x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Building national faculties must be done by degrees

High hopes for future despite low number of Emirati PhD holders.

ABU DHABI //About 800 Emiratis have PhDs, mostly from western universities, says the UAE University academic Dr Abdulmajeed Khajeh.

A quarter of those are at UAE University (UAEU), making up about 26 per cent of its teaching staff. Of those, 18 Emiratis are full professors, about 125 are assistant professors and the rest are associate professors.

"From the beginning of the 1980s, UAE University invested a lot to develop Emiratis through the teaching assistant programme and helped in supporting over 260 UAE nationals, sending them away to get their PhD degrees," said Dr Khajeh.

There are 57 Emirati teaching assistants studying for PhDs at western universities. In the next couple of years they will come back to jobs as assistant professors.

UAEU, the only university in the country with such a programme, wants Emiratis to make up half of its academic staff by 2021.

The situation elsewhere is more urgent. Four of the 374 academics across two campuses at Zayed University are Emirati. At Khalifa University, eight of 80 are nationals.

But there is cause for hope.

"We also have several Emirati females in our PhD programme, many of whom will have a teaching obligation with us when they complete," said Prof Tod Laursen, the president of Khalifa University. "So there are some things we are actively doing to make progress here."

Other have further to go. The Masdar Institute has only one Emirati among its 40 academics, while the American University of Sharjah (AUS) has 353 academics but no full-time Emiratis.

But Dr Thomas Hochstettler, the provost at AUS, is also optimistic.

"As more and more AUS Emirati alums go on to graduate school and gain academic credentials that qualify them for teaching at the post-secondary level, we fully anticipate that some of them will return to AUS to teach," Dr Hochstettler said. "For the next decade or so that number will remain small, since we are still a very young university. But we do expect the number to grow over time."

The University of Wollongong in Dubai has no full-time Emirati academics either.

"We have recognised this issue for some time and it was one of the drivers for our doctoral programme," said Prof Rob Whelan, the university president.

"With 60 per cent Emiratis in the DBA [doctor of business administration] and PhD programmes, we expect that some of these students, when they graduate, will obtain academic positions in the UAE's universities."

mswan@thenational.ae