Higher Education Admission Center

A. Problem Analysis

 1. What was the problem before the implementation of the initiative?
The higher education system in Oman consists of public and private institutions. The public ones are: Sultan Qaboos University (SQU), (6) Colleges of Applied Science, (7) Colleges of Technology, and (16) Health Institutions. The private Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) are: (5) universities and (19) university colleges. In addition the government awards scholarships for students to study abroad. Each HEI in Oman had an admission center with its employees and admissions requirements. Every year, after the final results of the secondary school examination were announced, thousands of students and their parents had to travel long distances to apply for a seat in a certain program of study in a government higher education institute by filling an application form and submitting their hard copy of the original General Secondary School Examination Transcript (GSET).The idea behind submitting the original GSET was to limit each eligible student to one offer ,since if a student was given an offer for a program in an institute and he accepted the offer then the Institute would retain the GSET. What was more frustrating for the students and their parents was that students could not apply for more than one institution at one time and had to wait several days for their acceptance result from the institution. Those students who were not accepted by one institution had to withdraw their documents including the original GSCT and had to physically apply to another institution and submit the required documents including the original GSCT and wait! It was not an easy job at all. Most Omani students, if not all, applied in this manner to government higher education program seats because studying at government institutes were free and all students’ requirements and expenses were paid by the government. The above describes difficulties students and their parents met during the procedure of applying for seats at a higher education institute. The Higher education Institutes also suffered from the same process. Employees at the admission centers in these institutions had to receive thousands of applications, process them and declare the results and distribute accepted students over programs according to each program pre- assigned number of seats, all of this should be done in a limited period of time. This process put employees in each and every institution under severe stress! The employees at The Ministry of Education (MOE) also suffered from the admission process since every student who passed The Secondary School Examination was required to get a hard copy of his GSET to be able to apply to the government higher education institutes. So there were long queues of students at The MOE waiting to receive their hard copy of their GSCT after the results of The Secondary School Examination results were released. This put MOE employees under severe stress!

B. Strategic Approach

 2. What was the solution?
The idea of centralized admission was proposed by Ministry of higher education (MOHE). This was developed after careful discussions and evaluation of the admission process with various stakeholders including higher education institutions (HEIs) (universities and colleges governmental and private), parents and students, as well as the Higher Education Council. The Higher Education council plays a pivotal role in the decision-making on higher education in the country. Based on MOHE reports to the Council to facilitate and simplify the application for admission procedures in HEIs, the idea of the Higher Education admission draft system was formed. A working group was established to prepare a draft vision of a unified system of acceptance and the student can apply for HEIs via the internet. The working group developed the outlines of a draft Higher Education Admission Center (HEAC) roles and procedures. They developed the specifications for the preparation of an electronic system to deal based on the requirements and needs of Omani society as well as operational procedures for this project in Sultanate of Oman. In 2005, this report from the working group was endorsed by the Council for Higher Education and MOHE was tasked to implement the Higher Education Admission Center System which paved the way to streamline and modernize the admission process. Royal Decree No. 104/2005 was issued, which established the aim of the HEAC system. MOHE also issued a ministerial decision (No. 76/2006) for formation of the Foundation Committee for the HEAC: their member’s representatives from all HEIs, and the most important goals of this Committee: • To examine and analyze all reports and studies on the establishment of the Center for the Coordination of acceptance of graduates of the certificate public schools institutions of higher education in Oman. • Discuss and develop rules and regulations necessary for the establishment of the center referred to and how to achieve its objectives. • Design Center's organizational structure and operational budget requirements of the administrative staff. • Take the necessary steps and procedures required for the establishment of the center. • Evaluation of all of the results of the establishment of the center and the extent achieved to facilitate the proceedings. Once the system was implemented, the Committee reviewed the admission policies of HEIs and the proposals submitted by institutions of higher education that were related to HEAC. They also facilitated the implementation of the HEAC system and processes to the higher educational institutions. Additionally, the Foundation Committee formulated the HEAC goals and objectives as follows: • Transparency and fairness in the distribution of seats on school students • Facilitate the submission of applications for admission to institutions of higher education. • Ensure that all students’ applications are in process. • Provide statistics on students who are admitted to institutions within and outside the Sultanate. • Development of mechanisms to accept students in institutions of higher education. Most importantly, the HEAC system harmonize policies and programmes by promoting collaboration and maximizing synergies between different HEIs and government sectors in order to promote collaborative outcomes that increase public value. The HEAC initiative also aligns in a coherent way government’s holistic vision of development with inter-agency strategies, objectives, roles and responsibilities. It also promotes horizontal and vertical cooperation, among different levels of government agencies from MOE, MOHE and all HEIs across the sultanate to provide integrated services to students, parents and HEIs. It also provides an institutional framework and mechanisms that ensure a proper balance between cross-sectoral collaboration and sectoral accountability. Today, statistics from the HAEC are vital for national economic plans for capacity building and economic diversification programmes.

