x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Men's lessons from a woman's world

New challenge for the former chief of Dubai Women's College.

DUBAI // As he takes the helm of Dubai Men's College, Dr Howard Reed is making his mark from day one.

Its new director is implementing big changes, from banning smoking and junk food to implementing compulsory physical education and attendance.

Dr Reed has been at the helm of Dubai Women's College, one of the Higher Colleges of Technology's 17 campuses, for more than 20 years. He was asked to take over the men's college this summer.

He started by axing several members of staff, merging a number of academic and administrative positions. "It's a pilot project to see if it works, but I think it will," said Dr Reed. "It's not just about cost-cutting, but ensuring we're doing the same things."

He is hoping to achieve the same kind of results as at the women's college, where impressive academic standards resulted in good prospects for its graduates and offered a range of extra curricular activities not seen elsewhere.

He is already weeding out men who are not prepared to even try, having expelled "dozens" of students who were coasting along with grade point averages below 2.0, the equivalent of a D grade. "No employer wants someone who can't even make a 2.0," he said.

Now he intends to make sure students turn up for class. HCT already has rules - in theory, even a 5 per cent absence rate invokes a warning - but they were barely enforced at the men's college, with many attending half the time or less. "Attendance has been a problem for years," he said.

Now students who miss 10 per cent of classes will be called in for a meeting. If their attendance fails to improve, they will be expelled.

Expelled students can appeal, but have to substantially improve their grades before being fully re-admitted.

And as well as stricter discipline, Dr Reed plans to offer better support for students, be it with their personal or academic problems, or advice about their future career.

Dr Isaac Cherian, student councillor at the Ruwais and Madinat Zayed men's colleges of HCT, said it is vital for students to have this non-academic support.

"It's important to remember the student is a human, someone rooted in the community, with a family, with aspirations," he said. "Without this support, the student won't feel rooted in the college environment." And that in turn can mean students failing to make the most of the opportunity of education.

There are health initiatives, too. Like their female counterparts, male students will now be required to take part in two hours a week of compulsory exercise in a newly expanded gym facility.

From next term, smoking will be banned on campus. In the meantime, experts from Dubai Health Authority are being brought in to help the 40 per cent of students thought to be smokers to quit the habit.

Dr Mark Drummond, provost of HCT, is confident that Dr Reed is the man to overhaul the men's college.

"Howard is so keen on engagement, of the students, the parents, the staff, of making everyone get excited and get involved," he said.

He said that while the college was not disastrous, when compared with the women's college, "it doesn't look good".

"It was time for intervention," he said. "Things weren't as good as they could be."

mswan@thenational.ae