I. Introduction and Background

This is an evaluative study that has been designed to evaluate the employability skills of graduates from a liberal arts program at an International Branch Campus (IBC) in the GCC as seen from the perspective of the employers who employ these graduates. Youth unemployment in the Gulf States, especially amongst the nationals is high and thus equipping young people with the skills needed to take up employment in the private sector is a priority for governments in these countries (Kinser and Lane, 2012). Another problem in the Gulf States is that of underemployment resulting either out of overstaffing or mismatch of skills (Booz & Co, 2009). One of the root causes of GCC's employment problems is that the system of education is not aligned with the needs of the modern industry (Booz & Co, 2009). Amongst other solutions to address the employability issues in the GCC, some Gulf States especially the United Arab Emirates and Qatar have invested in the establishment of International Branch Campuses (IBCs) to enable, amongst many other things, the development of skilled and qualified workers to meet the requirements of the labour market.

This evaluative study focuses on the contribution made by one such IBC that focuses on a liberal arts education in Qatar. IBCs have been in operation in Qatar for the past 10 to 15 years promoted and sponsored by the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development (QF). The intention of this paper is to study and report on early evidence of the impact of this IBC on the employability skills of graduates and assess the extent to which the graduates from this IBC are meeting the skills requirements of the workplace in Qatar.

The object of the evaluative study is the alumnus of the IBC in Qatar with focus on their employability skills. More broadly speaking, the focus is on outcomes of liberal arts education and role of IBCs in human capacity development with specific emphasis on skills development.

Specifically this paper attempts to answer the following key research questions:

1. What employability skills do employers in Qatar value the most?

2. How do employers rate the employability skills of graduates from this IBC?

This is an empirically based research study that draws on information obtained through a survey of Human Resources Officers of the organizations that employ the graduates of this IBC and discussions in form of semi-structured interviews with supervisors of the graduates employed in those organizations. Furthermore, the study also reports on discussions that were conducted with senior academic administrators of the IBC who are involved in curricular and co-curricular planning and career service functions.

This paper is organized into the following sections:

• Contextual and situation analysis of the evaluative study with specific focus on strategies for use of the results of the evaluative study.

• Discussion on the concepts and literature underlying employability skills with specific focus on outcomes of liberal arts education and the role of curriculum in developing employability skills.

• Methods and methodology underlying the evaluative study.

• Analysis of the results of the online survey and summaries and analyses of the interviews.

• Discussion of the results and findings.

• Finally, the paper includes recommendations for enhancement of policy and practice in developing and/sustaining employability skills and strengthening the interface between education and industry.

II. Context of the Evaluative Study

This is an institution level evaluation that is designed to assess the impact and effectiveness of the IBC in the local context in which they operate. This study has been designed using the RUFDATA (Saunders, 2000) framework for evaluation in higher education that involves a “process of reflexive questioning during which key procedural dimensions of an evaluation are addressed leading to an accelerated induction of key aspects of evaluation design”. A discussion on the different aspects of the RUFDATA (the acronym is explained further) framework is offered below:

Reasons and purposes for the evaluative study: The main reason for undertaking this evaluation is to assess the effectiveness of the outcomes of the IBC in terms of employability skills of their graduates. Most IBCs specialize in professional subjects such as business, engineering, information technology etc. and equip graduates with skills needed to work in the private and public sector (Kinser and Lane, 2012). This evaluative study has been designed to assess the contribution of liberal arts focused IBC and whether liberal arts based education equips graduates with the skills needed in the work place.

Use of the evaluative study: The results from the study can provide important information to the funding agency on the effectiveness of the IBCs in helping achieve an important goal of developing human capital in Qatar and the GCC region seen from the lens of employability skills. Furthermore, the evaluative study can assist academic and student services administrators at the IBC in reviewing the effectiveness of curricular and co-curricular practices on the employability skills of the graduates at the IBC. Finally, the data from this study can also assist in influencing the student recruitment and marketing strategy as claims on success of alumni from an employability perspective can be made based on testimonials from employers.

