70% OF GRADUATES EMPLOYED

Dubai 2018 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Reyadh AlMehaideb, Vice President of Zayed University, on international partnerships, adopting new technology, and the value of research and innovation.

What is the value of your relationships with international institutions, and what do you look for in these partnerships?

Some of these partnerships are for accreditation purposes. We are a member of the Middle State Commission for Higher Education and being a member of the association allows us to participate in the decisions of the accreditation criteria. Through the association we are developing best practices in governance and institutional policies. Some other collaborations are there for program development and research objectives. For example, we have been running a program where we invite scholars from world-renowned universities to come and teach at Zayed University. We also bring people to advise on improvements to our institution, particularly when it comes to English instruction and the English skills of students. This reflects our aim of always looking for aspects that improve the environment for all students. Finally, we also have a number of research collaborations with institutions around the world.

Are there any specific areas of research that you are aiming to be more involved in?

As a comprehensive university, we have research strengths in multiple areas; IT security and data analytics, environment and public health, accounting and other business fields, social sciences, and innovations in education and other fields. As we have these expertise, we look for partners who share similar specializations. We have around 250 research projects annually in these fields and around two-third of these are in collaboration with international research partners. Also, there are a number of contract research projects funded by government agencies for specific objectives.

How do you assess students' ability to adapt to all these new technologies and programs?

Our students are the first adopters of technology, which makes the integration of innovative approaches natural. To further this, we are creating an innovation and entrepreneurship center at the university to coordinate developing the business enterprise culture in partnership with business incubators and accelerators, and national organizations developing the SME sector. The university has a FAB-LAB that was just established at the College of Arts and Creative Enterprises, where we combine IT skills development with design courses and fabrication facilities. The Fab-Lab is an interesting concept because it has 3D printing capabilities for small items, and for bigger items the lab contains an eight-axis robotic arm can fabricate these using subtraction technology. By programming this robot, our students can take images and then fabricate these images thereby carry out reverse engineering. This opens a lot of possibilities for students, who are eager and capable of adopting new solutions.

How does Zayed University contribute to the further economic diversification and Emiratization of the UAE?

About 55% of our graduates get jobs in the first year, and about 70% get jobs in the two to three years after graduation. The remainder go to graduate schools or work within their families' businesses or simply prioritize family. Our graduates are well articulated, and have gone on to work across all sectors of the economy and in government. A great example is the current Minister of Community Development, HE Hessa Bint Essa Buhumaid, who is an alumnus of our university.

How do you go about fostering leadership when designing your programs?

The learning outcomes of Zayed University are based on a core comprising the skills to be learned by all and are modeled after the twenty first century skills. They include critical thinking, communications skills, leadership skills including the roles within teams, technological awareness, and relevant IT tools. We use a lot of role-playing, which fosters the ability to interact with a team well and contribute. We also have student councils for each campus, student clubs, and training programs. We believe that students learn though experiences thus the quality of the learning experience is important. Thus, we encourage students to apply their skills in classroom projects and in the wider community, through volunteerism and other activities outside the campus. Additionally, people from the community are often engaged to deliver workshops on campus. By sharing their expertise with the campus, students then get a mixture of experiences.

How do you promote the development of original research and entrepreneurship?

We have been running an undergraduate research program where a select number of students are mentored by faculty members for 2-2.5 years, after which they are expected to produce an original piece of research. Upon successful completion, we reward them by supporting their participation at local and international conferences to present their findings. Students completing this program are well prepared for graduate school, as they have acquired important research skills. We are going to start a new program in entrepreneurship along similar line in which a cohort will be recruited to engage in a co-educational program to develop their enterprise skills. This program will be complement a mandatory course for all students in the freshman year on entrepreneurship skills, whose faculty have received training at Stanford University as part of a Ministry of education initiative for public schools in the UAE. And will also complement upper level courses now offered in which students develop business plans within their majors, such as IT, Design, Communications, etc.

What is on the agenda for 2018?

The university will complete its first round of national program accreditation in 2018. This is a major milestone which will add to its institutional accreditation, and international accreditation by US-based program accreditation bodies. It is noteworthy that Zayed University, as a public university, was not required to undergo national accreditation until recently, thus it obtained its international accreditation before the national accreditation. We look forward by end of 2018 to the start of construction of the new male student campus in Dubai, which will allow the university to offer new programs. This expansion will cater for male students as well as have shared labs for STEM programs and an expanded sports facility. As every year, we will have a seminar speaking about the legacy of Sheikh Zayed, but for 2018 it will take on added significance considering it will be the Year of Zayed. His legacy is about being active in all aspects of life, being considerate, mindful, and tolerant. The University in 2018 will establish an innovation & Entrepreneurship center. Every February we participate in the national innovation month, where activities starting in Abu Dhabi during the first week, go through the other Emirates, and end in Dubai during the final week. During this month, we will have a lot of activities both on our campuses in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, and out in the communities. We are showcasing a lot of innovations that have been developed by Zayed University, including quality assurance, smart services, and a platform for online courses. Through the Innovation & Entrepreneurship center, students will have the opportunity to develop their ideas into viable business ventures.