 3. How did the initiative solve the problem and improve people’s lives?
The HEAC is unique and probably one of the first in the world in which students can apply to read courses at tertiary level for any higher education institution entirely online. It was designed to help thousands of Omani students inside and outside Oman to apply for scholarships and grants in government universities and colleges. The system unified admission procedures in all colleges and universities into one application so the students need only to submit one online application. Through the HEAC system, students can view all the information and requirements for each HEI and their programmes without having to visit the campuses. The system interacts with students by validating the programmes that they can apply for based on their examination results. Students are notified of their application status via Short Message Services (SMS). Leveraging on pervasive mobile penetration rate in Oman (about 190%), the HEAC system is also one of the first of its kind in the world where students could submit their application using their mobile devices through a user-friend mobile application on various platforms. This application also includes the service of finding the geographical locations of the higher education institutions inside the Sultanate through GPS system.

C. Execution and Implementation

 4. In which ways is the initiative creative and innovative?
2003 – Based on numerous feedback from students and parents, the Ministry of Higher Education conducted a study of improve the system and automate the processes. A team of five specialists from public and private Institutions was formed to discuss and submit a proposal of an electronic application for admission system. 2003 – The team visited some countries which had relevant admission systems, including Iran, Jordan, the United Kingdom and Ireland. The group was able to develop an outline of the electronic application admission system as proposal. It was discussed and approved by the concern staff at the Ministry of Higher Education. 2005 – Based on the report of the team, a proposal was submitted to the Higher Education Council. The member voted for the new admission system and assigned the task to develop the new admission system to the Ministry of Higher Education (MOHE). Subsequently, a Royal Decree No. 104/2005, was issued to establish the Higher Education Admission Center (HEAC). This was followed by a ministerial mandate (No. 76/2006) issued by the MOHE which formed the Foundation Committee for the HEAC represented all HEIs. 2005 – Mobilisation of project team and resources. The human factor plays a pivotal role in the success or failure of any project. So MOHE tried to select the best staff to work in this project. 2005-2006 Development of the Electronic System • Prepare HEAC documents- preparation of user specifications and development of business process for the admission to higher education institutions • Choosing a company to design the admission system - An open tender was published for designing the electronic admission system. A company anyway chosen based on the company’s experience, outsource, support and the clarity of the implementation plan of the system. • Testing the system (during 2005-2006) - an ongoing process of testing the system was adopted. HEAC Staff and some experts from the HEIs involved in test all aspects of the system to give immediate feedback. Monthly meeting of staff of HEAC experts with the Foundation Committee to assess progress. • Launch of awareness conference for the students and community • Establishing an independent appeal board to enhance the confidence of students and the community 2006 – Official launch of the HEAC 2007 - Additional features in the system • HEAC Network and HEAC website was implemented on Oct.2005 • HEAC distributed student’s handbook to all schools with full details of available courses (programmes) and how to apply to the HEAC and at the same time it started a huge awareness campaign. • Information security management system was implemented at the HEAC to secure the system. • SMS messaging was used to provide status update to applicants • A service data exchange portal was established between HEAC and the HEIs, Ministry of Social Development, and all secondary schools which have General Certificate students (so that schools can follow students’ registration and allocation). • A disaster recovery system (DRS) site was implemented so that student can register through this site and data can be recovered in case the main system encounters any trouble. 2012 - Mobile Application As HEAC is keen to apply the up-to-date electronic means in order to facilitate the process of providing the best services for all applicants of the HEAC electronic system, HEAC has applied a new electronic service as an addition to other services provided for students. Through which, students can complete the required registration and admission procedures through smart phone applications. This application also includes the service of finding the geographical locations of the higher education institutions inside the Sultanate through GPS system.

