(The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Al-Fanar Media).
In their transition to university, high school graduates face multiple challenges. For recent graduates, the Covid-19 pandemic added to them by causing changes in the learning environment that deprived students of opportunities for social participation and set back learning.
In addition, choosing a major or a course of study has become more difficult, especially with a changing labour market, increased demand for soft skills, and a different set of technical skills.
Recognising these facts, schools and universities are working to bridge this gap.
For example, the Degree Entry Programmes (DEP) offered by Heriot-Watt University Dubai are designed to assist students in this transitional stage, providing them with the soft skills and practical skills required to excel, and prepare them for the job market.
The programmes are designed to provide students with a pathway to an undergraduate degree by refining their writing and research skills, assessment and exam techniques, information technology skills, and more.
Student Foundation Programmes
Upon successful completion of this foundation stage, students will be able to join different disciplines, such as engineering, data science, robotics, autonomous and interactive systems, and others.
“The Degree Entry Programmes are designed to assist students in this transitional stage, providing them with the soft skills required to excel, and preparing them for the job market.”Rajinder Sharma
The Degree Entry Programme lasts for two semesters, which is an ideal time frame for students to transition smoothly into their undergraduate programmes while ensuring they are not late in continuing their studies.
In the following paragraphs, I will highlight some of these foundation programmes’ main points that make it possible to build students’ confidence and provide them with skills to be ready to work, by developing their soft skills and practical experience.
There has been an unprecedented demand for soft skills, especially in the post-pandemic period. According to the World Economic Forum, critical thinking and problem-solving are among the most important skills employers will ask for in 2025.
Changes in the way lessons are delivered have affected students’ behavioral and communication skills in general. Psychologists point to the fact that a large part of learning is observational, which is the ability to learn by observing and imitating behaviors. This has been significantly affected by the shift to distance learning during the Covid-19 pandemic lockdowns, as students no longer have the degree of interaction required to build those skills.
Hence, one of the main objectives of the DEP programme at Heriot-Watt University Dubai is to build students’ confidence and develop their soft skills through well-structured, engaging, and interactive programmes in which students are taught presentation and conflict-resolution skills through panels and presentations.
To enhance students’ time-management skills, the programme is well-structured with specific days and timings to give students a sense of order—that feeling that they may have missed during the extended period of distance learning.
Apart from the increasing importance of soft skills, there has been a great emphasis on job-readiness skills.
“Despite the ongoing challenges young people face in their transition to the university, I think it is important to view these challenges as an opportunity to learn skills that may be useful in multiple aspects of one’s life.”Rajinder Sharma
In a recent survey in the Middle East and North Africa region, Oliver Wyman, an American management consulting firm, found that a large number of students reported a mismatch between the current curricula and the skills required by the labour market. Therefore, it is important to offer programmes that enhance students’ readiness skills to join the workforce, by integrating practical projects into their courses.
For example, students of Heriot-Watt University Dubai’s DEP in design studies recently teamed up with a Middle Eastern perfume brand in a competition to design packaging inspired by the UAE National Day. The project’s purpose was to allow students to practice their technical skills and turn their creative ideas into reality. At the conclusion of the project, students presented a series of inspiring designs, along with the winning model.
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Finally, despite the ongoing challenges young people face in their transition to the university, I think it is important to view these challenges as an opportunity to learn skills that may be useful in multiple aspects of one’s life.
Moreover, keeping abreast of developments will help students assess the skills they need to employ them properly.
As educational institutions work to prepare students for an ever-changing landscape, students’ proactive and collaborative search for solutions will facilitate this transition.
Rajinder Sharma is an associate professor and head of the Degree Entry Programme at Heriot-Watt University Dubai.