Given the importance of a use strategy in an evaluative study, a further discussion of use is offered below. The findings from this research can provide further insights in the following domains:

Policy: The study has the potential to provide evidence of impact of the IBC on the local economy viewed from the lens of employability skills. This will be especially valuable to both the sponsor of the IBCs in Qatar i.e. the Qatar Foundation and the home campus of the IBC. Evidence from this evaluative study could be used to inform policy making in a broader context for sponsors of education hubs and agencies involved in higher education policy in the region.

Practice: Results from this study can demonstrate the effectiveness and utility of liberal arts education in developing employability skills. The results can assist in enhancing curricular and co-curricular practices than can enhance employability skills of graduates.

Knowledge: The participation of the employers and the IBC staff in this study can provide both parties with the experience and information to think in an evaluative manner that can usher in changes in practices and organizational culture at both the IBC and the employing organizations.

III. The Study

At present there are 53 companies/organizations in Qatar that employ graduates of this IBC. An online survey request was sent to 50 Human Resources Officers (HROs) in 31 organizations that employ at least 2 or more graduates of this IBC. Based on the literature relating to generic employability skills discussed earlier, HROs were asked to rate on a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being lowest and 10 being the highest) which employability skills they value the most. Additionally, they were also asked to identify on a scale of 1 to 5 (1 being very low and 5 being very high) as to what their expectation of the level of employability skills is upon graduation and on a similar scale, what actual skill levels do the graduates from this IBC exhibit. Finally, the survey also asked the HROs to identify on a scale of 1 to 10 which educational practices, as discussed in the literature section earlier, have the highest impact in developing employability skills. To put the results of this evaluative study in a larger perspective, the employer preferences for generic skills or employer priorities in Qatar have been compared to the employer priorities for skills published in the “Job Outlook 2015” report published by NACE, 2015 (2) in the United States. This comparison of employer priorities can provide additional insights on the differences and similarities in expectations between employers in two parts of the world that may have a bearing on global and/transferable employability skills.

In addition to the survey, in order to get a deeper understanding of the employability skills exhibited by graduates from this IBC, discussions in form of semi-structured interviews were conducted with representatives from 10 different organizations who either supervise/have supervised graduates from this IBC. These discussions were structured around the following themes/questions:

• What employability skills do supervisors look for in graduates from universities while recruiting?

• What is the relative importance of a “degree major” or degree background (STEM, Business and Information Studies, Humanities or Social Sciences) for most entry-level jobs? How do employability skills of graduates from liberal arts programs compare to employability skills of graduates from business or science and engineering programs?

• How well do the supervisors believe that the curriculum of the IBC prepares the graduates with the required employability skills? What are some of the strengths and weaknesses of the graduates from this IBC from an employability perspective?

• What is the level of involvement and engagement with the IBC on graduate preparation for the work force? Do students intern at the company? What is the nature and frequency of contact with the Careers Division of the IBC?

• What education practices do the employers believe help in developing employability skills?

Given the importance of curriculum and extra and co-curricular practices in developing employability skills, a discussion in form of semi-structured interviews was also conducted with 2 senior administrators who oversee academic and student service functions at the IBC. These discussions were structured around the following themes/questions:

• How does the curriculum at the IBC equip students with employability skills? How is employability addressed in the curriculum? Is it weaved through the curriculum or are there specific modules that focus on employability?

• For each of the high impact educational practices can you describe, how the IBC prepares its students?

• What are the career support services provided to the students?

• What other educational practices at the IBC assist in development of employability skills?

In summary, the study synthesizes the data collected from the survey of HROs, interviews with supervisors and administrators at the IBC. The survey results have been analysed in terms of employer priorities and a comparison to the priorities reported in the NACE Job Outlook 2015 report has been provided in the ensuing section(s). Also employer preferences for skills “required” and employer rating of skills “attained” by graduates has been compared and an analysis of gaps has also been presented.

Data collected from the interviews has been presented under broad categories based on the interview themes outlined above and evocative quotes from interviews have also been highlighted. A comparison of the preferences of high impact education practices as reported by the employers has been made to the current practices at the IBC to identify gaps between employer expectations and practices at the IBC.


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