RAJ NAMBIAR

Northern Emirates | EDUCATION | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Raj Nambiar, Campus Director of University of Bolton RAK, about a challenging 2020 and expectations for 2021.

How has the University of Bolton Academic Centre RAK demonstrated its resiliency navigating the pandemic?

We were fortunate in the sense that we have been doing online delivery for many years now using a combination of customised software. That was originally used to deliver the top up programs in Undergraduate Business and MBA at our London site. . A large number of our staff had hands-on experience using the software and delivering to students in disparate parts of the world. Within a two-day timeframe, we moved all the classes that were happening physically into an online setting. The University of Bolton, UK Campus was extremely helpful in the sense that it provided leadership to RAK Academic Centre in order to ensure that students were not adversely affected. Staff at both campuses worked tirelessly developing and implementing Covid19 and lockdown related academic delivery and assessment protocols. For summer 2020 and the fall semester, the inductions were held online. We have now returned to a blended model with the guidance and approval of the free zone, which looks at a model where 70% of classes take place onsite with the remaining 30% online. It is a combination, where students get a feel of a traditional campus setting and are online 30% of the time, and they have gotten used to it. The Academic Zone, RAKEZ has been instrumental in their communication of Covid19 measures and the University of Bolton, Academic Centre has endeavored to follow the guidance provided.

What is your vision for the future in terms of balancing this hybrid model of teaching and learning?

The University of Bolton was one of the first universities in the UK to announced it was returning to classrooms and then the second wave hit, which put a dampener on the efforts. George E. Holmes, the Vice Chancellor at the University, has been a visionary in bringing normality back to students while controlling and mitigating against the risk of contagion. A great deal of effort and planning has gone into making sure the campus is COVID-19 safe. I am hopeful for normal face to face lectures to resume fully from September 2021, however we will continue to be guided by the Government advice and assessment of risk. Students are being encouraged to get vaccinated, and many of them already are. By September 2021, I hope to see staff and students all vaccinated and returning to the campus 100% and remain vigilant to any variants or threats, responding as necessary to each change in circumstance.

How do you facilitate the exchange of knowledge and students between Bolton in the UK and Ras Al Khaimah in the UAE?

Since 2008, when we first set up, there has been a partnership whereby earlier it was all about Bolton leading the way. We have grown in maturity & in stature to be one of the largest international delivery sites for the University of Bolton. We are given significant autonomy over the resources we use, the industry visits, guest speakers who illustrate the practical application of the course content. Dozens of cohorts of students have graduated from the University of Bolton's Academic Centre in Ras Al Khaimah. Now, we have taken the lead in incorporating contextualization, which is important to keep our programs relevant to the Middle East and MENA region. We have a fantastic internship program, so we work with many employers across the Emirates and in support of local industry. A great deal of it has been facilitated by the Academic Zone, RAKEZ. We have introduced a PhD Research Program that is completely led by the University of Bolton UK Campus, with the supervisors employed by the UK Campus. What we have now is a partnership in the truest sense of the word, with collaboration in research, student projects, committee meetings, awards and teaching initiatives. . We now have a fully functioning two-way relationship where both teams of faculty are mutually consulted regarding program changes and improvements. The University of Bolton UK will always maintain the responsibility for quality assurance, which takes the form of assessment boards, admissions criteria, program curricula, faculty approval and conferment of student results. The value additions such as the PhD, staff development, and postgraduate certificate in education has all helped immensely. The University of Bolton, Academic Centre RAK has launched new program like the MSc in Engineering Management, MSc in Accountancy & Financial Management, MSc in Software Engineering besides the LLB & the BEng (Hons) in Software Engineering all of which have been validated during the pandemic. Validation of new programs is reflective of the hope that demand for Quality British Education would significantly increase as early as Sep 2021.We have been blessed with a staff that has seen minimal turnover and has been on campus for many years now, so they know the students by name. We also care for our alumni, providing personal support for job search, CV advice, interview techniques and references. We have made a great effort to connect with companies and help our students avail of employment opportunities during the pandemic.

What are your goals and expectations for the rest of 2021?

As head of this institution, I remain extremely buoyant. A great deal has changed. What was surprising and beneficial for us was that many students who could not otherwise travel to the UK, Europe, or US chose to stay in the UAE and select an international qualification here. While June 2020 was tough, things picked up after that, and we have had two intakes in September and January that have been extremely successful. In fact, they have been the best intakes in the last 13 years. Some of this can be attributed to divine intervention and the rest of it is resilience and the fact that the students and community at large rallied together and made the best of the circumstances. As an institution we have sought to increase our scholarships based on academic merit and this has been welcomed by students and parents to ensure the financial hardships after the pandemic do not become a barrier to learning. I have every reason to believe the next intake in September 2021 will continue the same way.