their own children to third class college education.

    About Muscat University: the ministry is hoping that Bahwan would take the project since the company already has a good name. As someone said once "When Bahwan does something, it does it right!" so lets hope this one pans out!

  8. There is confusion about Muscat University. Bidders were invited in January 2008 to submit studies, deadline July 2008. But deadline was shifted to September 2008, but deadline was shifted to December 2008! Bids were submitted!!!!
    Then one party OCCI got 6months extra, then got another 6months and now one year on well there are studies submitted over a year ago and ..... a decision will be made???????????

  9. i so agree with you. it's all about loking good... no standards at all. advanced level students who have passed the course can't speak a sentence in English... let alone write one! i wish people here would wake up and realize that with the current practices they aren't taking this country anywhere it needs to be going...except to the dark ages. Omani graduates aren't worth much in terms of quality. it's sad to see the situation here. i wish the people concerned would wake up and do something ASAP!!!!

  10. For the past six years i have worked for a certain college in Muscat (Al Hail, terrible parking problem???). During my time there (specifically the last year), a number of "so called" well qualified, experienced lecturers have been asked to leave (quietly). You may be suprised to learn that they were helping students pass. Some for monetary gain, some for the glory of helping their fellow man and one supposedly for ahem how do you say "pleasure!!??". These so called professionals, have all the right papers to qualify them for their positions within the college. As you may have guessed, many of these Dr's, Profs have degrees, PHDs etc from obscure universities, as do most of the staff there. Not all the staff are bad teachers (Emphasis on the word "teacher") but most of the lecturers are bad teachers. They do not possess the skills needed for teaching. It is easy to lecture but you have to be creative and engaging to teach. As I was part of the recruitment team at the college, I saw many skilled teachers (who didn't have a masters degree in some unrelated subject) come for interviews and do very well and some very well qualified lecturers (PHDs, Masters etc) do very badly. Now, you would expect the college to hire the skilled teacher, but NO!!! The well qualified PHD holder from a dubious university will get the job. Why? The MOHE deem that lecturers must have the right papers. What they don't see behind these supposedly excellent qualifications, is a lazy, dim, corrupt person with no passion for the job. To teach you must be able make your classes engaging, make things memorable for them and be strict with your classrom behaviour. Skilled teachers are what Oman needs not morons with papers from Timbuktoo.

  11. hey u ppl i just think u r a bunch of morans who have nothing more to do than to nik pick about sp mistakes. why not go to chinese, french, russian websites who are super-powers or germany and try to pick howmany sp mistakes they have in their gov websites. comm'on u morans stop doing this to your so called "beloved" country. if you find these mistakes or any go correct them to the source not here on this stupid blog, which picks on the negetives of this very country that provides the writer and those other morans a forum to vent whatever anger/hate they have for this country.
    while i dont deny many things written here mayb true, what is the point of writing them here why not go to the source and try to help them correct the problems instead of discussing them here??
    and if u the undercover dragon really a consultant u shouldn't disguise urself, u go to the source as a a dragon not vent your hate/anger on this stupid blog and depict yourself as "undercover mouse", fearing for the cat!! have fun u morans, and wakeup and smell some really OMANI coffee! :-)

  12. The college with parking problem sacks people who pass students for money. We should celebrate that some one is not accepting this behavior and acting! Congratulations to the college.

  13. UD or should we call u UM as in Undecover Mouse;
    dont try to smart me out sir/madam, moran! you and your bunch of morans please find something positive to write about higher educ rather than b negative n bad rapping this ministry, for once. is it because you didn't manage to get a contract there as a consultant or what? please b postiive for once and those other guys especially anonymous, i suppose u graduate from ivy league right? if so congratualtions, if not try for one please, u moran.
    wallah, u guys r really something instead of turning this blog, if u really care about this country into contributing something positive; such as bring the problems to light, critisize, but come up with up with some solutions; thats the way to go, u morans, not just talk pick n joke about silly stuff, like sp mistakes, 17million univesity grant, and so on. tell me those of u smarty pants, tell one thing that u did for ur country that u can be proud of?? i challenge each of u ppl up here to come up with one thing that u and/or ur country can b pround of ur contribution in the sustaining oman's development. if you dont have nothing please dont write anything more. i also would like UD (undercover mouse) to also come up with something significant as consultant that u contribute even after being paid hefty checks! have fun morans, wakeup and smell some Omani coffee!! :-)

  14. Nasa,

    Well, for a start its spelled "moron".

    But somehow I think you know that. Funny as your comment is (either way), the coherently incoherent consistency of your posts, combined with the a bit too atrocious spelling and a mastery of obscure tenses make me think you're actually an expat who's taking the piss. Even your average moron knows how to spell moron and wouldn't use it so repeatedly.

    So why not go back to winding up the kiddies on the Sabla. Anon mode doesn't mean I don't have your TCP/IP...

  15. UD,

    the MOFA webpage listing the Embassies ended up on Sablat and, afterwards, has been nicely amended.

    Sultanate is now spelled correctly but they do not seem able to figure out the real name of the capital of the Netherlands!

  16. I was at a meeting recently with the minister of commerce, Interesting.....So many young kids here have real talent despite the poor education system. Many of them will not get a degree (crap or otherwise) as there is always a % of any nation that may not be academic interested anyway, but may have talent in other ways. ie vocational skills. However this country seems to ignore and snub vocational training (apart from the technical colleges run by the big boys who see it as another gravy train issue the certificate anyway system) and simply because third world nationals do it for the big boys and of course they pay them peanuts (when they pay them) An example mechanics, Omanis love playing around under the bonnet but hey suggest to minister of commerce (as i did) that maybe vocational training is the way ahead for some omanis. He said,and i quote " if we train omanis to take the jobs of third world nationals we would have to pay the omanis a much higher wage and your vehicles servicing charges will soar" I pointed out that my bills were already european levels but that the only difference is that it aint going to the mechanics but to the pockets of the big boys. End of conversation...And from a paper i had prepared on the subject another top omani pointed out that omisation was an excellent idea for vocational skills (Bricklaying, carpentry, electrician etc etc) and that we should pay them accordingly! Then he winked and said but not in my company eh? I rest my case its buggered.

  17. UD,
    i'm glad someone caught up on my sp mistakes:-)it took u more than a day to figure that out:-), see? this shows that english isn't my language and also shows that m human! n m glad that MOFA webpage is corrected, however, it would have been more appropriate someone who spotted the mistake to write to respective ministry instead of making fun of it in an untasteful way, moran:-), i really don't care whether u have my TCP/IP oooooooohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh m scaaaaaarrrrrred:-) I can provide u my name i hv no problem with that.
    but u still dont get my point, or myb u dont wana get it! ths blog can be used as thought provoking to stimulate intellectual discussions about policy issues affecting ppl in oman, we can critisize but come up with an alternative and provide that directly to the source of the problem instead of what going on now.
    btw,m not visiting sablah, i dont hv much time to waste on ppl who are functionally illeterate on real life issues, i would rather put my thoughts on something produtive for this beatiful country.
    u finnaly post something functionally literate ppl can think about, it was an opportunity for u to nail your ideas to the minister, he is a nice inteligent guy, but has shrewed business mind, u should have pursued your points further, like why then is the govt investing millions every yr in voc traning? the purpose of that policy is to replace those third world nationals, so why waste those precious resources (finacial/HR) they should b allocate elsewhere if we dont want to omanise those jobs!
    Wakeup guys and smell some Omani coffee!! :-)

  18. Respect the person who cannot speak/write proper English.... because it implies that he knows some other language. A language that you do not know well.


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