My views on higher education in the UAE and the Middle East in general:

1. Our universities (public or private) do not foster a good and balanced student life. The majority of them lack accommodation facilities, airport pick up options, extra-curricular activities, student clubs, internships, work/study options and other facilities to enhance their academic learning process. These facilities are very important for students and aid them towards becoming a ‘well-rounded’ individual, and better prepare them for the work environment once they have graduated.

2. Our universities lack adequate research facilities, nor do they publish their research/findings in international journals (or it is very rare). In actual fact the Middle East doesn’t emphasize research and that is the primary reason why Middle Eastern universities do not rank in the top 200 or 500 universities globally (SJT, QS or THES listings)

3. They do not confer awards or recognitions to students nor faculty. Hence quality of work for the students and teachers goes unnoticed and unappreciated.

4. The lack of centers of excellence and research centers means that outstanding students are not provided grants. This inhibits any research and innovation necessary to foster the development of future jobs, economy and the social improvement of the country in general.

5. Visiting scholars are not welcomed, nor do we have a well supported student exchange program in place. We do not have study abroad schemes, thus limiting global exposure amongst our students.

6. Our students are not encouraged to join and participate in international fairs and festivals for each of the disciplines, for example the world architecture festival award, film awards, best biomedical invention award and so on. These fairs and festivals showcase global talent and students can both learn and showcase their work on an international platform.

7. We do not encourage students to participate in overseas community work or join international relief agencies. How can we create socially responsible citizens of the world without encouraging them to partake in these initiatives?

8. Most importantly we do not offer a comprehensive list of programmes (not all the disciplines of study are available). The other day I attended a lecture about the film industry in the UAE and the lecturer, who is also an Emirati film producer, said that she cannot recall any university that has a focus on films solely.

9. Universities generally lack a link/partnership with local industries. Both industry and the universities can work together to teach and create students with practical work skills they can apply once they have graduated. Work/Study (co-op) programs, that require a semester of academic study followed by a semester of internship work, should be developed and encouraged.

10. Our university libraries are inadequate and does not have all academic books for reference. Have you seen the library of the London School of Economics in the UK? It’s mind blowing! Even visiting local public libraries abroad you are in awe when faced with the huge volumes of academic books students have for their reference. Moreover, there are no bookshops that cater to academics solely, so students are stumped for reference. The internet should not be their only avenue for information since a lot of the information in cyberspace is not citied or verified. (check this link to a library )

11. What about Science parks to motivate students and make their ideas real ( network with venture capitalist and angel investors)

12. Staff and faculty not motivated as they are all foreigners and are only here for a quick gain. (see my blog about this )

13. Even foreign campuses of international universities are not as brilliant as the one based in home country. It seems to be a way to capture the students who are not able to obtain visas to the hoe country.

It is great to have universities and colleges of course, and we do have great looking buildings, but what we lack is the basic ingredients and foundation to develop great universities.

The process may take a while, but according to me universities and colleges (both private and public) should first have a trust or a board in place that is highly academic and caters to the student’s needs on all levels. Think of my argument: if you want to purchasing a sofa; you can have the most attractive looking sofa, but unless the core is done properly (superior wood quality, good sponge and professional upholstery) then you may not be able to sit on it nor enjoy it. It purely becomes something aesthetically pleasing to one’s eyes, and nothing more. We need to create universities with ‘substance’, so that they can produce future leaders, doctors, dentists, vets, workers, artists etc who carry this ‘substance’ and intellect when entering the highly dynamic, connected and competitive globalized world.

Of course the above items are not the only ones that are missing currently, I am just giving you a few examples. Universities have a long way to go to achieve international recognition. It is about time they wake up and start talking to one another and have reviews/ discussions and make changes that will put us back on the ‘educational’ map.

On a personal note I just want to add that I have actually lectured part-time at a few of the local institutions here. I was not at all impressed with the facilities since I felt that the students are not prepared properly. One university even mistakenly attached the answer key to the question paper for an exam! The students had a ball, but one has to ask how serious and committed is this university? Would this happen at Oxford or Harvard? The chances are very slim.

Happy reading