x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Dubai's University of Wollongong seeks sixth president in 8 years

The UAE's oldest private university is searching for its sixth president in eight years after the current head announced he was leaving after just 12 months.

Prof Ghassan Aouad, outgoing president of the Dubai branch of Australia's University of Wollongong, hopes to set up an educational consultancy and work with several UAE institutions. Jeff Topping / The National
Prof Ghassan Aouad, outgoing president of the Dubai branch of Australia's University of Wollongong, hopes to set up an educational consultancy and work with several UAE institutions. Jeff Topping / The National
DUBAI // The country's oldest private university is searching for its sixth president in eight years after the current head announced he was leaving after just 12 months.
Prof Ghassan Aouad is the latest in a long line of bosses at the University of Wollongong, an Australian institute set up in 1994.
Since 2004, there have been four presidents and one interim president, who held the role on two separate occasions for six months each time.
Prof Aouad, who arrived at Wollongong after 20 years at the University of Salford in the UK, said his year in charge had been a major success, and that enrolment had increased by 13 per cent.
He stressed his move was "not driven by money" but by his commitment to helping develop the country's higher education sector.
"There is so much potential for higher education to grow here," he said. "I love the UAE and love working here.
"I'm pleased I've contributed to at least one year of activities. I came here to help the UAE but it's time for me to move on."
He hopes to set up an educational consultancy and work with several UAE institutions.
During his year in charge, Prof Aouad signed agreements with organisations such as the National Research Foundation to set up a doctoral training centre. He also hired 12 academics. He is now on research leave for six months to study institutional leadership in higher education in the Middle East.
A high turnover of senior staff is not unique to Wollongong - federal and private universities across the country suffer the same problem. Dubai Men's College, for instance, has had six directors in as many years.
Dr Rahul Choudaha, director of research and advisory services at World Education Services, a New York-based non-profit organisation that specialises in international education, said university leadership was a challenging job anywhere - but particularly so at a branch campus.
"As a university leader, the challenges of meeting the expectations of different stakeholders gets compounded with a branch campus grounded in a new sociopolitical and cultural environment," he said. "This is where branch campus leaders trip sometimes in aligning people - culture and vision."
Prof John Patterson, the Australian campus's deputy vice president, will visit the UAE in the coming weeks to manage the transition to the next president.
The new leader, who is in the final stages of recruitment, is said to be an academic with experience in the UK, Asia and the UAE.
Prof Patterson admitted the UAE was a challenging environment in terms of leadership and said he hoped the next president would stay for at least five years to manage the university's strategic plan.
He said managing a foreign campus involved "unique" issues and in the UAE the work environment was more "intense".
"People are constantly working," he said. "The vast majority of people don't leave their work behind them in their down time as I've seen in other environments, like the UK, US and Canada."
It is a crucial time for the institution, which is about to embark on its five-year accreditation review by the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research.
This is a priority, said Prof Patterson, and it is vital Wollongong shows the Ministry's Commission for Academic Accreditation it has the leadership to oversee and direct for the next five years.
"Accreditation is an extraordinarily important issue for us and one we want to get right," he said. "Our global reputation is strong now and in that form, licensure is extraordinarily important."
Prof Patterson hopes the new president will carry out extensive research to move the institution forward.
"If you don't start thinking, 'this is where we will be five or seven years from now' and start working towards that, you have serious strategy issues."
mswan@thenational.ae