ABU DHABI // More than a year after classes began, the University of Paris Sorbonne's Abu Dhabi campus on Al Reem Island was opened officially yesterday, with the help of the French prime minister, Francois Fillon, who was making his first visit to the region.
Sheikh Hamed bin Zayed, President of the Crown Prince Court, opened the ceremony by saying the opening of prestigious universities was a significant step towards turning Abu Dhabi into a cultural and scientific hub.
Mr Fillon hailed the UAE as the first Gulf state with a francophone university, symbolising the expansion and sharing of knowledge.
Dr Mugheer al Khaili, the director general of the Abu Dhabi Education Council, said the opening was an integral part of the emirate's 2030 education vision. "It is the milestone in the educational path of the UAE and the region as a whole and the link between the East and the West," he said.
The university offers majors in the humanities and law but there are plans to add other disciplines such as pure mathematics, said Georges Molinié, the president of the University of Paris Sorbonne.
That, he said, "is a heavy project aimed at broadening the educational [offerings] of the university … hand in hand with the development of the UAE".
Prof Molinié also said the university had plans for a Master's degree in museum careers, in collaboration with the Louvre Museum and School in France.
In January 2008 Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, and Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, placed the foundation stone for the permanent headquarters of the University of Paris Sorbonne Abu Dhabi. Classes began in December 2009, but the 93,000 square-metre premises, with a capacity of 2,000 students, are now complete, and home to more than 600 students of 60 nationalities. Emiratis make up 34 per cent of the student body.
Mr Fillon said France entered into this project because the UAE projects dynamism and responsibility. The formal opening of the campus, he added, demonstrates the bond of trust between the countries.
The university, he said, "shares the values that the UAE conveys in the area of cultural diversity". He added: "And [both countries] share the ambition of building tomorrow's world on the basis of modernity."
The Sorbonne Abu Dhabi "is a gesture of friendship and a sign of openness towards [French] culture", Mr Fillon said, adding that the school could become one of the elite universities of the Middle East.
Dr al Khaili said the university played a central role in the Arab world, seeking to promote education, knowledge and culture and demonstrating the will to guarantee a good life and stability.
"We hope that it will be the impulse for students and professors to deploy their efforts [towards] becoming leaders," he said. "The university bridges the gap between various civilisations, not only for Abu Dhabi but for the whole region."
Prof Molinié said one of the university's missions was to deliver "French higher education in line with the development plan of Abu Dhabi".
Jean-Yves de Cara, the executive director of the Sorbonne Abu Dhabi, said the school's aim was to "educate and train the elite of the UAE and the region" and "provide research facilities to contribute to the country's social, economic and cultural objectives".
Mr Fillon added that France was fortunate to be able to rely on the UAE, "and the UAE can also depend on our exemplary relationship. Our dialogue should never cease to grow and the Sorbonne is an excellent example of this dialogue".
Following the ceremony, Sheikh Hamed and Mr Fillon signed a commemorative board and exchanged souvenirs before they toured the campus library.