 5. Who implemented the initiative and what is the size of the population affected by this initiative?
The idea of an electronic centralized admission was proposed by The Ministry of Higher Education (MoHE) in a report sent to The Higher Education Council , a highly authoritive body, which plays a pivotal role in the decision-making on education. The report suggested simplifying the procedures of applying for admission to higher education institutions (HEIs) by having a centralized e-system which avails the application services at times and in ways that are more convenient to the applicants with a minimal amount of paperwork. Students register through the HEAC system and submit their applications electronically, from anywhere in Oman or abroad through different mechanisms, including SMS text messages, for convenient communication. The main stakeholders involved are employees of the Ministry of Higher Education, Higher Educational Institutions as well as students and parents in Oman. The following groups of students greatly benefitted from the HEAC system; • Students residing in Oman and who are sitting for the current year Omani General Certificate Diploma Examination, i.e. taken in that academic year. • Students residing in Oman who are sitting for the International Baccalaureate Diploma, or equivalent, that academic year. • Omani students from outside Oman who are sitting for an examination which is equivalent to the Omani General Certificate Diploma Examination, that academic year. • Students who have taken in previous years (before that academic year) either the Omani General Certificate Diploma Examination or an equivalent, and which has been taken inside or outside Oman. In such a case students are admitted to private higher education and they pay the studying expenses. The public institutions consider ONLY Omani students who are taking examinations in the current year, i.e. in that academic year.
 6. How was the strategy implemented and what resources were mobilized?
Manpower To support the HEAC system, an initial team of 10 people were selected and trained. The team is also supported by private vendors with 2 personnel. Today, the HEAC system has a total of 28 personnel. Technical resources • Hardware and Software - To ensure providing high quality and smooth services, HEAC has implemented a powerful hardware device which can handle and process the large number of requests during the peak time of registration. On the other hand, the development of the system was done in house with Java which is considered the top programing language in terms of security and stability. • Security - To fulfill the critical requirement of having a highly secure infrastructure to ensure the confidentiality, integrity and availability of the HEAC online information, the MoHE implemented a design that provides total protection at multiple levels. The multi-layered security architecture is very important to protect the online applications/websites from different layers of Internet threats. Each layer of these threats needs a specialized layer of protection to maximize security which includes Firewall and IPS, Web Application Firewall, Server Level Endpoint Security, Email Security, Web Security and Disaster recovery. This ensures that all data are back-up regularly, Hot backup was used since it would be a virtual image of our current data center and can be brought up immediately to full production in case of the main system stopped for any reason. A Disaster Recovery Site is also been considered currently. Financial Costs Total financial investment to the project is about OMR200,000 or US$520,000 which is fully funded by the Ministry of Higher Education.

 7. Who were the stakeholders involved in the design of the initiative and in its implementation?
a. Strong mandate from the government - The HEAC was established by a Royal Decree and it has its own legislation documents which elaborates in a clear and transparent manner duties and obligation of all parties involved in the admission process. This promotes accountability and ensures institutional and regulatory sustainability. b. Streamlining and process re-engineering - The HEAC was designed to help thousands of Omani students inside and outside Oman to apply for scholarships and grants in government universities and colleges. The system has unified all admission procedures in all colleges and universities into one application so the students can fill only one online application. Through the HEAC online application, students can view all needed information and requirements for each HEI and their programs without the need to travel to HEIs one after the other to submit their application. The HEAC online application saved the time since there is no waiting for application results from each individual HEI. c. Change process - Another change is that applicants apply before they sit for their final General Certificate Examinations. The idea is that they will be better able to make suitable choices at a time when there is less pressure and when more people will be available to advise and assist them. Although students will be allowed to change after getting their final results, the advice to applicants is that they should not postpone these critical decisions until such a stressful time. Bear in mind that, even when student know their results, they will not be aware whether they would be entitled to a place in different programs. It is better to consider such important matters in a calm way in advance and according to their preference. d. Weighted subject average criteria - Also, in certain programmes there was considerable dropouts (like medicine). One of the main reasons for this was that students general average for all the subjects he/she studied at the secondary high school level was the only key factor involved in allocating seats for students. This criterion was flawed. The center introduced the weighted-subject average; instead, in which certain subjects are essential to a programme will be given more weightage than other subjects. e. HEIs receive the best students, without repetition of procedures – Through automation, applicants need only to fill one application form, process it, run an allocation process in a very transparent and just way, and provide the required information to the HEIs electronically. No paperwork involved!

