In what ways has AURAK been resilient to this pandemic, and what is your overall assessment of the ability of the education sector to respond to this year's events?
The pandemic has affected education on all levels and everywhere, from kindergarten to university. In the UAE, the ministry mandated that education be done remotely. After that, it started to allow 30% of higher education students on campus, especially those with laboratory work and work in studios, such as architecture students. They also stated that exams must be in-person. AURAK, as part of the UAE's higher education system, had to adapt to the new model of education. We are not an online institution and had not planned to launch an online program until recently. We have been affected not only in the way teaching is conducted but also in the number of international students unable to come to the country. Virtual education is not a proper substitute for in-person education, because education is not only about information feeding, but also the importance lies in the social interactions between students and professors, where there is an exchange of ideas. AURAK adopted all safety precautionary measures whereby students and staff are not allowed on campus unless they have tested negative for the virus twice. It is an unusual situation, but we have to adapt, and we have set strict sanitation measures.
Why are you using the US 3+2 course model, and how does it set your university apart from others?
We initially began with the study abroad program and then moved on to the 3+2 model. Both serve the objective of going to the US and experiencing and understanding the culture and its way of life. Being a member of SACSCOC, we attend conferences to network, and the idea of 3+2 came up as an opportunity for our students, which could also set AURAK apart from others. If you are part of SACSCOC, any American university will be happy to work with you. We cannot make any changes to our programs without getting approval from them, and this quality assurance process from SACSCOC assures other universities about the quality of our program. We also wanted to save students' time, and while they receive an AURAK degree, they can start doing a master's degree, without having to fulfil the other requirements like GRE, GMAT, or TOEFL. They can also pursue a PhD, and by then they will have adapted to the American culture and system. It is a win-win situation for AURAK, the students and the American partner institution.
What is your perspective on this process of Emiratization? How is your university contributing to it?
Every country wants to help prepare their nationals and open the doors for them to assume the position they would like, but I do not think that means we should close doors to others. We must apply equal opportunity based on qualifications and merits. For Emiratization, we need professionals who are well-prepared, open-minded, possess the necessary skills required in any position they might apply for. As such, you are helping to achieve the goal of Emiratization.
AURAK is renowned for using cutting-edge resources including the launch of a nanosatellite, Meznsat, built by AURAK engineers. How important is it to the university to be at the forefront of innovation and technology?
A quality and public institution usually has infrastructure in terms of labs, technology, innovation, because that is the way it is today. In education today, you have to combine the theoretical and practical methods in all disciplines, especially for engineering, basic sciences, business, etc. You cannot send a student today to the job market without the right tools. We currently have an entrepreneurial center, both in the school of engineering and the school of business, in order to encourage and support start-ups. We want to support people, the community, and the economy. Maybe one of a hundred will succeed and make a revolution in the economy. In engineering, we have the ICONET center established in collaboration with the Telecommunications Authority of the UAE. It financed that lab, and we applied for a research grant from the UAE space agency and got it. We had students working hands on to build that satellite, and the students managed to get that satellite into space. They really enjoyed the project and were really proud when the launch took place. We had 92 million viewers on social media for the launch. We have applied for a grant to develop another satellite. We now have a small space center, and we hope to grow it. We are also participating in the zero-energy builders, a competition with around 30 universities, where we are partnering with University of Dubai that would be exhibited at EXPO 2020. It is interdisciplinary, with the participation of students from the architecture and engineering departments. We are preparing our students for a job market focused on sustainability and renewable energy.
Looking to 2021, what are your goals and expectations for this year?
The main goal is to have every member of the AURAK family safe and sound. We are also building a three-story library and the school of art and sciences, preparing for a possible return of students to campus in the fall. We are reassessing this experience and learning from it and how we can make use of it. It has made us consider that we need one or two online programs, probably on the graduate level, such as an EMBA. We are working on quality assurance and we expect to receive the QAA accreditation, from the European quality assurance agency, because we want the institution to be accredited in Europe after our success with U.S. We expect a committee for re-accreditation for our engineering programs by ABET (the American Board of Engineering & Technology). We are also concluding the accreditation of the business school by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB). We are focusing on assuring safety, quality, and to start few online programs.