Gulf universities ‘must lead green transition’ on skills

Zaki Nusseibeh, chancellor of United Arab Emirates University, says universities must evolve with the world to take advantage of the green transition

November 15, 2023
Two pairs of hands hold a tennis ball-sized green globe of the world
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Universities across the Middle East must help graduates meet the growing need for green jobs in the face of the “defining challenge of our lifetime”, a conference has heard.

Zaki Nusseibeh, chancellor of the flagship United Arab Emirates University, said education was at the heart of the country’s transition into a post-oil, knowledge-based economy.

A key adviser to the founder of the UAE, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, Mr Nusseibeh said that, as a leading hydrocarbon producer, the country could have fallen into the trap of not preparing for a post-hydrocarbon world.

“But that is not what we are doing,” he told delegates on the final day of the Times Higher Education MENA Universities Summit.

“Instead, we are ensuring that our universities are the places where students can learn relevant skills to succeed during the green transition.”

As countries struggle to keep below the 1.5°C climate benchmark, Mr Nusseibeh said universities must lead in the face of the “defining challenge of our lifetime”.

“Education and skills will be the drivers of the green transition and they will also address the fears of those that see this transition as a killer of jobs and economic opportunity,” he said.

“The answer is not to stay anchored in the past but to evolve with the world, hopefully one or two steps ahead – to take advantage of the opportunities it offers.”

Speaking at the summit, which was held at New York University Abu Dhabi, he added: “By definition, the mission of higher education is never finished.

“That’s the basis of the scientific method and of intellectual enquiry.”

Sonia Ben Jaafar, chief executive of the Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation for Education, said a shift into green skills across the region should be seen as an opportunity, not a threat.

“We have a very big youth bulge, which is often talked about in negative terms, like it’s a problem,” she said.

“But…that is a young population [and] if we can get education and opportunities into their hands that’s a talent pool – it’s not a problem.”

For Dr Ben Jaafar, the importance of sustainability was not new, but the world had reached a point where “it is critical that we act differently”.

“And for us to act differently, we need to think differently. That’s where the universities can shift how the next generation is thinking.”

However, she said, greater diversity – particularly among senior leadership – was needed across the region to meet the diverse range of problems that it faces.

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