The challenges of today will be met by the scientists of tomorrow. Water scarcity, climate change, food security and renewable energy all require technical expertise and scientific knowledge to find innovative solutions. In the UAE, as in many parts of the world, these issues are critical to securing the future of the country and its population. Yet worryingly, less than 1 per cent of university students in Dubai are taking science-based subjects. According to Dubai Statistics Centre, nearly half of all students are focusing on business administration instead.
There are several reasons for this. In “one of the most entrepreneurial cities in the world”, as university vice chancellor John Evans says, a business degree might seem more useful to those dreaming of launching a start-up, running a business, or going into a public sector or administrative role. And there is a certain fear factor that can accompany the sciences, because students either feel intimidated by them or cannot see the immediate pay-off for their careers. There is also the fact students graduating today can only guess at what job prospects an automated future might hold for them, or what subjects might best equip them for it.
Steps are already underway to do so. Al Jalila Foundation in Dubai offers fellowships and seed grants to scientists both within the UAE and overseas, to work on innovations to help the nation and grow the city’s reputation as an epicentre of scientific research. Abu Dhabi’s annual science festival similarly aims to enliven young minds.
One encouraging figure was the 16 per cent of students pursuing engineering degrees, which will set them in good stead as the UAE participates in the global space race. These small steps must be built upon to encourage more students to take up a broad range of sciences and to inspire them to dedicate themselves to searching for new answers to the world’s most pressing issues. The nation’s future depends on it.