By Daniel Adkins

The history of the United Arab Emirates is a glorious testament to innovation and adaptation.  Before the discovery of its vast oil reserves, the Emirates were largely trading hubs sitting at key locations along the Arabian Sea and Arabian Gulf.  With the discovery of oil, the Emirates adapted and became one of the wealthiest and most important countries in the world.  Wisely understanding that the oil reserves will not last forever, the leaders of the UAE began to diversify the economy.  The UAE now stands as a world leader in innovation and holds numerous World’s Records including the world’s tallest building.  Science and technology have underpinned many of the UAE’s great achievements including, the construction of the Burj Khalifa; the development of Etihad and Emirates airlines, which are two of the top airlines in the world; becoming a world leader in both air and sea logistics; building the world’s only 7 Star hotel, the Burj Al Arab; building the world’s largest fully automated train system; building the world’s largest human-made peninsula; building some of the world’s largest solar power generating facilities; commissioning the first nuclear power plant on the Arabian Peninsula; and becoming the dominant stock exchange in the region.

Never content to rest on prior achievements, the UAE continues to drive its economy into areas not related to oil production including becoming one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations and also a global hub for education.  Moving through the remainder of the 21st century, the UAE will continue to drive innovation through science and engineering.  Within the next 30 years, the UAE will likely be one of the first countries to have all transportation in the country both fully autonomous and electric, including a hyperloop system connecting the major cities in the country.  Through the continued development of sustainable energy systems, the UAE will be a major supplier of green energy to the world.  As part of ensuring the stability of the country, the UAE using green energy and sustainable methods of desalinisation and water reclamation will not only green the entire country but will grow enough crops using advanced farming techniques like hydroponic and vertical farming to feed the entire population of the country.  The UAE’s future will also likely hold hosting of massive server farms and fully automated manufacturing, due to the abundance of available sustainable energy.

Yet even with these successes in the primary, secondary, and tertiary segments of the economy, the UAE will also push strongly into the quaternary and quinary segments as part of the fourth industrial revolution.  These jobs in the Knowledge Sectors are going to be largely driven by education and developments in science and technology.  As one of the world’s education hubs and a country with a large number of highly ranked universities and strong research programs, the UAE will be graduating a significant number of STEM literate graduates ready to move into the Knowledge Economy and will be producing significant research that will build the future of the Knowledge Economy.

Our wise leaders have had the foresight to prepare the UAE to be a leader in the Knowledge Economy, students should follow this example and ensure that they too are prepared.  The rate of technological change today is many orders of magnitude faster than at any time in human history.  It is clear that the trends of jobs being automated with computer systems and robotics will only increase exponentially in the future.  Between artificial intelligence and advanced robotics there will be hundreds of types of jobs that will cease to exist in fields as diverse as agriculture, transport, and manufacturing.  Today’s students will likely have three or more careers in their lifetime as career after career is replaced by technology or more excitingly, new opportunities open in careers that do not even exist today.  Students can prepare themselves for this future by either studying STEM disciplines or at least getting a good understanding of STEM as electives while studying any other discipline.  Students must also learn how to learn because when these technology drive career shifts occur, there will not be time to return to university to learn a new career, there will only be time for self-study to upskill into a new career.

The future of the UAE is bright because of the wise choices of the Rulers of each of the Emirates now and over the past 50 years.  Students and residents in the UAE can have an equally bright future by preparing themselves for the Knowledge Economy and by becoming life-long learners.  If we all work together, we can build a sustainable future worthy of ourselves and the UAE.