GulfNews Business

Fixation with in-class learning must go

Analysis|: COVID-19 forced universities to rapidly shift online this past spring. While universities with digital capabilities were better equipped to make the transition, under-resourced institutions struggled to provide a high quality remote learning experience in such a tight timeframe. Unfortunately, as the new academic year began, the virus was still spreading - and universities face an uncertain fall. While some institutions across the UAE partially re-opened with safety measures in place, the majority of students in the region must go at least partially remote. See more More residential options added at Dubai south residential district Trees, birds, ponds: Mexico City's ancient lake reclaims scrapped airport Abu Dhabi: 9 places where rents have dropped in the capital Meet the Vietnamese billionaire who helps the world beat COVID-19 Photos: Thai airways opens aircraft themed restaurant With conditions changing so quickly, how can universities prepare? Practicality, flexibility, and compassion are key to successful outcomes. Here are five areas to focus on that encompass these principles: Digital capacity, governance Less than 3 per cent of overall education expenditure is spent on technology globally. That’s not nearly enough. The pandemic has made a coherent digital strategy - and backed by a team focused on its execution - more critical than ever. In the UAE, Hamdan Bin Mohammed Smart University is the only institution accredited by the Ministry of Education to offer a distant learning experience that supports digital education and flexible learning experiences. Students have to attend either live online classes, referred to as “virtual synchronous sessions”, or have the option of “asynchronous sessions”, where they are provided with a range of self-paced educational materials. Universities without any existing digital capabilities can take the first step by forming a small committee whose primary responsibility is to build a digital roadmap and execute on it. Once you have agreed on your strategy, set strong governance in place. Create a set of digital readiness criteria that you regularly measure each department against to evaluate your university’s overall progress. Curriculum readiness This crisis is also an opportunity to reinvent structure content and prepare students for the workforce. With more students planning gap years or taking academic breaks due to family or health obligations, it’s crucial to embrace flexibility. Consider more modular, stackable courseware into your curriculum. Communication Students will need and demand frequent communications about reopening strategies, safety protocols, remote learning options, and more. Ensure you have a self-serve communications infrastructure that regularly updates students — relying solely on email bulletins will not be as effective. Students need an interactive intranet resource they can turn to for the latest information. Lead with empathy in all communications, taking into account that, like you, students are also feeling uncertain in nearly all facets of their lives. Community When campuses are fully or partially shut down, students can feel isolated in their learning experience. Building a virtual community is another way to embody compassion and help students collaborate with course material. Professors of the University of Illinois iMBA programme use Zoom to host live sessions to discuss course material and solve problems in a hands-on manner. They engage with students personally, encourage participation, and read facial cues to understand how students react to the discussion. Faculty can foster knowledge sharing among the students themselves via Slack groups or similar communication tools. Build on trust The notion of trust in our context involves all three guiding principles of flexibility, practicality, and compassion. Many faculty and administrators believe that a face-to-face environment is necessary for students to pay attention... and truly learn. After all, that’s the way they learned. Successfully teaching online requires a shift in fundamental thinking. Trust that the learning is happening, even if you’re not there to see it. If you haven’t already, it’s time to flip your classrooms. Assign asynchronous learning opportunities — these can be high-quality online courses from other institutions if you don’t have an extensive digital catalog — and use live class time for virtual discussion. This school year will be challenging for university administrators, faculty, and students as they navigate this dynamic situation. However, the world is already proving that remote learning can be successful with the right tools. No matter where you are in your digital journey, leading with practicality, flexibility, and compassion will help you support your staff and students through this challenging time. - Betty Vandenbosch is Chief Content Officer, Coursera.

GulfNews Business

Pandemic has accelerated drive towards cashless payments in UAE, says FAB official

