Since the beginning of the Omani Renaissance, the government has devoted its efforts to implementing the directives of HM Sultan Qaboos bin Said – May God Almighty protect him – in terms of disseminating all levels of education across the country. HM the Sultan has, on frequent occasions, asserted the importance of knowledge and education and the criticality of keeping pace with developments in the field.
In the light of accelerated development on the international and local levels, it has become vital to train generations of highly educated and qualified youth given the requirements of comprehensive development. This provides the state with competent capacities, able to deal with global changes and new technological realities. This also allows the state to interact with and benefit from all recent developments to shape a highly-educated generation of academics, researchers and graduates to meet the needs of Oman in terms of specialized cadres in all disciplines.
Attention to higher education in Oman began since the outset of the Sultanate’s Renaissance. In the 1970s, the Directorate-General of Scholarships was established. One of its main sections was the External Scholarships Department. The Department catered to Omani competencies, sending them to study abroad, in various neighboring and allied states, so that these students formed a core group of Omani graduates who later assumed senior positions and contributed to the development and building of the country. The External Scholarships Department was the kernel from which the Ministry of Higher Education was established in 1994.
Since post-secondary studies in the 1970s and 1980s were limited to external scholarships, the scholarship process was organized through the following Royal Decrees:
Higher education institutions began emerging in the early 1980s with the Oman Institute of Banking (currently the College of Banking and Financial Studies) in 1983 to train the workforce needed to work in the banking sector. In addition, the Teachers College (currently the College Applied Sciences) was established in 1984 in order to grant teachers post-secondary education diplomas.
That same year, the Technical Industrial College (currently the Higher College of Technology) was established in order to meet local market needs for vocational specializations. Some health institutions were created at the same time to train Omani nurses to work in public hospitals. The College of Islamic Judiciary, Preaching and Guidance (currently the College of Sharia Sciences) was established in 1986 to train future judges and preachers.
The educational journey of Oman was crowned by the establishment of Sultan Qaboos University in 1986, and the inauguration of the University’s Cultural Center during His Majesty’s visit to the University on December 18th, 2010. HM praised the educational renaissance in Oman and the role of educational and scientific research institutions in promoting renaissance in the country.
Since its establishment by Royal Decree no. 2/1994, the Ministry of Education has been working on improving higher education in Oman. Higher education institutions now encompass many more different fields and disciplines that meet the needs of global development and the job market. This process was not limited to public higher education. The Omani private sector considerably contributed to educational development when it had the opportunity to invest in this field. Indeed, it created private universities and colleges in order to meet Oman’s needs in terms of academically and technically qualified cadres. This process led to more concerted efforts to expand access to higher education which became a goal that everyone endeavors to achieve.
The private sector was also involved in the educational process during the second half of the 1990s by virtue of Royal Decree no. 41/96 on the establishment of private colleges and institutes. Private higher education admits some of the highest numbers of students in Oman since private institutions offer a wide variety of programs across different academic stages: Diplomas, Bachelor’s degrees and Master’s degrees. These institutions also provide programs serving society as a whole, such as vocational, technical and management programs. Language programs (such as English, Spanish, and French) are also provided. Private universities and colleges have concluded agreements with prestigious international universities in Europe, the US, Australia and other countries.
As the 2016 statistics show, the higher education system in Oman comprises sixty-three (63) educational institutions located across the different regions and governorates. They vary in status between universities, university faculties, and specialized institutions. Among these, thirty-five (35) are public educational institutions, including Sultan Qaboos University; six (6) are applied science faculties under the supervision of the Ministry of Higher Education; seven (7) are colleges of technology under the Ministry of Manpower; one is a faculty for Islamic studies under the supervision of the Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs; and another a faculty for banking and finance under the Central Bank of Oman, in addition to the higher education institutions, affiliated to the military apparatuses. Furthermore, the Education Council ratified a proposal to turn thirteen medical institutions under the supervision of the Ministry of Health into faculties, in addition to the Higher Judicial Institute affiliated to the Ministry of Justice.
