AL AIN // International collaboration is key to ensuring the UAE's universities can compete with the world's top institutions, according to academics.
Speaking yesterday at the UAE University's annual meeting for alumni, Prof Andrew Hamilton, the vice chancellor at Oxford University in England, said such collaboration was vital to tackling the "fundamental research questions of the 21st century".
He said the work that Oxford's school of geography and the environment was carrying out with the Arab Water Academy in Abu Dhabi was "pioneering research and activity" that would prove vital for the region. He said university recruitment had become a global process as competition increased for the best academic talent, noting that at Oxford, 40 per cent were citizens of countries other than the UK.
Addressing the university's staff - some of whom have working partnerships with institutions such as the University of Washington in Seattle and the University of California at Berkeley - the Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research, Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, said the success of such partnerships was "critical to the success of the university itself".
The British University in Dubai, a private institution, now has five contractual links with leading UK universities - Cardiff for sustainability and design, Manchester for engineering and management, Edinburgh for informatics and IT, Birmingham for education and the social sciences and Kings College London for law.
Martin Prince, the registrar at the university, said such collaboration was necessary for institutions to reach world-class status. Phil Hartley, the vice provost at the Higher Colleges of Technology, which has campuses across the Emirates, said international partnerships with colleges including Harvard University in the US and the University of Waterloo in Canada kept its academics and students aware of innovations.
However, "HCT students should also be able to benefit from the presence of international institutions of higher education in the UAE," he said. The university was in discussions with institutions such as New York University in Abu Dhabi and the University of Wollongong and Middlesex University, both in Dubai, to create opportunities for student collaboration. Dan Johnson, the provost at Zayed University, also a federal university with campuses in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, said it has had 25 or more international partnerships in the past 12 years. Its current partners include the University of North Carolina and the University of Utah.
"Higher education today is a global enterprise," he said. "Through these partnerships we can tap into pools of expertise not available to any single institution." The American University of Sharjah, a private institution, is a key player in the Council on International Educational Exchange, which sends students to the UAE from institutions in North America.Thomas Hochstettler, its vice chancellor of academic affairs, said such partnerships brought expertise to universities and helped project them and the country onto the world stage.
"Faculty and students from abroad who come to work at our institutions invariably are impressed with the rapid growth and high standards within the UAE educational industry," he said. Thamer Saeed Salman, the vice president of administrative and financial affairs at Ajman University of Science and Technology, said the institute had forged around 100 partnerships since being founded in 1988, with universities such as Glasgow in the UK and Alberta in Canada and organisations such as the World Health Organisation. While these were vital, he said collaboration at home was just as important.
"I believe that these institutions should first of all have links among themselves then seek relationships with international universities," Mr Salman said. Rory Hume, the provost at UAE University, said his priority was to seek partnerships within the country with newly emerging institutions such as New York University (NYU) and the Masdar Institute, along with more established ones such as the American University of Sharjah and Zayed University.
"For renewable energy we'll look to Masdar while for humanities we'll look at the likes of Zayed, NYU or the American University of Sharjah." However, for some specialities such as aerospace, Prof Hume said it was essential to seek partnerships abroad as local expertise was not available.