Banking|: Abu Dhabi: The idea of having a cashless society for payments and banking is no longer just a distant dream, but fast becoming a new reality here in the UAE, with the global pandemic accelerating the country’s drive towards such a new system according to Ramana Kumar head of payments and digital banking at First Abu Dhabi Bank (FAB). “People have started to see the value in [going cashless] and our customer transactions have picked up in terms of Ecommerce and digital payments,” he said. See more More residential options added at Dubai south residential district Trees, birds, ponds: Mexico City's ancient lake reclaims scrapped airport Abu Dhabi: 9 places where rents have dropped in the capital Photos: Thai airways opens aircraft themed restaurant With airline fleets grounded, plane recyclers bet on parts boom “In terms of branch transaction migrations we have seen a phenomenal change in that, and so today our digital channels cater to more than 90-95 per cent of our overall transactions, which is a marked shift in customer behaviour,” he added, also noting that a big portion of that digital activity includes cashless payments. The people who used to spend cash before or used the cash based models have now shifted towards using a digital model or a card based model. The trends are very visible… People have started to see that exchanging cash physically is a challenge during the COVID situation. Ramana Kumar, Head of Payments and Digital Banking at First Abu Dhabi Bank And it’s not just bank customers that are setting the trend towards digitisation, but many merchants and businesses according to Kumar. “There were merchants before – such as the baqalas of the world or some of the small scale merchants who always thought collecting cash is the best for payments. “And so what happened regarding digital payments is COVID really pushed customers to say no these merchants, that they want to only pay with their card, mobile phone or eWallet,” he added. “This has led to a transformation, and today even baqalas in and around households they send the card machine when making their deliveries.” Survival strategy For many shops and businesses it became a matter of survival to shift towards digital payments said Kumar. “During the peak COVID situation we went and fixed the machines in these merchant locations. There were merchants sitting with stock and no customers were visiting their shops, so we called them and we set it up for them remotely to link their payments digitally.” Digital transformation Kumar acknowledged the shifts in customer behaviour towards digitisation would have an obvious affect on physical branches, which he said would also help drive bank costs down. “If I’m controlling everything from my phone [as a customer] why would I need to walk into a branch, why would I need to call a call centre, why would I need to physically go wait for parking and to physically walk in and worry about getting in touch or in contact with other people. “The customer power or control drives all the cost factors for a bank. Digital payment by default drives the cost down for us,” he added. That doesn’t however mean physical bank branches will no longer exist, instead Kumar says branches are becoming more digital savvy in how they will operate, with FAB investing heavily into turning their branches into what he calls “digital branches”. Cashless initiatives This month has seen the launch of two major cashless payment initiatives in the UAE. they include Abu Dhabi Pay, launched by Abu Dhabi Government Services (TAMM) in partnership with FAB, which allow residents and citizens to pay by using a digital wallet application for digital government services. The second cashless programme - klip - was launched by Emirates Digital Wallet along with FAB, Mashreq Bank, National Bank of Fujairah and Mastercard. The initiative allows customers to transfer money to others through a mobile number and allows them to pay for goods using the existing merchant reach offered by partner banks.

GulfNews Business

Stricter regulation is actually a blessing

Analysis|: ‘Stay safe’ has become more than just a mantra these past six months. Governments have used the phrase to explain why restrictions to everyday life are needed. We read it on posters in the street and on shop doors. We even sign off our emails to friends and colleagues with it. Yet there is more to these two words than just jargon. See more Midas touch: Singapore exchange touts gold to the masses Photos: New products, services rolled out by Apple Photos: Dubai cruise industry ready to set sail again Assembling a solar powered future in China Mexico holds symbolic raffle for unwanted presidential jet Staying safe has become an imperative that has percolated through society and changing the way we perceive the world at large. It is also changing the way we think about risk in financial markets. The last time this happened was a decade ago when the Global Financial Crisis ushered in a slew of reforms that sought to atone for an era of laissez-faire capitalism. Before the collapse of Lehman Bros, regulation was often seen as an obstacle to overcome rather than a code to work to. The Gulf had its own financial idiosyncrasies that were also to be swept away by the rising regulatory tide, such as the practice of “name lending”, where reputation alone was often enough to secure vast credit lines for projects that were sometimes little more than ideas. But rather than being a hindrance to the development of regional financial markets, the regulatory changes put into place in the years that followed the crisis had the opposite effect. Improved profile Instead, bourses from the UAE to Saudi Arabia were elevated by index providers, attracting billions of dollars in fresh capital and helping to move the Gulf from the fringes of the investment world to nearer the mainstream. Such progress in such a short period would not have been possible without the enabling scaffold that financial market regulation provided. Some of the improvements were subtle and not mandated per se, but were still palpable and made possible because of the new mood of professionalism that was changing the way companies interacted with investors and the information that they disclosed. Coming from within The coronavirus pandemic has once again triggered a new wave of regulatory introspection across global markets and in the Gulf, where it can be argued the stakes are much higher today than at the time of the Global Financial Crisis. This time the investment community itself is driving the trend as much as regulators. Our recent COVID-19 survey reveals that the majority of UAE investment professionals (78 per cent) believe that regulators should take a proactive role and consult with firms on possible solutions. More than half also believe regulators should design new frameworks to help restart normal market activity as quickly as possible. With so much of the investment community already onside, the industry at large is in a better mindset than a decade ago, when confrontation rather than collaboration often defined the dynamic. The challenge for regulators will be to keep in lockstep with the increasingly technology-driven sectors that they oversee. Go as wide as possible From the exponential growth of digital currencies to the adoption of artificial intelligence across banking and trading, one of the biggest issues may simply be generating sufficient bandwidth to stay across it all. This is especially true of the Gulf states, which are actively targeting the fintech sector. In the past, individual jurisdictions such as Abu Dhabi Global Market have been remarkably effective in establishing robust regulatory frameworks supported by legal enforcement, which was instrumental in changing the wider perception of Gulf financial markets. The future may demand such innovation across the region to prevent regulatory arbitrage and ensure that the momentum is maintained amid so much volatility in sectors from energy to real estate. Europe is already working on a number of financial sector reforms to make it easier for capital markets to support the recovery of businesses. These include efforts to make shorter and easy-to-read prospectuses aimed at enabling companies to raise more funds via equity rather than debt. Gulf economies will also now need to show, as they did a decade ago, that they are capable of reacting quickly to the new and still unfolding consequences of the pandemic on financial markets. If there is one big lesson for governments from this crisis, it is that swift and decisive action has given people a better chance to stay safe. The same holds true for investors. - William Tohme is Senior Regional Head at CFA Institute.