The private higher education institutions are twenty-eight: eight (8) universities and (20) faculties. They play a pivotal role in redressing the admission gap by accommodating the graduate students who could not be admitted to public institutions that have reached full capacity.
Currently, a new law on higher education is in the works, under whose provisions all higher education institutions in Oman, public and private, will be governed.
The student admission and distribution processes for all education levels and categories are organized by the Admission Center, established by virtue of Royal Decree no. (104/2005).
The Center is among the electronic projects set forth by the Ministry to computerize the previously manually processed services. The Center has been managing and further developing the electronic admission system year after year. Throughout the phases of application submission, enrollment, and student distribution to the different public and private higher education institutions in Oman, the center strived to fulfill the principles of transparency and justice.
Since its inception, the center has been linking the different data bases and statistics issued by all the higher education institutions to the statistics on students of different categories and educational pursuits. What is more, the Center bolstered the transparency and clarity standards for admission. As a result, it made it to the list of the world’s best five electronic products in terms of electronic content as part of the WSA International Award held in Venice in 2007. The system was also widely acclaimed regionally and globally, winning many awards.
The higher education institutions are normally under the supervision of different competent authorities, and as it was necessary to set forth coordination policies, mechanisms, and measures among these institutions, one entity under which such coordination could take place had to be established: The Higher Education Council, established by virtue of Royal Decree no. (98/65). The Royal Decree no. (48/2012), however, established an Education Council to replace the Higher Education Council. The decree specified the Council’s jurisdictions, mainly in what related to developing a general policy for all levels and categories of education; managing education in line with the general policy of the state and the requirements of sustainable development, in such a way that achieves the cultural, social, economic, and educational goals of the state; developing and implementing a strategy for education within the framework of the general policy of the state, in coordination with competent authorities.
The Ministry, through the Qualification and Equivalent Recognition Department, provides diplomas ratification and equation services, and recognition services for institutions and educational programs.
The cultural attachés are valued as one of the most important communication bodies between the Omani students studying abroad and the Ministry of Higher Education. This educational, institutional care is provided by (7) cultural attachés and one consulate in Australia.
Moreover, the attachés provide different services, including contacting universities and matching students with the most appropriate institutions. Financial funds are also allocated to the students who were sent to study abroad through these attachés, which follow up the educational outputs of the students and their attendance regularity, and sponsor the cultural activities and national events that the students organize.
In 2010, a Royal Decree was issued, stipulating the establishment of the Oman Academic Accreditation Authority to replace the Accreditation Council. The Authority, which has a legal personality, boasts financial and administrative independence and is affiliated to the Education Council. The new Authority is a continuum of the previous Accreditation Council’s mission to foster quality and accredit the higher education institutions and programs. The goal is to enable the graduates to compete in the job market and to effectively contribute to the sustainable renaissance process that Oman is going through.
The Royal Decree on the establishment of the Authority identified from among its competencies quality management of higher education so that a certain level, fulfilling international standards, is preserved, as well as encouraging the higher education institutions to improve their service quality.
The development of higher education has always been tantamount to an improved scientific research activity as they are complementary. Therefore, Oman sought to develop the scientific research system to become a main pillar of the development of the education system and to serve the development process in Oman across the different disciplines.
Therefore, the establishment of the Research Council by virtue of Royal Decree no. (54/2005) marked a paradigm shift in the history of development in Oman on the different scientific, economic, and social levels. Currently, scientific research is among the main pillars on which the countries of the world rely to advance their societies and evolve their people. Further to the role scientific research plays in advancing the human capacity, it emboldens innovation and creation, builds and develops industries, and contributes to a knowledge-based economy. From among the assigned tasks, the Council developed a national strategy to set the course of scientific research and development in Oman and link it to the sustainable developments plans that the Omani government is implementing for the advancement of Omanis.
The Council supports different research and innovation programs, aiming at enabling a generation of researchers to conduct researches in different fields. This is being done by encouraging research initiatives of researchers, each in their field of competence and expertise; fostering the culture of research in Oman, especially among the youth; increasing the number of researches and improving their quality; and developing the innovative capacities of researchers.