DUBAI // An academic outpost of the UAE is aiming to be the third university in a location as far from the sun-baked sands as could be imagined.
The college, backed by Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid, is in Dundee, Scotland - a city of imposing stone buildings on the banks of the River Tay - where wind and rain are the more usual weather pattern.
The institution was formerly known as Al Maktoum Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies, but has changed its name to Al Maktoum College of Higher Education.
The name change is another step on the road to receiving official university-college status from UK authorities. This would enable the college to validate courses and award its own degrees. At present its master's and PhD degrees are validated by the University of Aberdeen.
Subsequent steps towards achieving university college status would include increasing the number of students and staff and introducing more taught and research educational programmes.
If the move is successful, Al Maktoum College would in effect become the city's third university, after the University of Dundee and Abertay University.
Sheikh Hamdan, Deputy Ruler of Dubai and Minister of Finance and Industry, is the college's patron and sponsor. The venture was launched to encourage multiculturalism and dialogue between communities.
"The name change is an important development for the college as we work towards our aim of achieving university college status by the year 2020," said the college's acting principal Dr Hossein Godazgar.
"The new name clearly shows that the college is a place of learning for everyone, a centre for the provision of quality education in Scotland. It identifies our purpose and role, and will attract new students.
"We want to become a distinctive, independent and internationally recognised centre of excellence for higher education with our own degree-awarding powers. That is our goal."
The college offers courses and research programmes designed to promote debate and understanding of Islam and the role of Muslims. Subjects include Islamic studies, globalisation, gender and Islam, multiculturalism, Islamic law, ethics and banking. The first students arrived in 2002.
"We already have 106 college graduates from more than 25 different countries including Malaysia, Malawi, Indonesia, Italy, Egypt and Scotland, and academic partnerships with 17 universities and research centres across the world, including the UAE," Dr Godazgar said.
Abubaker G Abubaker, the college's director of operations, said: "We have had six UAE students with three graduating with PhD and three with MLitt (master's) degrees.
"We are looking to recruit more UAE nationals to study with us and Sheikh Hamdan, through Al Maktoum Foundation in Dubai, offers five annual scholarships for UAE nationals to study at the college.
"We work hard to develop our relationships with the region's universities and the ministries of higher education, and it is planned that Dr Godazgar will visit some universities in the UAE."
Fifty-five female students from the UAE and Qatar recently attended summer school at the college - the 12th such group to take part in the its visitor programmes - and the largest so far.
"We know there is a trend for an increasing role for Emirati women in government, the law and politics, and the college programmes are playing a significant and ongoing role in this development," Mr Abubaker said.
Sheikh Hamdan has said he would like the relationship between the UAE and Scotland to act as an example of global cross-cultural co-operation and understanding. Mirza Al Sayegh, Sheikh Hamdan's private secretary, is the chairman of Al Maktoum College's board of directors.
"The chairman is in constant touch with the college and visits regularly, and his input is invaluable," Mr Abubaker said. "He keeps Sheikh Hamdan informed of developments in Dundee."