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While Saudi Arabia’s publishing industry faces challenges, there are significant opportunities to revitalize the sector for socio-economic development says a new study by Tahseen Consulting

If Saudi Arabia addresses key industry challenges, the publishing, media, and digital content industries could generate $3.6 billion and create 9,800 additional jobs by 2017, says a new study from Tahseen Consulting.

The study, which is being released today, was conducted to support the Saudi Publishers Association’s recent successful bid to gain full membership in the International Publishers Association. Saudi Arabia is the fourth country in the Arab World to achieve full membership in this prestigious international organization which represents publishers’ interests globally. The report comes as Saudi publishers are preparing to attend the 34th Sharjah International Book Fair starting on November 4th.

“Since 1990, Saudi Arabia’s publishing industry has changed dramatically. In the early to mid -Nineties, the industry was dominated by small, fragmented publishers and specialized retailers,” says Wes Schwalje, Chief Operating Officer of Tahseen Consulting and author of the study. “By the mid-Nineties, we began to observe the emergence of integrated companies specialized in publishing and retail. There was a large shift from small bookshops to major super-stores with national coverage and the initial emergence of online retail channels that cater to emerging preferences for e-books and digital content. Today, we are witnessing the further growth of large, integrated companies with publishing and distribution capabilities, increased consumption of digital content due to high levels of mobile device penetration, and the embrace of e-commerce by Saudi publishers and consumers.”

The Saudi Publishing Industry Will Need to Address Several Challenges

Tahseen Consulting’s study shows that the publishing, media, and digital content industries will need to address a number of challenges to unlock growth. While the Saudi publishing industry currently contributes less than 1% of GDP, international evidence suggests that cultural industries can contribute up to 2-3% of GDP. If the publishing media, and digital content industries can reach this international benchmark, the cultural industries in Saudi Arabia could contribute significantly to economic diversification and employment generation.

The study identifies the need for a government-led national publishing strategy that prioritizes needs and challenges, identifies strategies for advancing the industry, assigns responsibilities, defines performance metrics, and establishes an implementation timeline. Several specific recommendations for policymakers are made by the authors to enable industry growth:

  • Stimulating private investment in the publishing, media, and content industries
  • Increasing exports of publishing, media, and digital content regionally
  • Increasing education and training programs to developing creative industry skills
  • Encouraging publishers to embrace digital publishing and online sales
  • Improving industry data collection and analysis
  • Making major book fairs more appealing to families
  • Developing more targeted reading promotion programs
  • Increasing early positive reading habits
  • Developing a strategy to transform libraries
  • Simplifying the licensing and regulatory regime for publishers
  • Improving copyright protection and enforcement

“While a number of institutions, awards, and festivals seek to build literary culture in Saudi Arabia, there are no specific polices for the development of the publishing industry. To succeed in the evolving global publishing market, Saudi publishers will need to be supported to become more open to change, adapt to evolving digital formats, and embrace online distribution strategies,” says Walid Aradi, Chief Executive Officer of Tahseen Consulting and a coauthor of the study.

Increasing Internationalization of the Saudi Publishing Industry

As a full member of the International Publishing Association, the Saudi government and industry bodies now have a much larger responsibility to publishers and the global community to address industry challenges and to unlock opportunities presented by industry internationalization and growth. If industry challenges are addressed proactively by key stakeholders, the publishing, media, and digital content industries hold great potential in contributing to Saudi and regional intellectual life, enhancing social and cultural development, and providing economic opportunity.

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Founded as a news weekly magazine in 1933, U.S. News and World Report is well known for its analysis of educational institutions in its annual college rankings. Tahseen Consulting is honored to have its work on Arab women studying and working STEM fields in the Arab World featured in two recent article in the U.S. News and World Report.

The State of Higher Education in the Middle East article references a Tahseen Consulting study in which we explored the barriers facing women in entering science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields in the GCC in an article in Forbes Middle East. The original article is available at http://tahseen.ae/blog/?p=980.

