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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 September 2018

Khalifa University's global recognition is a triumph of the UAE's education policy

The decade-old university's inclusion in the world's top 350 universities is only the beginning of the journey

In 2015, Khalifa University students Alaya Al Maaizmi, left, and Mouza Al Shemaili, built a drone to clear fog from airport runways. Antonie Robertson / The National
In 2015, Khalifa University students Alaya Al Maaizmi, left, and Mouza Al Shemaili, built a drone to clear fog from airport runways. Antonie Robertson / The National

The University of Oxford appeared at the top of Times Higher Education’s annual World University Rankings, published on Tuesday, for a second consecutive year, with rival Cambridge climbing to second spot this year from last year’s fourth position. Congratulations are in order. But all the acclaim cannot obscure the anxiety that courses through these pedigreed institutions. The economic uncertainty unleashed by Brexit, combined with the declining investment in education and research, threatens to imperil the overall excellence that has propelled Oxbridge to the top: academics and students alike worry that these rankings might become a swansong.

If the old is seized by fear, the new is suffused with hope, aspiration, enterprise and enthusiasm. Few institutions of learning better represents the new than the UAE’s Khalifa University. Founded in 2007 following a decree from President Shiekh Khalifa, it was last year ranked among the world’s top 600 universities. This year, it has jumped 150 places and ranks among the top 350 universities in the world. It is easy to forget that Khalifa University is only 10 years old.

This achievement vindicates the decision last year by Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, to merge Khalifa University with Masdar Institute and the Petroleum Institute. The dividends yielded by this consolidation will soon be fully realised.

If this is what Khalifa University has achieved in a decade, imagine what the future holds. It is only in the years ahead that we will witness the full benefits of the work done by the government and the administration over the last year. There is a lesson here for those who say that students trained in Arabic are at a disadvantage in higher learning. If anything, a strong foundation in Arabic enriches pupils’ life by exposing them early on to the rich literary traditions of the region. Khalifa University’s success demonstrates that global recognition is not contingent on forfeiting national heritage.

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