Number of students enrolled at ACK3,100
Estimated number of expats operating in Kuwait3 million
The next generationAugust 30, 2016
Australian College of Kuwait (ACK) chairman Abdullah Abdul Mohsen Al Sharhan talks to TOGY about the institution’s role in developing a competent Kuwaiti workforce for engineering and business in the private sector and the value added by a hands-on training programme. The ACK was established in 2004 and currently has around 3,100 students enrolled.
What is the importance of combining academia and industry people in the education process?
The main purpose of involving industry and business in formulating ACK programmes is to increase the employability of its graduates. To this end ACK has an industrial Advisory Board made up of leaders in business and industry. The Chairman of the Kuwait Industries Union is a member of ACK’s Board of Trustees.
At ACK we are interested in enhancing employability of our students and not only handing them a piece of paper indicating attendance.
Unfortunately, many of our applicants have not received the right education prior to matriculation. Soft skills are important as well as critical thinking and ethics.
ACK has adopted a goal of imparting knowledge, the skills to apply that knowledge, and a positive attitude toward work.
The institution aims to produce a whole person, ready for the world of business and industry. A person that would be respected everywhere.
In addition to preparing students to take up jobs in established firms, ACK encourages its graduates to seek opportunities to establish their own businesses. Our goal is to connect our engineering and business programmes. Engineers come up with projects as part of their graduation requirements. Many of these projects could be commercialised with the assistance of business students.
What is ACK’s relationship with the hydrocarbons industry?
The Oil industry is the mainstay of Kuwait. That is why ACK is co-operating with relevant Oil companies, to design programmes that would provide them with the manpower that they require. We hope to provide courses in both the upstream sides of the industry (exploration and extraction) as well as the downstream (refining).
Our sights are also set further downstream on the vast potential of petrochemicals. It goes without saying that close co-operation with the relevant companies, including field visits, hiring instructors from the industry, and offering ACK students internships, is essential.
What is the demand for engineers in Kuwait today?
The private sector is looking for competent people. The government passed a law, around 20 years ago, requiring the employment Kuwaitis in the private sector. They enacted a quota for each service and even contractors have to employ 12% Kuwaitis. The problem is that there are not enough competent Kuwaitis available to do the work. You can see that the demand for competent people is enormous.
How do you see the demand for skilled workforce changing in the next five years? Where are you going to get manpower?
You can import people. [Kuwait] already has more than 3 million expats operating in its workforce. However, the inability to find trained Kuwaitis willing to fill required positions is a burden.
The reason that ACK is at full capacity is that because our graduates can find employment. We work with the companies and we know how many people they need and in what areas.
It’s not a problem for ACK that there are already nine private universities and colleges in Kuwait and five others are being established in addition to Kuwait University.
Do you think all of these institutions will be able to satisfy the demand of upcoming projects in terms of manpower?
I think the government will have to rely heavily on the private sector. Demand exceeds the capacity of Kuwait University. This is one of the main reasons for allowing private universities to be established. ACK is the first of the private institutions.
There are 38,000 high school graduates in Kuwait each year. So, it’s not a matter of attracting students, it’s how good you are and how well you are able to prepare these students to work in an industry, that desperately needs reliable people.
Would you look at an expansion in the engineering department?
Yes, it’s already happening. Two-thirds of our students are engineers.
Do you anticipate receiving a government pledge of support?
The government provides internal scholarships to students. Around 50% of all ACK students are beneficiaries of these scholarships. This is a great deal of support.
The government has also provided ACK with a 20-year-lease on land to build this institution from scratch. They control our fees and we have to get permission from the government to increase them.
What’s your business strategy for the year ahead? How are you going to target more students if you have limited capacity?
We are full right now and we have to build. The government has given us this land for 20 years on a Build/Operate/Transfer (BOT) basis which is a disincentive to growth.
Kuwait is thinking seriously of rectifying this obstacle. Private tertiary learning institutions are serving the country by developing human resources. In other countries land is given freely to universities. Ten years ago the land ACK is on was a desert.
And you are still trying to add more units?
Every time we build, it takes three years to get the facility ready to be used. That is taken from the eight years left on the lease; hence the reticence of the owners of ACK to invest in expansion. We have to work with the government to do something about it.
The government’s new projects together with ongoing developments create demand for competent people with a desire to work. We are proud to deliver that workforce. Students cannot graduate from ACK without a project. That’s why the first facility I built was a workshop.
How is the workshop used to advance students’ practical skillsets?
They need to know how to measure, cut and use the tools and then they start building boxes and little by little they learn how to use machines and advance equipment such as CNC machines. Machines become obsolete very quickly. Now machines are run by software. ACK has an open budget to teach new skills and knowledge; hence the acquisition of 3D printers.
With 3D printers, if you have an idea and a design, you have to make sure that you know how to programme your design to be fed into the printers that will produce a product. ACK provides its students with the basics and every year they have to create a project and when they make a project they learn what to do and how to handle things. New technologies cannot be operated without appropriate training and skills.