U.S. News’ article More Arab Women Studying STEM features comments by Tahseen Consulting’s Wes Schwalje on competitions as a mechanism of exposing female students to STEM fields.

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When it comes to news on economic trends and policies in the UAE, government and business leaders turn to the Abu Dhabi Council for Economic Development’s Economic Review. Tahseen Consulting is honored to have its work on building sustainable economies in the Arab World highlighted in the publication’s April issue. We have posted the full article below.

Tahseen Consulting’s Chief operating Officer, Wes Schwalje, spoke with representatives from the Abu Dhabi Council for Economic Development regarding his thoughts on the how the concepts of sustainability and knowledge-based economy are evolving into economic policies in the UAE. In a wide-ranging discussion, Schwalje discusses the UAE’s aspirations, its achievements thus far, and potential barriers to progress.

Abu Dhabi Council for Economic Development: What are the key factors to consider when creating a ‘sustainable economy’ that will support many generations to come?

Schwalje: The concept of sustainability as a policy goal is attractive to countries precisely because the concept lacks specificity and means different things to different stakeholders. As it applies to economic development, many countries have further equated the concept of sustainability with the equally imprecise concept of knowledge-based economy. The ambiguity of such terms have been used globally by governments to gain political consensus on large-scale economic reforms. In the Arab countries such concepts have become integrated into national visions and development strategies, such as the UAE’s Vision 2021, National Agenda, and Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030, to provide a shared overarching vision for economic development. Debates surrounding such policy objectives have highlighted and promoted policy dialogue on key development challenges that the Arab World faces and brought coherence to a variety of socioeconomic development discourses.

Because concepts such as sustainability and knowledge-based economy have become gradually contextualized to the case of the Arab World, the region has converged on several consistent themes that are closely associated with the term “sustainable economy.” While there is some country to country variation in the region, generally, sustainable economic development in the GCC countries concerns a variety of socio-economic factors: economic diversification to reduce dependence on commodities through entry into new and complementary industries; private sector development to improve the performance of small and medium sized businesses and encourage entrepreneurship; integration of nationals into the private sector workforce; strengthening the link between education systems and the labor market to reduce youth unemployment; increasing female labor market participation; strengthening innovation systems; attracting foreign direct investment; integration into the global economy; addressing national development imbalances and income disparities; environmental sustainability, protection of identity and language; and increasingly political participation and democratic reform.

Abu Dhabi Council for Economic Development: How far do you feel Abu Dhabi has come in this respect to date?

Schwalje: After a country has defined what they mean by sustainable economic development, the next challenge a country like the UAE faces in determining progress is devising appropriate indicators to measure progress. In advancing a set of National Key Performance Indicators associated with the National Agenda, the UAE has made an initial attempt at assessing progress towards sustainable economic development. National key performance indicators related to economic progress track measures such as non-oil GDP growth, GNI per capita, FDI inflows, global competiveness, national labor market participation and Emiratization rates, ease of doing business, SME contribution to GDP, entrepreneurship levels, innovation, R&D expenditure, and employment in knowledge-based industries. A key challenge remains whether a disparate range of objective measures can really provide a coherent overall picture of national well-being and progress. It will be essential for the UAE to increasingly complement outcome-based objective indicators of national progress with subjective well-being data that measure well-being across a variety of other dimensions such as education, health, income and wealth, and the environment. This will require the regular collection of nationwide data from large and representative samples to provide a coherent overall picture of well-being.

Abu Dhabi Council for Economic Development: What pitfalls must Abu Dhabi avoid when attempting to build a sustainable economy?

Schwalje: Many of the countries from which normative economic policy guidance has come from surrounding knowledge-based economic development now face unforeseen economic challenges. In many of the countries which the Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030 benchmarked, more education, more innovation, and policy and institutional reform have not necessarily led to higher levels of national well-being. For example, economic policy in Ireland has not ultimately produced high skills, high wage jobs for youth or adequately addressed socioeconomic development challenges. In fact, Ireland’s economic policies have led to record high youth unemployment and numerous social challenges for the country’s youth. Cases like Ireland suggest that a regional discussion on whether the economic prescription of the transition to knowledge-based economies remains the right course.

