ENROLL UP

UAE, Abu Dhabi 2014 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Dr. Sulaiman M. Al Jassim, Vice-President of Zayed University, on the institution's partnerships, recruiting talented faculty, and the international edge.

What is the relationship between Zayed University (ZU) and its sister universities the Higher Colleges of Technology (HCT) and the United Arab Emirates University (UAEU)?

The federal system of higher education in the UAE consists of two universities: the UAEU in Al Ain and ZU (campuses in both Abu Dhabi and Dubai) as well as the HCTs, a group of 20 colleges that focus on technical education and are located across the UAE. The federal system enrolls approximately two-thirds of all UAE nationals who study at higher education institutions in the country. The three federal institutions work together on a variety of matters essential to the continuous improvement of the higher education system as it strives to serve local and federal priorities and needs. The Higher Education Coordination Council, composed of the two Chancellors and the President of the three institutions, is the coordinating body for this work. Examples of the cooperation are the setting of admissions policy and entrance standards into each institution, oversight for new programs of study, and joint educational projects such as the implementation of mobile learning devices. The institutions also work together with the Ministry of Presidential Affairs and the Ministry of Finance on the enrolment-based Formula Funding Model that determines the annual federal funding for each institution.

How has higher education evolved in Abu Dhabi?

At its founding in 1998, ZU opened campuses in both Dubai and Abu Dhabi. At that time there were very few higher education institutions in Abu Dhabi. Beyond HCT male and female campuses, UAE nationals from Abu Dhabi mainly travelled to Al Ain to study at UAEU. In recent years there has been a major expansion of higher education offerings in Abu Dhabi, including high-profile institutions such as New York University-Abu Dhabi, Paris Sorbonne, Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, INSEAD, Khalifa University of Science, Technology and Research (KUSTAR), and ZU, as well as Abu Dhabi University and Al Hosn University. ZU was created as a federal university for female Emirati students, perhaps the first such federal university in the Middle East. Emirati male students were admitted in 2008. Now, the opening of the new ZU campus at Khalifa City, with the capacity for more than 6,000 undergraduate students, has created new opportunities for UAE nationals to undertake university study in Abu Dhabi. At a growth rate of about 20% per year, ZU is the fastest growing university in the Gulf region.

“A vibrant, world-class higher education sector will empower UAE nationals to be educated."

What role is higher education playing Vision 2030?

Higher education plays a critical role in Vision 2030 in three ways. First, Vision 2030 sets an ambitious target to transform the Abu Dhabi economy away from hydrocarbon dependence to a more broadly based and diversified knowledge-based economy and society. Higher education will be critical in preparing UAE nationals to become the knowledge workers essential for this diversified economy. Second, higher education institutions, including ZU, will play a critical role as part of the innovation system providing research and creative ideas in support of the newly diversified economic sectors. For the Abu Dhabi economy to be internationally competitive it must have a strong local innovation system with research centers in universities and business incubators linked to universities. Third, the expanded higher education sector will increasingly employ UAE nationals as faculty and researchers. Over time more and more UAE nationals will earn doctoral degrees that will prepare them for careers in the higher education system.

How is higher education used to empower the population?

A vibrant, world-class higher education sector will empower UAE nationals to be educated and ready for the increasing number of jobs that will emerge in the diversified knowledge-based economy. Because ZU is internationally accredited, its graduates enter the workforce ready to assume productive working lives. ZU is the only government university in the MENA region that is internationally accredited, giving its graduates both an advantage and a responsibility to take their place in the workforce and contribute to the ongoing economic and social development of the country.

How does ZU partner with other institutions and organizations?

At ZU we create international partnerships to ensure that we have the highest quality programs and faculty to deliver programs and services that meet the international best practices and standards expected by the leaders of the UAE. We do not believe in signing MoUs for the sake of collecting a string of trophies that subsequently achieve little. ZU takes seriously any partnership it forms and works actively with its partners for the mutual benefit of each and most importantly for the benefit of ZU students and the nation. ZU has a range of active partnerships with local governments and authorities, such as Dubai Municipality and Abu Dhabi Education Council, local businesses, such as Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank, international businesses, such as Apple and SAP, local universities, such as KUSTAR, and international universities, such as the Australian National University, St. Andrews University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and the Thunderbird School of Global Management.

What are the challenges in recruiting talented faculty?

For academic faculty the market is global. Higher education is now a global industry and the best, most talented faculty can choose to work anywhere in the world. Therefore, ZU faces competition from major universities in North America, Europe, Australia, Asia, and the Middle East for talent. However, the UAE is a popular place to live and work. Both Abu Dhabi and Dubai are attractive places offering many of the benefits of modern, large city living with good infrastructure, housing, health care, and excellent schools, all in a safe and wholesome environment; these are essential factors in attracting and retaining top talent to serve the nation. A major challenge ZU faces in continuing to build its faculty and educational programs is the need to build a cadre of UAE national faculty. Currently, UAE nationals with talent, including ZU graduates, normally travel to study in North America, Europe, or Australia in order to obtain a PhD. This is often difficult, particularly for females. However, it is very important that UAE nationals embrace the challenges of obtaining a PhD so that they may become the next generation of highly qualified faculty, whether at ZU or elsewhere in the UAE. UAE national faculty will become role models for the subsequent generations of young UAE nationals.

What trends are you seeing with enrollment?

ZU's undergraduate student population of more than 8,500 students, on its two campuses, is 98.5% UAE national. The remaining international students come from 26 different countries. International students greatly enrich the cultural and language experiences of UAE students and are highly motivated to learn Arabic while obtaining a world-class education. Additionally, international students, once graduated, become ambassadors for the UAE in their home countries, thereby spreading the status of the UAE worldwide. Currently, the male population of students is less than 20% of the total population, but ZU has only been offering opportunities to male UAE nationals for four years. We expect the number of male students studying at ZU to grow to approximately 30% of total enrollment over the next five years.

How has the curriculum adapted to the demands of the economy?

ZU has a very clear process for adding new majors and specializations. Every proposed new major or specialization is first subjected to an employment opportunities and student interest analysis. New programs must be linked directly to the workforce needs of the country in terms of economic diversification, social needs, and community development requirements. In addition, as an internationally accredited university, ZU must conform to demanding curriculum standards that are continuously tested against international standards and best practices. ZU is currently undertaking a major planning exercise looking to expand program offerings, particularly in areas related to the sustainability of energy and resources in the science and engineering fields.

© The Business Year - July 2013