May. 6, 2020

Dr. Assem Al-Hajj

UAE, Abu Dhabi

Dr. Assem Al-Hajj

President, Khawarizmi International College (KIC)

KIC is advancing its offerings in IT and health in particular to ensure it remains relevant to the needs of the Emirate.


Dr. Assem Al-Hajj is an experienced international leader with a 27-year career spanning the UK, Africa, and the MENA region. A civil engineering graduate from Beirut Arab University, with masters and PhD degrees in construction management and economics from the UK. He is currently President of KIC and the Group CEO for Khawarizmi Holding Company (KHC). He was previously VP for academic affairs and development at Applied Science University in Bahrain. Prior to that, he established the School of the Built Environment at Heriot-Watt University's Dubai Campus and was the academic head for nine years. Al-Hajj also worked at the Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen and Nigeria. He is a senior fellow of HEA (UK) and a fellow of CIOB and AIQS.

Can you walk us through the evolution of KIC?
KIC was established in 1985 by Naim Alradi initially as a training center. It then developed into a fully fledged higher education college. We were the very first higher education institution to receive accreditation from the Ministry of Education and the Commission for Academic Accreditation (CAA). We have transitioned away from being a training center only to an international college that provides more structured, credit bearing programs and degree pathways. Our degrees are in applied practices in the areas of IT, business administration, mass communication, and health sciences. We are continuously adding to our curriculum and adding programs that reflect the demands of the local and global labor market.

How do the forces of market openness and intensified globalization affect your education programs and how do you approach curriculum design?
As a higher education institution, our priorities are aligned with the 2030 Strategic Vision. Moreover, to ensure relevancy and compliance, we have to innovate and continuously review our existing programs to include disciplines and specializations that clearly align with this vision. We have also included in our IT program concentrations such as AI, cloud engineering, big data, and cybersecurity. As an institution, we are very much aware of the growing significance of AI in society and how the UAE has a global leadership role in the development of this technology and preparing leaders for the fourth industrial revolution. The college is fortunate to have a well-established IT department. Interestingly, we are in the first phases of bringing drone technology courses to KIC. We have also agreed with UK partners to bring engineering programs to KIC. It is our goal to bring a full suite of programs within the built environment domain.

How do you expect demand to change in the domestic labor market in the next 10 years?
Higher learning institutions need to respond to these changes by providing an agile and relevant curriculum. At present, we are exploring different fundamentals in IT, not only AI and drone mapping, but also cloud engineering and cybersecurity. We are also advancing our health sciences offerings, where we are now introducing respiratory care and emergency medical care. These two programs have already submitted their CAA applications for final approval. CAA has visited the campus and listed the requirements. Significantly, these two programs do not exist anywhere else in the region. We are collaborating with the Cleveland Clinic, and we recently signed an MoU with Danat Al Emarat Hospital for Women and Children. Our future plans for health science programs include comprehensive nursing, midwifery, physiotherapy, and sonography programs. There are also plans to develop programs to support dentistry.

How are you using smart technology in the college, and what are the expected outcomes of this adoption?
Across our operations, we apply the standards of the e-learning suite. We also have the Moodle system for our students. We are discussing using VR and AR in our practices and delivery. One of our programs, computer graphic design, can actually help in developing the AR model. In 2020, we plan to launch an international foundation year, which will need a physics and chemistry lab. Using VR and AR, we can build these labs. We can also apply this technology to health sciences. Smart technology increases memory capacity and speeds up how we capture knowledge and comprehension. Consequently, this has vast potential with our construction programs, where we can build up scenarios for HSE on campus through building information modelling, which is the future of construction. The fundamentals are similar to VR, based on being able to see the details of the design. In the region, people still prefer face-to-face teaching rather than online courses. This is why virtual and augmented reality should be viewed as an aid rather than a replacement.