Oman opens private option

April 6, 2001

Oman has turned to private universities to plug the yawning gap between school-leavers' demand for higher education and the supply of places at the sultanate's elite university. But it is determined to control accreditation.

Ian Allen, an interim director of Australia's university quality agency, has begun a three-month feasibility study into setting up a national framework for assessment and qualifications.

Oman is also lobbying its Gulf state neighbours to work with Unesco and the Arab Bureau of Education to form a regional quality-control and assurance body or mechanism.

Soud Al Timami, planning director for higher education, said: "Omani institutions can absorb only 32 per cent of the ,000 school-leavers a year. Only half of these go to university.

"We have 5,000 Omanis studying in the United Arab Emirates alone. Most are specialising in subjects that are not so good for the Omani economy, such as literature, Islamic studies and Arabic. These students are already paying fees. We feel they are potential recruits for private universities."

Other Omanis study at universities elsewhere abroad, some out of choice but many because they did not make the grade for the highly competitive Sultan Quaboos University outside Muscat.

Last autumn, the government approved the creation of private universities in the regional capitals of Nizwa, Sohar and Salalah from a consortium of existing colleges, many running courses accredited by universities in the United Kingdom.

The establishment of the Oman College of Medicine, affiliated to the University of West Virginia, United States, was also approved. Core staff will be recruited from abroad as well as locally.

Mr Timami said: "Oman has been experimenting for five years with franchised courses in colleges. But our experience is not as encouraging as expected."

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