A key question is whether Arab economic development strategies based on the transition to knowledge economies have sufficiently taken into account the changing economic environment where knowledge is becoming cheaper and commoditized by emerging economies. Decreasing pressure on wages due the globalization of knowledge industries and growth in high skill, low cost talent in emerging countries challenges the assumption that more education, higher levels of skills, and national labor markets can provide prosperity to nations. Because competition for dominance in knowledge-based industries is now global and emerging countries are moving up the value chain to perform increasingly more sophisticated activities, plans to enter knowledge-based industries are susceptible to the globalization of low cost, high skill competition from beyond the region’s borders. What may look like a sector that can generate high skill, high wage jobs today may tomorrow be an industry that can be outsourced and performed by high skill, low cost knowledge workers elsewhere.

Abu Dhabi Council for Economic Development: How can Abu Dhabi encourage more entrepreneurship?

Schwalje: Many countries have geared their entrepreneurship policy interventions around international studies such as the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, Ease of Doing Business Index, and Global Entrepreneurship and Development Index. However, while these frameworks are useful, they may not adequately capture the difficulties faced in the UAE. Much more qualitative research of existing entrepreneurs is required to advance this dialogue further. This dialogue must not be confined to emirate-level challenges but be broadened to involve country level policy interventions. The focus must be on UAE-wide policy interventions that are consistent across all emirates rather than emirate-level interventions that create a different playing field across the country.

Abu Dhabi Council for Economic Development: Which sectors do you feel offer the most potential for economic diversification in Abu Dhabi? And how can Abu Dhabi fast-track these?

Schwalje: The Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030’s focus on horizontal and vertical diversification into capital-intensive, export-oriented sectors sufficiently balances risk with the uncertainty created by globalization of knowledge industries. Recent declines in global commodity prices further support this relatively cautious approach to diversification and industrial development.

Abu Dhabi Council for Economic Development: Which countries might Abu Dhabi try to emulate when pursuing its ambitious economic sustainability program?

Schwalje: Abu Dhabi would be wise to broaden its current benchmarking strategy to define its economic sustainability program to include two types of countries: countries which generate a significant portion of their GDP from oil exports and countries which have economies that are reliant upon workforces imported from abroad. Normative economic policy should not just be drawn from rich, developed countries which have purportedly transitioned to knowledge-based economies but also incorporate developing country peer benchmarks in South America, Asia, and Africa. Non OECD peer benchmark countries may provide successful practices of economic development strategies that have focused on the export of low-cost, high-end knowledge-based services or the more traditional low-cost export-oriented manufacturing strategies while making incremental, evolutionary advances up the value chain. The experiences of countries such as Brunei, Equatorial Guinea, Trinidad and Tobago, Russia, Venezuela, Gabon, Kazakhstan, and Mexico could provide a more well-rounded rounded set of benchmarks of oil exporting countries from which to derive learnings. Looking at practices from labor importing countries such as Hong Kong, Switzerland, and Australia could also expand upon the analysis in the Economic Vision 2030.

Abu Dhabi Council for Economic Development: Is two decades enough time to build a fully diversified economy? If yes, why?.. and if no, why not?

Schwalje: It is difficult to establish what the end goal should be. In the GCC, economic diversification means reducing heavy dependence on the oil sector by developing a non-oil economy, non-oil exports, and non-oil revenue sources. It will also require reducing the role of the public sector by promoting private sector development. Based on rather sparse evidence, it seems likely that GCC economies will have significant difficulties in their diversification efforts. In the Arab World the gross value added of knowledge-based industries is the lowest in the world making up 39% of regional gross domestic product as compared to 74% in OECD countries. The contribution of value added to regional gross domestic product from knowledge-based industries has remained virtually constant over the last decade. From 2000 to 2009, the percentage share of employees in knowledge-based industries in the Arab World has increased by a compound annual growth rate of .8% in OECD countries with knowledge-based industries employing 77% of workers. Based on sparse data from 2000 to 2009 from 14 countries in the Arab World representing 70% of the region’s population, 61% of the population is employed in knowledge-based industries. Employment in knowledge-based industries has increased only negligibly over the last decade. These few crude measures provide evidence that economic diversification efforts have not necessarily produced meaningful sectoral shifts in gross domestic product attributed to knowledge-based industries or led to employment in knowledge-based sectors.

