x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 29 July 2017

Dubai university to offer master's in education

The college will offer a master's in education, with a curriculum drawn up with the University of Ohio. Dr Hill hopes it will fill some big gaps in the current system.

DUBAI // While others have struggled to get higher degree courses in teaching off the ground, hampered by high fees and students' lack of English skills, the American University of Dubai hopes it will do better.

It will open a college of education in September, headed by a new dean, Dr Catherine Hill, who arrived from the US six weeks ago.

The college will offer a master's in education, with a curriculum drawn up with the University of Ohio. Dr Hill hopes it will fill some big gaps in the current system.

"There has to be a strong focus on special education," she said. "It's a void that's missing out there.

"It will be part of every class, but particularly a class called differentiated instruction, which will emphasise the importance of tailoring a class to the needs of a student."

By next year, Dr Hill hopes to offer a one-year diploma course in special education for working teachers.

One of the biggest challenges will be making sure applicants are up to the course, both in their language and academic skills.

While the courses are taught in English, most teachers gained their lower qualifications in Arabic and often struggle to make the leap.

"The ability to take on a programme that requires a lot of research on every course makes this a priority," said Dr Jihad Nader, AUD's provost. "We are overcoming this by interviewing every candidate."

In July, Dr Hill will run a workshop to help bring candidates' English up to scratch. "It will ease the students into the programme," she said.

Another challenge, which has affected many other master's courses in teaching, is the mismatch between the high course fees and low salaries graduates can expect afterwards, which are typically below Dh4,000 a month.

Abu Dhabi University launched a master's in special education last year and has just five students.

A similar course at Zayed University that was due to begin in September last year has yet to start because it attracted too few students.

Some universities have done better. The British University in Dubai's graduate and doctoral education courses have grown steadily since they began in 2004.

Martin Prince, the university's registrar, puts that down to its strong focus on student financial support. Most students have around half their Dh40,000 annual fees paid for them. The result has been strong enrolment. From having around 20 students each year before 2008, this year it had 36.

Fees at AUD will be higher still, at Dh57,600 per year. However, it is looking at financial incentives such as reduced fees for schools sending three or more teachers, or for those in need of assistance. "Teachers don't earn a good wage," said Dr Hill, "so we have to account for this."

Dr Nader said starting off small and with a broad course should help make the programme more viable. "Even if we started with five students, we could do that," he said.

In Al Ain meanwhile, UAE University's research-based master's degree course now has 78 students and eight graduates. Such has been its success that the university is launching a second master's degree to train specialists in high school subjects.

If approved by the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, it could launch as early as this year.

mswan@thenational.ae