UAE and Saudi Arabia emerging as regional ‘tech powerhouses’

36th Gitex Technology Week in Dubai World Trade Center: New Technology exhibition in Gulf and MENA Region at DWTC, Dubai. (Shutterstock)
Updated 19 March 2019

UAE and Saudi Arabia emerging as regional ‘tech powerhouses’

  • UAE and Saudi Arabia still have work to be done in order to catch up with countries with cutting-edge skill sets in technology, business and data science
  • Ahead of private sector expansion, business will be a key area for improvement in the UAE and Saudi Arabia

DUBAI: The UAE and Saudi Arabia show the most promise in terms of skills in technology, according to the Coursera’s Global Skills Index, an in-depth report on skill trends and performance across 60 countries in the Middle East and around the world.

“The UAE shows the most promise in Technology (#40) compared to Business (#52) and Data Science (#38). This may be a reflection of the UAE government betting big on AI and fostering a testing ground for robotics,” the report stated.

“Saudi Arabia ranks higher in Technology (#50) compared to Business (#58) and Data Science (#58). Its strong performance in Human-Computer Interaction (92%) is likely a reflection of the government’s investment in digitization,” it added.

“Although there’s been a significant increase in education investment in recent decades, MEA students still aren’t graduating with the right skills, as the 31% youth unemployment rate indicates.”

While they are on the right track, and are regional powerhouses, results show that the UAE and Saudi Arabia still have work to be done in order to catch up with countries with cutting-edge skill sets in technology, business and data science such as Spain, Austria and Switzerland.

Ahead of private sector expansion, business will be a key area for improvement in the UAE and Saudi Arabia. The UAE’s lowest performing domain is business and it ranks #52 globally and #4 in the region. Saudi Arabia also ranks lower in business at #58 globally and second to last in the region. It lags the most in accounting and marketing (2%). Upskilling in business will be key areas to the region’s goals for private sector expansion.

“As the countries shift their industrial base away from natural resources, they must focus on building a knowledge-based economy that’s driven by a highly skilled workforce. The development of technology and data science skills, in particular, will continue to emerge with the adoption of new-age technologies such as Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence and blockchain, underpinned by the UAE Vision 2021 and Saudi Arabia Vision 2030, respectively,” the findings stated.

Finland, Switzerland and Austria round up the top three worldwide respectively in terms of business skill sets, which include accounting, marketing, finance, sales, management and communication. Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh and Egypt, however, sit as the bottom three respectively.

Argentina, Czech Republic and Austria sit as the top three worldwide respectively in terms of technology, while Kenya, Pakistan and Nigeria round up the bottom three. Technology skill sets studied include computer networking, operating systems, human computer interaction, databases, security engineering and software engineering.

In terms of data science worldwide, Israel, Switzerland and Belgium are rated as the top three worldwide respectively, with Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Nigeria sitting at the bottom three. Data science skills include math, statistics, machine learning, data management, statistical programming, and data visualization.

Coursera’s full Global Skills Index can be found below:


Cirque du Soleil walks a tightrope through pandemic

Updated 39 min 42 sec ago

Cirque du Soleil walks a tightrope through pandemic

  • Suitors wage backstage battle to rescue debt-stricken Canadian circus icon
  • Among the potential bidders is former fire eater Guy Laliberte, who fouded the acrobatic troupe in 1984

MONTREAL: Its shows canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, an already heavily indebted Cirque du Soleil’s fight for survival has invited an intense backstage battle to try to save the Canadian cultural icon.

High on a list of potential suitors is former fire eater Guy Laliberte, who founded the acrobatic troupe in 1984 but later sold it.

“Its revival will have to be done at the right price. And not at all costs,” said the 60-year-old, determined not to see his creation sold to private interests.

The billionaire clown said after “careful consideration,” he decided “with a great team” to pursue a bid, but offered no details.

Under his leadership, the Cirque had set up big tops in more than 300 cities around the world, delighting audiences with contemporary circus acts set to music but without the usual trappings of lions, elephants and bears.

Then the pandemic hit, forcing the company in March to cancel 44 shows worldwide, from Las Vegas to Tel Aviv, Moscow to Melbourne, and lay off 4,679 acrobats and technicians, or 95 percent of its workforce.

Hurtling toward bankruptcy, the global entertainment giant and pride of Canada commissioned a bank in early May to examine its options, including a possible sale.

Meanwhile, shareholders ponied up $50 million in bridge financing for its “short-term liquidity needs.”

Laliberte, the first clown to rocket to the International Space Station in 2009, ceded control of the Cirque for $1 billion in 2015.

It has since fallen into the hands of American investment firm TPG Capital (55 percent stake) and China’s Fosun (25 percent), which also owns Club Med and Thomas Cook travel. The Caisse de depot et placement du Quebec (CDPQ) retains the last 20 percent.

The institutional investor, which manages public pension plans and insurance programs in Quebec, bought Laliberte’s last remaining 10 percent stake in the business in February, just before the pandemic.

Since 2015, the Cirque has embarked on costly acquisitions and renovations of permanent performance halls, while its creative spirit waned, according to critics in the Quebec press.

Meanwhile, it piled on more than $1 billion in debt.

Fearing that the Cirque would be “sold to foreign interests,” the Quebec government recently offered it a conditional loan of $200 million to help relaunch its shows as restrictions on large gatherings start to be eased worldwide.

But the agreement in principle is conditional on the Cirque headquarters remaining in Montreal and the province being allowed to buy US and Chinese stakes in the company at an unspecified time in the future, “at market value” and with “probably a local partner,” said Quebec Minister of the Economy Pierre Fitzgibbon.

“The state does not want to operate the circus, but the circus is too important to Quebec (to leave it to foreigners),” he said.

In addition to Laliberte, other prospective buyers include Quebecor, the telecoms and media giant of tycoon Pierre Karl Peladeau, whose opening lowball bid was outright rejected.

“It is essentially the value and reputation of the brand” that has piqued interest in the company, says Michel Magnan, corporate governance chair at Concordia University in Montreal.

But “as long as there are restrictions on gatherings of people, the future is not very rosy” for the Cirque, he said.

Several challenges await, according to Magnan.

“There were a lot of people working in all of these shows. Where are they now? What are they doing? How are they doing? In what shape are they, what state of mind?” he said.

“The more time passes, the more this expertise risks evaporating.”

Small consolation: The Cirque resumed its performances on Wednesday in Hangzhou, China, five months after a coronavirus outbreak in the city.