HITTING THE BOOKS

Abu Dhabi 2016 | EDUCATION | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Prof. Dr. Mohamed Yousif Baniyas, Executive Director of Higher Education at the Abu Dhabi Education Council (ADEC), on supporting innovation in higher education, monitoring the education process, and working with international institutes.

Prof. Dr. Mohamed Yousif Baniyas
BIOGRAPHY
Prof. Dr. Mohamed Yousif Baniyas is currently Executive Director of Higher Education at ADEC. He also holds the rank of professor at the College of Medicine, UAE University, and is a consultant clinical toxicologist at the emergency medicine department, Tawam Hospital. Dr. Baniyas has held several senior leadership positions in higher education and served on boards of trustees. Dr. Baniyas obtained his PhD in pharmacology from the University of Wales-Cardiff in 1993. His clinical qualifications include Board Certification by the American Academy of Clinical Toxicology, the American College of Forensic Examiners, the American Academy of Pain Management, and the American Psychotherapy Association.

Innovation was the theme for 2015. What initiatives are being implemented at the higher education level to maintain progress for this aspect of the economy?

Innovation is key for a nation's survival. The two pillars of innovation are education and research. When you combine those two together, you get the heart of innovation. We support innovation and research differently. We had a specific project called the Abu Dhabi Research and Innovation Excellence Award. We decided we would support the universities directly and provide them with seed grants for innovation on the condition that it is in the fields that are relevant to Abu Dhabi's future, like renewable energy, healthcare, education, big data, material sciences, aerospace, telecoms, and space technology in addition to education and social sciences. We invited universities to apply for these awards and received 250 applications, of which 220 met our requirements and were sent for external evaluation. Out of that, we selected 34 awards to be given to the universities. The size of the award was between $200,000 and $400,00 for a startup project. We gave priority to the universities with strong track records and industry partnerships. One particular project developed the delivery of STEM education through 3D printing. The winning universities were the big players, and that is no surprise because it was purely based on objective criteria and external evaluation. Looking ahead, we want to focus our initiatives on sectors relevant to the future of Abu Dhabi.

As new sectors enter prominence in the market, how does ADEC legislate for the relative unknowns in the economy?

Within higher education there are different divisions, including research, authorization of programs, authorization of universities, the labor market, scholarships, and higher education policy and planning, through which we conduct studies for the government. All of this comes together and helps us to monitor and tailor the education process. Also, we have the employer satisfaction survey, through which we can give feedback to the government and universities on what fields need focus. We offer counseling to schools and students so they can know which fields are more attractive in terms of demand. In the past, studying law was quite common before it became oversaturated. In business administration, we see that there is a degree of market saturation, but there still exist some needs in finance and accounting. We see growing demand in various engineering fields as well as specified fields of medicine and health sciences.

How do you work with international partners for knowledge transfer?

We are part of a globalized world; therefore, we have various collaborations with international organizations, universities, and sometimes individuals. These take different forms of collaboration. The Abu Dhabi government has many partnerships with international universities like NYU, Sorbonne, and INSEAD, among others. We occasionally collaborate with international reviewers for the review process, like authorization of academic programs and evaluation research awards for excellence. We use international reviewers because we want to be as objective as possible. Also, we run workshops on topics like how to write a research proposal or how to start a startup company, or how to acquire accreditation. We train UAE nationals and professors from universities in how to do reviews of universities, theirs or others. As time passes, we will depend more on local expertise as the process matures and further develops

What are your ambitions for 2016?

Over 2016 and 2017 there is going to be a lot of emphasis on extension of reading, and in different dimensions. Reading covers everything from writing and reading literature to critical appraisal of scientific articles. The STEM projects will continue, as will the usual focus on access to education. There will be more emphasis on excellence in education, how to raise the level of education, and how to be more competitive in the international market. Maybe the ranking of higher education intuitions will come into the picture. These are some of the ideas for 2016 and 2017.