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Beginning in the late Nineties, Qatar launched a comprehensive set of education reforms to more effectively align its education and training system with its macroeconomic policies aimed at advancing towards a knowledge-based economy. However, technical vocational education and training (TVET) has not been a significant focus of educational reforms.

Though the need for more effective TVET systems emerged as early as the 1940s when Qatar started producing and exporting oil, the government has primarily focused on supply side, expansionary educational policies aimed at establishing new TVET institutions. However, many of the TVET governance institutions that prevent underinvestment in skills, provide adequate regulation, and coordinate stakeholders are still in a nascent state.

TVET policies in Qatar have largely proceeded without a clear conceptualization of the scope of TVET and which types of institutions should be included in the TVET policy and which ones should be excluded. TVET faces an identity crisis in which people are unhappy with the name, the image, and reputation. It remains unclear how technological TVET can be, what fields it encompasses, and whether TVET leads to jobs which are considered acceptable to Qataris.

In the presentation below, we highlight some of the issues Qatar will need to address to develop a national TVET strategy which overcomes existing gender issues.

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In his recent paper Open Data: A Paradigm Shift in the Heart of Government Ali M. Al-Khouri, Director General of the Emirates Identity Authority, cited Tahseen Consulting’s work on how social media technologies can be used to increase transparency and openness of Arab governments.

Al-Khouri cites Tahseen Consulting’s white paper An Arab Open Government Maturity Model for Social Media Engagement in explaining the need for governments to reflect joined up policy by reducing data silos. Tahseen Consulting’s social media maturity model challenges previous models of e-government and open government maturity based on the experiences of Western countries by offering region-specific guidance that accounts for the unique governance tradition of Arab public sector entities.

Our Arab government social media maturity model has been cited as a potential model for Korean public sector entities, highlighted by the World Bank as a valuable approach in communicating with Arab youth, and referenced in the World Wide Web Foundation’s Open Data Barometer.

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Schwalje outlines 5 key challenges that GCC countries must overcome to keep women in the labor force

One of the most widely reported challenges that GCC countries and companies now face is the retention of highly qualified female employees. Retention can be particularly problematic as women try to strike a balance between familial responsibilities and succeeding in the workplace. Schwalje asked the panel to reflect on five key challenges: overcoming social perceptions about occupations traditionally dominated by males, implementing female-friendly workplace policies, enabling work-life balance, developing family-friendly facilities, and articulating clear career trajectories for women.

Panel members included Khawla Al Mehairi, Vice President of Marketing and Corporate Communication, Dubai Electricity and Water Authority, Khaled Al Khudair, Founder, Glowork, and Deborah Gills, Chief Executive Officer, Catalyst.

A copy of Tahseen Consulting’s analysis supporting the importance of addressing the five panel focus themes is below along a with video that captures Schwalje’s thoughts on the way forward.


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Walid Aradi discusses why Dubai is well positioned to as a financial hub for international Islamic finance

Recently, Tahseen Consulting’s Chief Executive Officer, Walid Aradi, spoke with Philip Moore from Emerging Markets regarding his views on the emergence of Dubai as a global Islamic finance center. In a wide-ranging discussion, Aradi explained the competitive factors that Dubai has going for it as well as highlights the negative impact skills shortages and gaps may have on the evolution of the industry in the UAE.