 8. What were the most successful outputs and why was the initiative effective?
a. Electronic application for HEI seats (no paperwork) - The development of electronic system enabling all students, wherever they were ,whether in Oman or abroad, to submit their applications for higher education institutes (HEIs), through a computer linked to the internet or through text messages from their mobile telephones without the need to physically go to each individual HEI to submit their paper application ,as well as, to inform students of their offers of seats electronically and students has to go to the institute in which he/she was offered a seat for enrollment. Through the electronic system, transparency in the process is ensured and key stakeholders are able to retrieved reports and accurate information on regular basis to access its integrity and sustainability. b. Only one electronic application request for all HEIs - Formerly, students had to apply to only one higher education institute at a time. As a result students had to submit several applications at different times and it was obvious that this approach was a waste of effort, money, and valuable time for all the stakeholders. Even it was worse for students living outside Oman or even outside the capital (Muscat) area since in such cases some students and their parents had to rent apartments in Muscat during the periods of applying for admission to HEIs. The strategy of HEAC was to develop an electronic system programmed in such a way that students can apply for up to 40 different programs of study offered by HEIs using the internet or SMS text messages using their mobile telephones which almost every student or parent had one and hence no need to travel to submit more than one application! c. Annually HEAC holds workshops for all concerned institutions; prepare questioners, gets feedbacks from students, parents, Higher Education Institutes and Appeal board. HEAC studies and analyze all these feedbacks and acts accordingly. Additionally, MOHE published, Higher Education Admission Statistics for the Academic year: includes all statistical data regarding the Higher Education Admissions for that academic year. These statistics helps: • Researchers in the educational, labor market fields. • Higher education admission strategy. • Higher education institutions for future planning in program requirements. • To inform Higher Education Council by performance indicators in their decisions regarding education in Oman.

 9. What were the main obstacles encountered and how were they overcome?
a. Fear of the technology and skeptical attitudes about new processes. This fear was eradicated through awareness programme to students and their parents as well as demonstrating the HEAC user friendly system for students to submit their applications with ease; and made sure that applicants are treated equally and fairly in a highly transparent process. Training and awareness programmes were also conducted for employees of MOHE and HEIs to ease their fear of new IT-based system. b. Different marking criteria. A major obstacle encountered was how to deal with different students secondary school examinations results and certificates. For example, some Omani students sat for The International Baccalaureate (IB) with points as its scoring system, while others sat for The Advanced Placement Exam with different points scoring system, other students sat for GCE exams (A & AS levels) with its grading systems in addition to students enrolled in Oman secondary schools and Omani students studying in different Gulf Countries each with its own independent grading system. So, the new system had to cope with all of these different exams and different marking and grading systems. This was pains taking but with the wise judgment of academics and experts of the HEAC, an internal mapping table (transformation) was designed and then implemented and thus the admission based on this mapping was carried out successfully! In a fair and transparent process. c. Not every student has a home computer. Since not every student has a home computer, computer labs at HEIs, and schools in different regions and locations are made available for students during the application periods with the support of the MOE and HEIs. In addition, HEAC also implemented SMS text messages in which student could send a text message to 90190, and accesses 22 different services.

