SHARJAH // The American University of Sharjah (AUS) is embarking on a multimillion-dirham expansion after five years of rapid growth in student numbers.
Enrolment at the private university rose from 4,334 undergraduates in 2007 to 4,988 this year. Postgraduate students increased from 233 to 450 in the same period.
The expansion, funded by the Ruler of Sharjah, Dr Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed, who is also the university's president, will make the campus more environmentally-friendly and more accessible for the disabled.
New female dormitories will house 192 students and a car park will add 1,000 spaces. New sports amenities will include an athletics track, changing rooms and seating for up to 700 spectators.
Nada Al Assi, 19, is in her second year living in dormitories. "We need new dorms as the university is expanding," she said. "And we need more students here to make it feel more of a community, more like home."
The university now houses 1,061 women and 1,135 men. Dr Peter Heath, the chancellor, said space has been tight for some time in the women’s dorms.
"We've known about this demand for a while and been putting the plans into place, so this is really a retroactive development," he said. "We've been putting double occupancy into single occupancy dorms, so this will be less crowded."
Asma Qadeer, 21, is in her third year in the dormitories and has just left the student council, where she dealt with many housing issues.
"A lot of people who applied last year for dorms didn't get in as there wasn’t space," she said. "Every year we get more and more students, especially from Abu Dhabi, so we do need the extra space."
Disabled toilets have been upgraded, ramps redeveloped and lifts improved to allow students to reach the raised concourse more easily.
Shwan Al Hashimi, the head of campus development, said the upgrades will meet both the International Building Code and the American Disabilities Act.
Changes to make the campus greener include more energy-efficient air conditioning and less water-intensive landscaping.
There will also be greater use of infrared taps, dual flush toilets and low-energy lightbulbs, which have helped the university cut utility bills by 18 per cent since 2010. It hopes to get that to 30 per cent by 2014.
The imperative is largely financial – after 15 years of subsidy from the Sharjah government, AUS will now pay its own utility bills.
"It's time to stand on our own two feet," Dr Heath said. A budget of Dh23 million a year has been set for water and electricity use. "It's been a good boost for us to focus on sustainability."
AUS is not the only university being pushed to pay more heed to its use of resources. Last month, Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, the Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research, said he wanted UAE University in Al Ain – of which he is chancellor – to lead the way in sustainability.
"Our current expenditures on electricity are too high," he said. "We know that technologies and practices are available for reducing our energy consumption without a loss in the quality of our operations. We could allocate the resulting savings to more useful university activities and programmes."