Recently appointed as Head of the Faculty of Business Management at Majan University College, the youthful and impressive Dr Ammar bin Abdulrahman al Balushi, as one academic put it, “represents the best of up-and-coming Omani professionals.” That is certainly a big wrap, but after a couple of hours with the ebullient educationalist I am not sure I could disagree.
Muscat born, the athletic (football, badminton, swimming) son of a local businessman, and one of seven siblings, all academically and professionally active, Al Balushi’s early education was in Oman, but his higher education objectives took him to the United Kingdom, the University of Essex, and the Glasgow Caledonian University in London. There he studied under Professor John Lennon, prominent in the travel and tourism sector.
A valuable PhD in Marketing and Tourism Development safely ‘tucked under his arm’, Al Balushi then took the opportunity to gain “immeasurable experience in the wider tourist sector, prior to returning home to the Sultanate.” Being employed in the tourism industry in Europe holds quite a positive perception in Western societies, but this is not so here in Oman according to Al Balushi.
He expanded saying, “This is no better reflected than in the minimal number of Omanis joining the Hospitality and Tourism colleges within the country. I think tourism’s image as a future employer needs a major revamp, particularly with reference to young Omanis who feel that the sector holds sociocultural challenges that they cannot respond to or integrate with.” Hence, marketing the employability concept, for Omanis to participate positively within the international four- and five-star sectors of the international tourism industry takes on significant importance.
Al Balushi was, he smiled, “astutely recruited two years ago by Majan University College (MUC),” which was established as the Sultanate’s very first private college in 1995 and became the first higher education institution in the Sultanate to receive the prestigious OAAA Institutional Accreditation in 2017. MUC is an accredited college of the University of Bedfordshire, in the United Kingdom.
MUC offers courses in undergraduate programmes in Business Administration with diverse specialisations across Bachelors and Masters Programmes in Accounting, Applied Linguistics, Business Administration, Computing, Computer Sciences, Computer and Internet Applications, English Language, Finance, International Human Resources Management, Islamic Banking and Finance, Marketing and Networking, Banking information systems, Computing in oil and gas, software engineering and Networking, at its campus in Darsait.
“Originally as the Faculty Director of Quality Assurance, it is fair to say that I was challenged to prove myself, as an Omani Assistant Professor, institutionally, and to my peers, and at times that wasn’t easy.” However, he explained that “Subsequently, they have proven extremely supportive and encouraging as I have met their standards, and this has culminated in my recent promotion to Head of Faculty of Business Management, the largest faculty in the College.”
He sees key elements of his new role, apart from being privileged to lead a very progressive faculty team, as “capitalising on being an Omani in a position to enable change, in aligning MUC’s educational objectives to HM Sultan’s Vision 2040 in terms of employability, shaping their courses specifically to graduate student cohorts with the skills, knowledge and understanding required to fill job-market vacancies.”
Omani graduates, in Al Balushi’s opinion, need more than ever to market themselves and their skills. “In my opinion’’, he said, “Self-marketing has been neglected due to the graduates’ reliance on their earned college degree for job vacancies rather than the skills they present. The current reality indicates that there is an oversupply of job-seekers who are competing for the same jobs in the current depressed labor market.”
He is certain that by effectively aligning their knowledge and skills to the job market, tailoring their attributes more appropriately for the workplace, their capabilities and talents will surely attract greater opportunities. It is certainly more productive and positive for graduates, to change to meet the needs of the market, than to expect the job market to change to accommodate them. It follows too that institutions have a responsibility to remain aligned to positive job market vacancies and trends.
Dr Ammar al Balushi then, is one of that ‘new generation’ of young Omanis we keep hearing about, with the Omani sensitivity to add to Western pragmatism. Maybe the forerunner of thousands who can influence change, not for the sake of change, but for his institution, community and society.