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Ras Al Khaimah 2017 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | REVIEW: EDUCATION

Education in Ras Al Khaimah plays a critical role in building a knowledge-based economy. A combination of innovative private initiatives and generous government funding has created the right opportunity for rapid development.

HH Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi, Member of the Federal Supreme Council and Ruler of Ras Al Khaimah, is the lead supporter of developing the education sector in Ras Al Khaimah. Under his guidance, the government allocates substantial funding to the education sector in the form of scholarships, donations, and investment. In addition, a number of local students receive direct aid to undertake their studies abroad, especially if they choose to study specialized subjects that are underrepresented in the Emirate. Specifically, the Sheikh Saqr Program for Government Excellence manages a comprehensive scholarship program that oversees administrative, financial, and academic planning for graduate and undergraduate scholarships, in addition to supplying Ras Al Khaimah with eligible leadership at all levels of learning. Thus, the education sector comprised 21% of the UAE's 2014-2016 budget overall. In 2015, the government allocated nearly 50% of its USD13.4 billion budget toward social services, which included healthcare and education stipends.

Recently, the government of Ras Al Khaimah established the RAK Award for Creativity and Educational Excellence, which encourages talented students, graduates, administrators, teachers, institutions, and leaders who regularly contribute to the education sector to be productive by developing solutions to modern issues. The award has supported the overarching goal to balance the supply of human resources with the demand of sustainable development

STRUCTURED LEARNING

At the federal level, the education sector is supervised by the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Higher Education and Research. In its role as a regulator, the Ministry of Education is involved in planning and organizing education strategies, under the framework of a general nationwide education policy. To improve results and better control the quality of the education provided, the ministry is involved in a medium-term accreditation program, expected to complete its initial evaluation of all of learning establishments in Ras Al Khaimah by the end of 2017.

Focusing on the 2015-2021 period, the ministry and its affiliates have identified the need to target the STEM subjects, seeking to increase the number of men and women who go on to pursue degrees in science- and math-related fields. In this regard, the government-backed Ras Al Khaimah Academic Free Zone (Academic FZ) has been a key draw in terms of attracting universities to establish a branch in the Emirate. Speaking on the support that comes from the authorities, Raj Nambiar, Director-Administration of Western International Corporation FZE RAK (WINC), explained to TBY, “The Emirate has been very receptive and supportive of our program. For example, the Academic FZ has been instrumental in setting up internships for us. "

HIGHER LEARNING

Today, Ras Al Khaimah is home to a variety of distinguished universities, many of them officially recognized by the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research. Notable examples include Ras Al Khaimah Medical and Health Sciences University, with its reputable faculties of medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, and nursing, as well as the American University of Ras Al Khaimah (AURAK), which offers programs in biotechnology, business administration, computer engineering, electrical engineering, and communications. Recently, AURAK completed the construction of a new building that includes a new gym, cafeteria, recreation center, auditorium, conference rooms, and a lounge. According to Professor Hassan Hamdan Al Alkim, President of AURAK, the new facility will also have classrooms and an ICT center for technological education, which has been subsidized by the Telecommunication Regulatory Authority (TRA) for the amount of AED3.4 million. It will also become the home of the school of engineering, as well as a facility for graduate studies and research. Indeed, the school still has more construction plans underway. An AED100 million expansion project will allow the school to accommodate anywhere between 5,000 and 7,000 students in the long term, and is being funded by the Ras Al Khaimah Bank. AURAK has already grown from 200 students in 2013 to more than 900 in 2016, while approximately 30% of its students are Emirati nationals

“We are one of the few universities that offer certain programs such as petroleum and chemical engineering," Professor Al Alkim explained. “We also embarked on international partnership and signed an agreement with Nebraska University to offer a concentration in hospitality and tourism." Universities such as AURAK have begun to identify the potential in the tourism sector, and have responded accordingly. An increasing number of institutions have launched or are improving their hospitality programs, as graduates of those fields are expected to contribute to one of the major pillars of economic development in the Emirate. In this regard, study abroad and faculty exchange programs are also growing in importance, allowing students and teachers to widen their horizons in terms of the latest trends in the tourism sector.

TECH SAVVY

As the education sector becomes more and more competitive, innovation is also becoming a key factor in each institution's success.

In an interview with TBY, Dr. Ali Hasan Al Mansoori, Deputy Vice Chancellor of Campus Operations and the Director of Ras Al Khaimah Colleges at the Higher Colleges of Technology, discussed the need for more advanced equipment for students. “We are currently working on two major building projects, both projects worth more than AED20 million, plus new equipment that we are introducing." The investments are primarily driven by industry demand, which includes specific, state-of-the-art technology. “We are focusing more on entrepreneurship, innovation, and creativity to reflect the new direction of the industry and the leadership of this country," Dr. Al Mansoori continued.

The local climate has also played a part in inspiring high-tech programs that can directly impact the local economy. For example, students of Ras Al Khaimah's EPFL Middle East can take advantage of specialized programs in energy management. Providing a hands-on learning experience, EPFL Middle East was able to adapt government proposals into student-led initiatives. Currently, students are working on developing a waste management strategy that will be used by the Ras Al Khaimah government. The program includes the introduction of more efficient waste separation systems, refined collection and sorting strategies, and the extended development of a nationwide plan for the hospitality sector, residential districts, and commercial facilities. Students are learning about techniques related to recycling, as well as monetizing with waste-to-energy plants. “There are also other projects our students work on with our partners, from the design of renewable energy projects, to the implementation of the GW-Solar Park in Dubai, or other energy and renewable energy-related initiatives." Franco Vigliotti, Dean of EPFL Middle East, told TBY.

The Ras Al Khaimah Medical and Health Science University (RAKMHSU) is another institution that considers R&D a critically important part of education. By establishing partnerships with other universities in the UAE, as well as connecting to educational institutions abroad, RAKMHSU and other local universities are taking steps to overcome budgetary restrictions and meet the need for innovation. “We believe that research is an important part of the whole spectrum of student and faculty life in order to get global recognition," Dr. S. Gurumadhva Rao, Vice Chancellor of RAKMHSU, said, adding, “Research is a must if a university wants to be recognized among top-ranking universities."