Students must learn about AI irrespective of their subject streams to remain employable

Vijay GarG *

The looming challenges posed by AI and Robotics have increased job threats and have forced educational institutes to redesign their curricula. Higher Education Institutes (HEIs) in Dubai have been working overtime to streamline the courses as per the industry demands based on emerging technologies.

An education hub for thousands of students from India and other parts of Southeast Asia, including Middle East and North Africa (MENA), universities in Dubai are integrating AI in almost all the streams to make the students future-ready.

Heriot-Watt University, a public research university based in Edinburgh, Scotland, UK was the first British university to open a Dubai campus in 2005, aiming to provide world-class education and boost innovation in the UAE. It accommodates the maximum number of students from India owing to its proximity.

Professor Heather recently visited Delhi and Mumbai to forge research collaborations with Indian institutes that would benefit students of both nations. Il Prof says, “AI is a tool that helps us to do things better. We want our students to explore the potential of AI in all facets of life”.

“Some of our students are being trained to code and learn AI, and many of our researchers are also developing new levels of AI, for smoother operations. For instance, AI can now do accounting for you, but, we still have to train, though, our accountancy students to write a free cash flow, because if they put the wrong assumptions into the computer, AI will produce a completely rubbish cash flow and forward a cash flow cost.

Therefore, the business student has to know how to integrate accountancy with emerging technology. This will help them use AI efficiently to make the correct assumptions and get a very good piece of work using AI. This will help them save time,” she adds.

Global chief operating officer, Heriot-Watt University, says subjects such as Computer Science and AI are popular among today’s students. “The other two popular areas of study are data science and data analytics. We have master’s level and undergraduate level programmes on it. Apart from this, design-based subjects are also gaining importance. Heriot-Watt is a specialist in STEM design and business programmes. Subjects such as design management, communication design are increasingly popular in Dubai, a hub for design and fashion,” adds Everest.

Besides this, subjects such as Psychology with Marketing, Sustainable Finance with Fintech, Construction Project Management, Bachelor of Business Administration, International Business Management, Actuarial Management with Data Science, MSc in Computer Science with Cyber Security and Business and Organisation Psychology are' popular among students in Dubai, which has faculty from 53 nationalities including Australia, Canada, Malaysia and the UK.

However, the largest group of faculty come from Scotland, giving students a taste of diversity on the campus which will eventually help them grow professionally.

Technology subjects gaining popularity

Everest says, “Technology is massively disrupting the industry, leading to a changing job market. Besides the engineering graduates, the management and healthcare students need to learn to use technology in their day-to-day lives as technology has penetrated almost all the sectors of education”.

“AI has changed the skill set today. Hence, students have to be equipped with that level of adaptability to understand how to use technology, whether it be in engineering or in design or in business,” she adds.

Responding to a question about whether skill-based subjects are gaining more importance than traditional subjects, Everest says, “Besides the skill-based education, application of courses in an industry setting is needed. For example, a strong foundation in Mathematics is still quite an important element of a lot of subjects such as business or engineering. Students must know the basics of technology or core subjects, but they must focus on practical and applied knowledge.”

Technology is now elevating the quality of learning. “Every single aspect of learning is technology-enabled now in universities. It is about the virtual learning environment being cutting-edge and also about how students learn in their own time in teams on projects.

Today, the library is not about books, it is about electronic resources, it is about how we track student engagement and understand, say, for instance, how they are performing through the use of different data points to understand where they might be struggling. Thus, technology is permeating every aspect of university life,” she adds.

Prof says, “It is not skill gap, what we are witnessing is change in labour system. So just like the industrial revolution where we stopped using physical labour and started using cognitive labour, instead of people making steam, you had engines that could make steam, but somebody had to design the engine and know how it worked. Similarly, now what we are seeing is a move from cognitive labour to emotional labour.

Now, cognitive labour is something that will be done by AI. So, AI can think for us, but you still have to interpret it. The emotional labour comes in the form of interpretation, in the adaptation, in knowing what is possible to do with that. Therefore, people trained to produce cognitive labour, will now have to produce emotional labour”.

“In our recent meetings with prominent Indian companies, we realised the need for managers with good communication skills, leadership skills and team players. Therefore, students must work on their communication and presentation skills. Future professionals must have the ability to work in different cultures and multi-generational workspaces. Our campus in Dubai has students from 126 countries to make it diverse and intercultural,” she adds.

“In a world where the student can get AI to write an essay, we need to encourage them to give a strong presentation. They cannot get ChatGPT to give the presentation; it will be a good way of assessing them and their knowledge.

The first thing that we teach the students is how to express themselves, how to define what kind of impact they want to make in the world through their work, how to write their CV and LinkedIn profile,” says Prof Heather.

Collaborations with Indian institutes

“We discussed the possibilities of opening a campus in India with UGC. At the moment, we are trying to figure out a partner to provide the right infrastructure. We are aiming to foster strategic partnerships with Indian institutions, finding opportunities to collaborate on joint programmes and research projects.

Presently, there are small pockets of collaboration on specific research areas including medical technology. We are working on partnership so that students from the Indian institution can also progress to Heriot-Watt and receive full accreditation”.

The University is partnering with IIT Bhubaneswar for research collaboration on ‘Digital analysis of flow processes in porous materials for geo-energy applications. There is a collaboration with Vellore Institute of Technology, Vellore has come together on a research collaboration that entails ‘Research Capacity Building in Green Hydrogen’.

Heriot-Watt and Sir Sitaram & Lady Shantabai Patkar College of Arts and Science and VP Varde College of Commerce and Economics, University of Mumbai, as represented by Institute of Actuarial and Quantitative Studies situated at Patkar Varde College (trade name Institute of Actuaries and Quantitative Studies, Mumbai), have come together to focus on Actuarial professions where students will be able to progress to their MSc’s to have a master’s degree and higher level exemptions from IFoA.

Under this, the students can do undergraduate degrees in Mumbai and complete their PG at Heriot-Watt, a European Centre of Excellence in actuarial mathematics. Partnering with Bennett University, it will work on exchange programmes and research in Computer Sciences, AI and Robotics.

Sustainability, a new domain of study

“With the increasing emphasis on sustainability and recycling, the demand for courses on environmental and sustainable engineering courses. The world will only survive if we discard fossil fuels. Since we have been teaching Oil and Gas engineering for years, the academics are redesigning the course by transitioning to renewable energy, including the use of wind, tidal, solar and hydrogen energy,” says Everest.

Safety for foreign students

The Dubai campus has 5,000 students, of which 2,000 students are Indians, while the Edinburgh campus has about 1,200 Indian students. “For foreign students, Dubai is a safe place due to a strong police presence.

Our Malaysia campus has a large population of female students, who opt for it due to safety options. Our campuses have student service cells dedicated to the safety and healthcare of international students. We have a Safe Zone app, which is, if a student ever feels unsafe, they just press a button on the app and someone will come and look after them”.

* Vijay GarG wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on June 01 2024.

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