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Lebanon 2019 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | INTERVIEW

Lebanese American University is taking a multidisciplinary approach to its digital transformation in the information age.

Joseph G. Jabbra
BIOGRAPHY
Joseph G. Jabbra assumed the presidency of LAU in 2004. Prior to this, he served as Academic Vice President at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles from 1990 to 2004. He had earlier served as Vice President, Academic and Research, at St. Mary’s University (SMU) in Halifax from 1980 to 1990. Dr. Jabbra earned his law degree at the Université Saint-Joseph in Beirut and a PhD in political science from the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. He is the author, co-author, and co-editor of 12 books. The latest, Public Administration in Transition, was recently published in London. He has also published over 33 articles and chapters in books and scholarly journals and over 26 book reviews.

How is LAU innovating and approaching the era of digitalization?

We live in a globalized world fueled by breathtaking technological advances. The fourth industrial revolution, robotics, and nano-technologies, are all part of the information age. The walls of separation between disciplines need to be brought down. The only constant in this world is change, which is growing exponentially. For LAU, this means that the previously followed academic model is now broken. The board came up with a series of strategic recommendations. We strengthened the intellectual and academic capital of the institution, adding 100 new members. We also intend to turn LAU into an excellent innovation institution, investing in academic and entrepreneurial discoveries. Academically, we are addressing curriculum content and teaching modes of delivery, integrating technology, the machine, and the human element. We need to use the instruments of education to promote students who specialize in a variety of disciplines. These include critical thinking, intellectual flexibility, and adaptability, the ability to communicate, live in a diverse environment, work as a team, and write. Students need to develop flexible minds to adapt in the future job market. We also want to make the university more accessible. There are different ways of bringing the campus to learners, either virtually or physically. This will include expanding beyond Lebanon. We will be targeting the Lebanese diaspora, as well as exploring a number of opportunities in the Gulf region. Moreover, we need to address the pedagogical approach to education. We are calling to bring down the walls of separation between specializations in order to have an interface between schools and academic programs. We are excited to already have in place plans in the academic and applied sciences fields. We have the School of Medicine working with the School of Engineering, for example. We are also adding our MBA program to this relationship, encouraging doctors to also have an MBA. Lebanon is famous for its openness and diversity, welcoming elements from French, Lebanese, American, British, and even Canadian influences. This diversity has made Lebanon a shining example in higher education. Since the region has been facing some serious challenges, the university, with the mission to serve others, has raised funding to help students continue their education. In 2019, we are giving USD35 million in financial aid and scholarships. With a new cabinet in place, we have high hopes for more money to enter Lebanon. We need money on the street.

How do you see Lebanon in the potential for innovation and entrepreneurship?

In the context of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, you do not need to move somewhere to be successful. The public sector should be open for innovation, given the openness that we have, with Lebanon's diversity, liberal viewpoints, and its dynamic private sector. They should all be welcoming investment to the country. While our formidable governor of the Central Bank has been stabilizing the monetary policy of the country, still, he cannot continue to do this alone. Outside investment is essential.

What is the breakdown of your student population?

By design, we need around 20% of our student body to be international. We believe that is the true meaning of the term “university." Taking into account regional situations and economic crises, the fact that international students comprise 14% of our scholars is a remarkable number. We have positive expectations for the future. We welcome students from any and all backgrounds, as long as they come to learn. In partnership with USAID, we support the Universtity Scholarship program which selected about 540 students from public schools, so they can get an education here. We are proud of this approach because, in our judgment, it is the best way to serve our community, Lebanon, the region, and beyond.