x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Emirati takes helm at private university

Dr Essa Al Bastaki becomes only the third Emirati head of a private university in the country.

The new president of the University of Dubai, Dr Essa Al Bastaki, at his office in Deira. He is the latest Emirati academic appointed to head one of the UAE private universities. Sarah Dea / The National
The new president of the University of Dubai, Dr Essa Al Bastaki, at his office in Deira. He is the latest Emirati academic appointed to head one of the UAE private universities. Sarah Dea / The National

DUBAI // An Emirati academic has been appointed president of the University of Dubai.

Dr Essa Al Bastaki, a communications engineer who was on the staff at UAE University for 30 years, is among a growing number of UAE nationals rising through the higher education ranks.

He will be in charge for the coming academic year.

Dr Al Bastaki is the third Emirati head of a private university, following Prof Hassan Alkim at the American University of Ras Al Khaimah and Prof Abdullah Al Shamsi at the British University in Dubai.

"It's excellent to have locals head these institutions," Dr Al Bastaki said. "We have over 180 professors who have been at UAEU and most of them are very capable of these roles. We have the capacity but we need the universities to give us a chance."

Making the transition from a research institute to an academic one will be "a different challenge" from those he has faced in past years, most recently a two-year secondment to the ICT Fund, a research body.

"I have a very long-term vision," Dr Al Bastaki said. It includes the new campus in Dubai International Academic City, which he hopes will open in two years. He will also add a college of law to the existing business and IT colleges.

There will also be more focus on research, especially for the business community.

Dr Al Bastaki said there was a need for more professional development of academics to enable more Emiratis to take on such roles.

"Having a degree is not enough," he said. "They need the degrees for the way of thinking but they need the professional development and continuing education."

Dr Ali Al Mansoori, head of the RAK Higher Colleges of Technology, is one of a number of Emiratis in the federal education system to have been made college head this year.

He said the time was right for more Emiratis to come up through the ranks.

"Now, we have a lot of qualified people who have studied and been skilled up abroad so they do have the qualifications required for these critical positions," he said.

"A lot of them spent a lot of time doing the actual work in the academic environment."

Dr Al Bastaki, a communications engineering specialist, was part of the UAE University system for about 30 years. 'They understand the environment, the students, the culture,' he said.

Having Emiratis in senior roles helps the development of society and meets the needs of local students.

"It will improve our society and communities as Emiratis can help express what we need as UAE nationals," Dr Al Mansoori said.

"At the end of the day we're producing people to work in the UAE community.

"When you bring expatriates, though they have the qualifications, it takes some time to adapt to the new system, even the culture that we take for granted."

But the emphasis must continue to be on quality.

"It's not just about numbers. For Emiratis, seeing these UAE nationals in such leadership positions, I hope will encourage and inspire others to follow," Dr Al Mansoori said.

While this is an encouraging trend, Prof Al Shamsi, head of the British University for the past six years after having been with the federal UAE University for 26 years, said he thought it would be some time before Emirati education leaders were commonplace.

"The demand is greater than the supply," he said. "We have over 70 private, ministry-accredited universities and the required talent for these posts is still lacking in the UAE," he said. "For a country of this size, it's remarkable we have so many institutions.

"Within the private sector, the competition between universities is acute and the pay universities give academic staff isn't encouraging them to join."

As there are so few Emirati academics teaching at private universities in general, it is reflected at the top.

Federal schools, Prof Al Shamsi said, were not much different. About 25 per cent of the staff at UAE University are Emirati, but at Zayed University it is "even less than 1 per cent".

He said many Emirati academics at his level have either retired or were employed in the private sector in industry and commerce.

"I don't think that number will change vastly in the next few years," he said.