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Tahseen Consulting is honored to have its report on personal data privacy practices of financial institutions in the UAE cited by The National, one of the UAE’s largest English-language daily newspapers. In our report issued in July 2014, we found that UAE personal financial data privacy policies can be significantly improved to offer consumers more control over their personal data. Our original article is available here: http://tahseen.ae/blog/?p=974.

View Our Other Work on Data Regulations and Standards in the GCC

Is Open Data Leading to Better Government in the GCC?

Most UAE banks don’t give the right to opt out of sharing your personal information with affiliates, companies related by common ownership or third parties, Mr Schwalje adds. “So if a large bank has affiliated subsidiaries that offer private banking, financial management or insurance, all of your information can be freely shared for cross-selling services.”

Most UAE banks don’t give the right to opt out of sharing your personal information with affiliates, companies related by common ownership or third parties. If a large bank has affiliated subsidiaries that offer private banking, financial management or insurance, all of your information can be freely shared for cross-selling services.

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Tahseen Consulting is honored to have its work on skills gaps in the Arab World cited by the Gulf News. We have posted a snippet from the article below. While we agree that more occupation-specific assessments and certifications are needed, there are likely larger employer-level interventions required before such initiatives can really have an impact. We view increasing the resources regional firms devote to workforce investment and development as systemic problems that must be addressed first.

Workforce Investment

While firms tend to focus on paying higher wages for highly demanded skills, macroeconomic trends and rampant market failures of education and training systems suggest longer term approaches to skills formation through continuous, regular on the job training and knowledge transfer are needed (Hall & Lansbury, 2006). Market failures in human capital formation are rampant as education and training institutions struggle to keep pace with economic growth (Lall, 1999). The workforce investment mandate of employers in the 21st century has expanded to include not only training in response to high-performance workplace organization and maintaining skills relevancy in light of competitiveness, but it now also includes the burden of remediating inadequate pre-employment general skills formation due to formal education and training system market and institutional failures. Despite widespread skills shortages and gaps observed in the Arab World, training rates are generally lower as compared to developed knowledge economies with more effective skills formation systems as well as other developing economies such as Brazil, China, and Russia (World Bank, 2010).

Lall (1999) suggests that basic skills, personal attitudes, and competencies developed through formal education and training must be complemented with specific technology-based experience to develop technical skills. Industrial sophistication and competitiveness are derived not from formal education and training but the “practical experience of mastering, adapting, and improving specific technologies” (Lall, 2000, p. 22). Industrialization and skill accumulation are achieved by expansion of the education system alongside the upgrading of the skill intensity of economic activities. For developing countries, this approach reduces the technology gap with advanced countries while raising the demand for higher levels of human capital and concurrently providing the education and training required for economic development (Mayer, 2000). To avoid insufficient individual incentives to engage in skill upgrading, improved performance and productivity gains from skills acquisition are linked with pay when firms exercise wage flexibility (Ashton & Sung, 2002).

The willingness and ability of firms to provide enterprise-based training is rooted in a number of factors. The educational attainment of the workforce and firm managers can serve to reduce investments in firm-level training. Low levels of education amongst a firm’s workforce can raise doubts surrounding the absorption capacity of training while managers with lower levels of education may not perceive a value in providing training. Managerial calculations of the returns to training may be further complicated by informational gaps surrounding technology, future skill requirements, and benefits of training (Lall, 1999). Firms which operate in less competitive, low skill production economies in which short-term strategic planning, little technological upgrading, low rates of capital spending, and an unfavorable economic policy environment for growth are rampant may prevent structured firm-based training.

Lack of internal capacity to provide training can obligate firms to rely upon external private training provision. In cases where the external training sector is underdeveloped and firm sizes are generally small, the inability to achieve scale to minimize training costs and budgetary constraints can serve to reduce the prevalence of firm-based training (Lall, 2000; Ziderman, 2003). This situation is particularly applicable in the Arab World where firm sizes are comparatively small relative to other regions (Schwalje, 2013c). Employee poaching, the tendency of firms to recruit employees with transferrable skills from other firms, may serve to limit firm-based training since training firms incur the cost of employee training only to lose the employee and resulting benefits of the training to another firm. In an environment with high levels of poaching, training firms will reduce training or only offer highly, specific training that is not transferrable to other firms (Acemoglu & Pischke, 1998).

