QUALITY OF EDUCATION

Ras Al Khaimah | HEALTH & EDUCATION | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Hassan Hamdan Al Alkim, President of the American University of Ras Al Khaimah (AURAK), on the consequences of growing global demand for education and AURAK's efforts to attract students from beyond the Emirate.

Hassan Hamdan Al Alkim
BIOGRAPHY
Hassan Hamdan Al Alkim held several positions before being appointed President of AURAK, including the Chair of the RAK Research and Follow-Up Authority, Director-General of RAK Economic Development Department, and advisor to the RAK government. He received his bachelor of arts in political science, magna cum laude, from Seattle University and a master’s of arts and doctorate of philosophy in international relations from the University of Exeter. He was earlier with the United Arab Emirates University (UAEU).

How do you assess the growth of the education sector in the region?

The global population growth is demanding more from the education sector, and the latter is struggling to accommodate it; there is higher demand than supply. That will have two effects on education. We will see more schools throughout the world, though the quality of education in many areas will fall, especially in countries where demand cannot be matched. For those who are willing to cope with high demand, there is a bright future for education. The number of students who are looking for a place in higher education institutions is growing. We may see stiffer competition due to new universities, as every institution tries to showcase what they have. Today, every university that wants to survive must have modern technology with labs and equipment. They may also offer online teaching and so forth. In the UAE, there are more than 80 academic institutions accredited by the Ministry of Higher Education. There are also many satellite campuses as branches of foreign universities that we should bear in mind when discussing quality. This creates a competitive environment among high quality institutions. The environment of the campus should be appealing since the student will spend four years of their lives there. The size of the university does not mean anything in this case; it is always the quality of the education that counts.

What challenges do you face when trying to attract students to Ras Al Khaimah?

I do not view them as challenges, but as driving forces and motivation. They include the population, which is less than 500,000; of that number, two-thirds are expatriates. We need to be open to the region, not only to the country. The expatriate ratio in Ras Al Khaimah is relatively well reflected in our student mix: about 70% of our students are expats. The UAE is a tolerant and open society, especially when compared to other Arab nations, and often that feeling of comparative security is a draw for many people. Many were betting against the success of this institution, mainly due to the rising costs of living in the Emirate, coupled with the fact that just 10 years ago it was not as developed as it is today. However, we can also attract students from Abu Dhabi and Dubai. In our case, the numbers show it can be done since we have grown from 100 students in 2011 to more than 1,000 in seven years. Moreover, faculty recruitment can present a challenge. In order to have a good faculty, we have to offer a competitive salary and benefits. Because we teach in English, the pool for recruitment is the whole world. The only issue then is credentials.