ABU DHABI // In spite of plans to phase out university foundation programmes, the Institute of Applied Technology (IAT) has launched a college for students graduating from its high schools. Funded by the Abu Dhabi Government, the college has enrolled 300 Emirati students in Abu Dhabi and Al Ain, and will prepare them to enter one of its three sister institutes, the Al Ain Aviation College, the Fatima College of Health Sciences and the Logistics Academy.
Foundation courses fill in gaps in the education provided by high schools. English, maths and IT are the main problem areas. In a three-year plan announced this week, the college will focus this year on sending graduates of the IAT high schools to its three associated colleges. Next year the programme will focus on preparing students for admittance to other UAE universities, and in the third year the reach will extend to universities in the UK, US and Australia.
Partnering with Kaplan International Colleges, which provides university preparation courses for colleges around the world, IAT hopes the programme will open doors internationally for its students. "There is a big gap in the grades of the high school students who aren't equipped with the skills and knowledge to enter university," said Abdullatif al Shamsi, the director general at IAT. "The pressure has been put on schools to upgrade the quality, but that will take time to get the students up to speed and to the quality needed for university. One third of the federal universities' budget goes into foundation courses, and this should have been taken care of at high school level."
He added that the IAT programme, which has been designed with the local needs of the colleges in mind, emphasising maths and English, is a must for its high school graduates. "We focus very much on the academic skills to be successful in higher education rather than just the subject knowledge," said Linda Cowan, the managing director of Kaplan. Mark Fallon, the interim college director at IAT, said, "We replicate the structure of a university as far as possible. There is formal assessment with international quality assurance from the UK."
Dr Mark Drummond, provost at the Higher Colleges of Technology (HCT), said the college fills an obvious need, but must not be a long-term solution to the goal of reducing the numbers of students needing foundation-programme support. Only 10 per cent of students accepted for admission to HCT applicants enter with no need for remedial courses. "It's counterproductive to have a solution which doesn't mandate that the high schools are fixed. The main thing is that the pressure doesn't let up on high school reform," he said.
Last month, Sheikh Nahyan Bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research, said, "It is time to bring together all educational institutions to collectively address the remediation issue that has plagued our educational system for decades. We must commit ourselves to making significant progress in eradicating the need for foundation programmes in our colleges and universities."
In February, the Ministry of Education announced plans to phase out foundation programmes through school reform, although a deadline was not set.