TBY talks to Joseph G. Jabbra, President of Lebanese American University (LAU), on LAU Without Borders, its innovation center, and the impact of the fourth industrial revolution on education.

Joseph G. Jabbra
Joseph G. Jabbra assumed the presidency of LAU on August 1, 2004. Under his leadership, the university is on the path of institutional and academic renaissance, supported by strong internal human and financial resources. Prior to his role at LAU, he served as Academic Vice President at Loyola Marymount University from 1990 to 2004 and as Vice President at St. Mary’s University from 1980 to 1990. During his tenure, he served on and chaired over 100 academic committees and boards, ranging from academic senates to boards of trustees. He earned his law degree at the Université Saint-Joseph in Beirut, and a Ph.D. in political science from the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

What has been your strategy to maintain LAU as one of the leading educational institutions in Lebanon?

We recently decided to focus on five strategic directions. The first one is the intellectual capital of the university. To excel, we must hire top-quality faculty and provide them with the opportunity to grow within the university. We must also provide them with a development program so that they can grow and respond to the needs of the students. At LAU, we like to pursue and expand the frontiers of knowledge and communicate that to others. This is why we focus on traditional education, but with a particular interest in humanities and social sciences. The second pillar is innovation. Technology is developing at such a fast rate that we have to adapt our curriculum to respond to the needs of the new generations of students and deliver content that is relevant to their growth. We are establishing an Innovation Center. One arm will be focused on innovation and re-engineering our curriculum, and the other arm will be in charge of promoting entrepreneurship among our students. The third strategic element is LAU Without Borders, which focuses on taking education where it is not available. My philosophy is that if people cannot come to our campus, we take the campus to them. In the Gulf, for example, we need to offer more than technology and online courses. We have to figure out how we can be present as an entity as well in those areas. The fourth pillar is focused on institutional branding and communication. All of this information has to be really processed internally as well as externally. The fifth and final strategic direction is the financial stability of the university. Financial aid and scholarships are extremely important, and we are complimenting it through fundraising. A major effort will be made in order to promote fundraising in Lebanon. We are working to also promote interdisciplinary programs, as to encourage departments to work with each other. The fourth revolution is bringing a strong focus on robotics, nanotechnology, quantum computing, the Internet of Things, and artificial intelligence. These five factors are imposing a threat of complete failure upon us if we do not bring different disciplines together. We need to foster joint degrees, for example, not only at LAU, but between different schools. Our approach is guided solely by our ambition to become the innovation university in the region.

What is the university doing to increase the number of graduate students, who currently make up just 9% of the student body?

This is one area that we need to promote more, and the board decided to grant the university an additional 100 new faculty members, making sure that the ratio between faculty and students is correct, promoting our various graduate programs. We are currently revising our master's program to do two things; first, to find out whether the master's programs we offer are still relevant. If they are, what are we doing to strengthen them? And if not, what kind of new master's programs do we need to open? The second reason is to address the financial impact of moving in that direction; we need to know if aid should cover 50%, 75%, or 100% of tuition for graduates. Another issue related to this is the price of PhD programs. We cannot go wholesale in this particular regard. The university ought to be in a position to connect with institutions outside Lebanon in order to provide students with PhD programs that we cannot offer. We will be addressing the matter thoroughly and will continue recommending the Board of Trustees on how to strengthen them.

What are LAU's main objectives for 2018?

Our main objective is to translate the strategic directions given to us by the board into specific actions on the ground. This is going to be our first and foremost responsibility until September, and it will catapult us into the limelight of innovation and excellence in Lebanon and the region.