D. Impact and Sustainability

 10. What were the key benefits resulting from this initiative?
The Higher Education Admission Center (HEAC) electronic system was selected by the World Summit Grand Jury among nominees from 160 countries as one of the World’s best e-content Applications in the Category e-INCLUSION and was awarded The World Summit Award as the best in e-content & Creativity for 2007. One of the main reasons for its success was that from the very start, HEAC approach to implement the admission process was to think carefully of what was needed, to learn from the experiences of others in this field, to lay down accurate and detailed plans to implement it taking into considerations the requirements and needs of all the stakeholders. The impact of the HEAC is listed as follows; a. Social success: Equity for all students in a transparent application process. Students register through the HEAC system and submit their applications from anywhere in-country or abroad through different mechanisms, including SMS text messages, for convenient communication. Students have the opportunity to apply before and after they receive their exam results which give them more time to decide on what is the best suitable program for them. b. Administrative success: The HEAC system eliminates queues for submitting applications at registration offices in different HEIs. Through automation, it reduces administrative practices and paper work for HEI registration staff. The system also provides accurate and immediate information which are used for strategic planning by the Supreme Planning Committee and other government entities. With the data, information on student enrolment among the HEIs can be collated and synthesized for accurate reporting and statistical analysis. This was unable prior to 2006. c. Psychological success: The HEAC is able to provide information on HEI programs in one document, to raise students’ confidence in their choices. It provides students with a friendly environment in which to select their programmes in HEIs by using the Internet and SMS systems by listing their programme eligibility. It gives students the opportunity to choose their HEI programmes both before and after they receive their exam results, thereby providing them adequate time to consult teachers, friends and parents. d. Economic success: The HEAC system reduces transportation and traveling costs for students in repeatedly traveling to apply and register at different HEIs. It also reduces the number of committees and staff required during the application and registration period at all HEIs. It saves time for students and parents during the application and registration periods at HEIs as it eliminated the need to travel to various HEIs personally.

 11. Did the initiative improve integrity and/or accountability in public service? (If applicable)
There is an annual budget dedicated to the Higher Education Admission Center (HEAC). The salaries of all the HEAC employees and the HEAC expenditure come from the Ministry of Higher Education and, thus, the HEAC is sustained financially and economically. Students, students’ parents, superior state official, and all Higher Education Institutes in The Sultanate of Oman accepted the e-system as a system that ensures that all applicants are treated equally and fairly in a transparent process. If an applicant has any doubt about the allocation process or that his application has not been treated in a just and transparent manner, the applicant, in this case, can submit complain to The Appeal Board, an independent board, which will investigate the complain and takes appropriate actions. This makes the HEAC socially and culturally sustained. The HEAC was established by a Royal Decree and it has its own legislation documents which elaborates in a clear and transparent manner duties and obligation of all parties involved in the admission process. This promotes accountability and ensures institutional and regulatory sustainability. The success of the admission system invited many interested parties from inside and outside Oman to visit the HEAC to see if they can apply some of the techniques employed in the admission system. The SMS technique used in the HEAC e-system was the first to be disseminated through many public services in the public sector in Oman. The HEAC received visitors from Saudi Arabia, Tanzania, and South Africa who showed interest in the e-system. Moreover, the success of HEAC system encouraged The University and Colleges Admission system (UCAS) in The UK to invite the HEAC to be involved in establishing an admission association network and a meeting was held in The UK for this purpose and there it was shown that the system could be disseminated at an international level.

 12. Were special measures put in place to ensure that the initiative benefits women and girls and improves the situation of the poorest and most vulnerable? (If applicable)
a. Streamlining and standardising admission procedures of all HEIs in Oman – This was a great challenge as there were about 50 HEIs in Oman and getting all of them to agree on streamlining and standardising their registration and admission procedures took a long time. With strong support from the highest echelon in the sultanate, consolidating such processes would have been an impossible task. b. Phasal approach to progressive change- A working group was formed by members from the various HEI to study the admission problems and outline the solutions. From the studies made by the working group, the HEAC solution was endorsed and implemented. Since all HEIs were represented in the working group, the changes to their respective admission and registration processes were much accepted. Hence eliminated any resistance once the HEAC system was deployed and implemented. The phasal approach also gave the HEIs more time to refine their internal processes to facilitate admission processes. c. Active Public Awareness and Communication programme – The HEAC team conducted workshops and seminars across the sultanate to educate parents and students on the new HEAC system. Support for those who did not have access to PC or internet was also set up so that everyone has access to the HEAC system even in the interior regions.

Contact Information

Institution Name:   Higher Education Admission Center
Institution Type:   Government Agency  
Contact Person:   Mahmood Al Nabhani
Title:   Mr.  
Telephone/ Fax:   00968 99235254
Institution's / Project's Website:  
E-mail:   mahmood@heac.gov.om  
Postal Code:  
City:   Muscat

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