TBY talks to James Anthony Morse, President of Rabdan Academy, about sustainability, innovation, and priorities for the coming years.
What does sustainability mean to you, and how can it be embedded into the whole education system?
Universities often use the framework of the United Nation’s Strategic Development Goals (SDGs), which include many sustainability aspects, as a way to think about what education should address and achieve. Quality education is a way of underpinning the whole, wider set of goals, including the objectives one is trying to achieve through sustainable development. From Rabdan Academy’s perspective, we specialize in the areas of safety, security, defense, emergency management and crisis response, so have a deep interest in the SDGs, because to achieve a sustainable world, you need stability and security so as to have the necessary prosperity for sustainability. Even in the environmental side of things, you need to start from a position of security and safety, as otherwise these considerations dominate the human instincts and decision making. A great deal of Rabdan Academy’s work across its Mission supports the underpinning of a safe, stable and secure society that enables wider sustainability. Across the range of the programs that Rabdan Academy offers, we do a great deal to support many of the SDGs, as a part of our Mission.
Rabdan Academy recently won the government Tech Innovation Award for IT Department of the Year. What does this award mean to Rabdan Academy and how are you developing your R&D?
For us, R&D is critically important to assist us think about the future and what the impact of new technologies will be. New technologies will change the way our graduates operate, so we try to help them with a framework of tools to enable them to use technology and think about the impact of technology in their future roles. The way that technology underpins leadership or analytical skills will change in ways that we cannot entirely predict. Therefore, we have to prepare people with a broad mindset so that they can use new technology and derive public policies that reflect and benefit from the changes and opportunities. More parochially, within the academy itself, in the last year and a half under COVID-19 restrictions, we have been driven to embrace technology for the learning environment, with a pace of change that rapidly accelerated. That journey of development will continue even though we have resumed face-to-face instruction at the academy, as we have maintained 25% of our courses in an online environment to make sure we embrace the technology and maintain the skills. Online learning is a wonderful tool and I am excited as I believe it will take us into a world of virtual reality and greater experiential learning. We will see enormous changes taking place in the education space in the next five to 10 years.
What collaborations do you have to promote sustainability amongst institutions?
There are many exciting new initiatives. In November, the Zayed Military University was announced, with Rabdan Academy as its academic partner. We will offer a Bachelor of Science in Defense and Security as part of the training of young military officers at Zayed Military University. This is an exciting new development for us. Separately, we are in talks with the Mohamed bin Zayed University of Artificial Intelligence about how we can collaborate and think about what AI will mean to us in the sustainability space. We are also working with the Abu Dhabi School of Government, which focuses on sustainable government and governance, so that we can cooperate across the whole ecosystem. There have also been university conferences here about the UN SDGs and what they mean for universities.
What are the main priorities of your next four-year strategic plan?
Our strategic plan focuses across the span of the academy’s activities, in line with our Vision and Mission. We are updating and refining our academic programs to reflect the changing world and we are undertaking much more research to underpin the curriculum and inform public policy. We also have a clearer focus on vocational training as well as further developing the consultancy side with organizations in the UAE to help them in their through career education and training, to develop highly skilled workforces. We have a strong focus on partnerships as part of our strategic plan, reflecting the Vision and Mission of the academy to promote cooperation and interoperability between individuals and entities, to best achieve their overall aims. Sustainability is a great example where no one organization can do it all – everybody must work together.
When we think about the next 12 months, what are the most strategic aspirations of Rabdan Academy?
We are looking at how we can combine expertise across a whole series of areas, so as to take a holistic view of the safety, security, defense and emergency management challenges and opportunities. In a strategic context, for example, we will be examining how international relations, supply chains, systems engineering and technology trends can be linked to make decisions about the capabilities that will be required in the future of security and defense. How one thinks and connects all the aspects that influence the choices that you have to make: this is an important issue. We need to think holistically about the total system, rather than just the piece of equipment. From Rabdan Academy’s perspective, we have people who are interested in international politics, geo-strategy, security and defense, and technology trends, so we are connecting them with the faculty who think about systems and about how systems work, to connect the whole picture together.