Due to the variety of causes of inadequate enterprise training, policy solutions must be tailored to the root cause. In cases of market failure which deter workforce investment, joint approaches that share the responsibility of skills development between government and business have been effective. Training subsidies allow companies to develop training capacity, but more sustainable, longer-term approaches such as government provided training advisory and technical assistance funded through national training funds and levy-grant schemes are preferred. A notable initiative of this type is the Waqf Fund in Bahrain which trains employees for the Islamic banking sector based on contributions from private financial institutions which are invested in money market instruments and the returns invested in training initiatives. The Human Resources development Fund in Saudi Arabia also works in a similar way. Where the private training sector is weak, the government may fulfill a transitional role to build the capacity of private training providers complemented with public sector provided training. Payroll levy-grant schemes which do not require government financing are effective in limiting poaching. Under such schemes, firms which provide training receive subsidies to fund training initiatives while firms that do not train do not have access to funds since they are more likely to poach employees (Ziderman, 2003).

Tahseen Consulting is honored to have its work on skills gaps in the Arab World cited by the Gulf News.

Workforce Development

Jacobs (2002) identifies workforce development as the cooperation of education and training institutions, the business community, and governments to provide individuals with rewarding employment as well as firms obtaining skills in the quantity and quality they require. High youth unemployment rates and market failures of education and training systems to create general skills suggest an expanded role for the Arab business community towards ensuring alignment between the skills imparted in formal education and training systems and those demanded in the workplace. Apprenticeships or work experience, often compensated at below the market wage rate, in which work experience is integrated into the formal educational structure and classroom learning can ease the school-to-work transition and ensure employability of young graduates (Quintini et al., 2007).

Including employers in curricula design, identifying the skill sets needed by graduates, standards setting, and accreditation can ensure education and training systems evolve alongside changing labor market needs. Through membership in industrial trade associations, businesses can also serve a governance role in the skills formation system (Ackroyd, Batt, Thompson, & Tolbert, 2005). However, in developing countries the oversight role typically played by scholarly, scientific, and professional organizations may be limited due to lack of capacity. Workforce development ensures that the relevance and employability mandate of education and training systems is fulfilled by minimizing informational asymmetries which reduce individual investment in skills acquisition. Early employer involvement in articulating future skills needs also serves to reduce the need for workforce training investment to backfill general skill deficiencies resulting from poor quality education and training systems.

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At Tahseen Consulting our core values reflect our organizational culture and guide our decision-making and interactions. One of our fundamental values is sharing our research with funders, businesses, educational institutions, community organizations, governments, and others through agenda-setting applied research so that we all learn and work together. Our research and insights have been featured in 40+ prominent publications and cited by several international organizations such as the New York Times, Forbes, World Bank. UN, OECD, European Investment Bank, and the Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi Foundation.

Occasionally we publish articles that are so compelling that others “borrow” word-for-word from our work without proper citation or attribution. This was the case with a recent article that appeared in a prominent academic journal that “borrowed” largely upon the findings of Tahseen Consulting’s research on knowledge economy transitions in the Arab World but failed to acknowledge our work. The article, which can be viewed here: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/rsp3.12034/abstract, has since been retracted.

While imitation may be the highest form of praise, even if some people neglect proper attribution, it is clear we have reached an important milestone of success. You can read our article The Knowledge-based Economy and the Arab Dream: What Happened? below as well as explore our cutting-edge work on Arab knowledge economies by following the links below. However, if you find our work useful, please ensure you give us credit where credit is due.

Rethinking Arab Knowledge-based Economies

Knowledge Economy in the Arab World: The Arabization of the Concept of Knowledge Economy

Arab Knowledge Economies Require More Effective Skills Formation Systems to Generate High Skill, High Wage Employment

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