Women eye up graduate job market

July 7, 2006

The students at the all-female Zayed University, clad in black abayas , are discussing job opportunities. Those wanting to go into banking or teaching will have no problem, they reckon, but employers in the media and communications industries want "years of experience".

But the students insisted that one problem that they would not face was gender discrimination. "It's about your qualifications, not your gender," said one.

While they all said they wanted to get married, they believed the majority of their fellow students wanted a job as well.

"Most want not even to work immediately, but to complete a masters degree,"

one student said. "Our generation is more open-minded than that of our parents. We have a project in our business course, critical thinking about the future of the United Arab Emirates in 20 or 30 years, how to have businesses here if we don't have oil."

Another added bluntly: "The West has the wrong idea about women covering their head: they think it's a barrier to doing anything. They think that covering your head is covering your mind."

Zayed University, which was set up in 1998 to educate female UAE nationals, has about 2,500 students on campuses in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

But next month another campus will open in Dubai, taking total student numbers to more than 6,000. The university is also expected to take male students in future, which many female students regret, while accepting that they will be employed alongside men in the workplace.

The new campus will be part of an "Academic City" complex, housing a range of higher education institutions, including campuses of Wollongong (an Australian university) and the UK's Heriot-Watt University.

Sulieman Al Jassim, Zayed University's vice-president, said a recent survey showed that 80 per cent of students found jobs on graduation.

"The other 20 per cent either continue in higher education, or some stay as housewives and join the job market later on. Even if they don't find a job, it's good to be an educated mother."J He said that a priority was to produce more female educators with courses including a masters programme on educational leadership. "The idea is to focus on people who will be principals and curriculum developers. We are trying to build our own cadre of teachers."

The Zayed University students recently organised a conference on Women as Global Leaders, attended by 1,000 female students and staff from 87 countries.

Dr Al Jassim said: "It is essential for us to have a common understanding to create stability in our world.

The conference gave students a lot of potential to talk to each other, and we need to experience what other nations have achieved in their (female) leadership," he added.

The conference attracted high-profile women speakers, including Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland and United Nations human rights commissioner; Barbara Bodine, former US ambassador to Yemen who is now a senior fellow at Harvard University; Queen Rania of Jordan; Cherie Booth QC; and Sheikha Lubna Al Qassimi, the UAE's Minister for Economy and Planning and the first female cabinet minister.

She said: "The (Emirati) girls at the conference are very confident, bilingual, poised, computer savvy, on a par with the other young people there."

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