x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Ministry suspends university courses

Courses at two universities have been placed on probation because of concerns over academic standards.

Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak has advised students to use the Ministry of Higher Education's website to identify which institutions are licensed.
Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak has advised students to use the Ministry of Higher Education's website to identify which institutions are licensed.

Courses at two universities have been placed on probation because of concerns over academic standards. The Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research's commission for academic accreditation imposed the probation after problems were found in four programmes at the UAE branch campus of an overseas university and one programme at a private university. Prof Badr Aboul-Ela, the commission director, confirmed that the measures had been taken but would not identify the universities or the courses involved. The universities are prevented from enrolling students for the courses until the commission's concerns have been addressed. Courses can be put on probation while being assessed for accreditation, as in these cases, or when being assessed for accreditation renewal. Such action is taken when concerns arise about the quality of faculty, teaching standards, curriculum or resources. "When we see a sign of that, we put the programme under probation," Prof Aboul-Ela said. "There are only a few cases where we've had to take tough action against institutions." All universities licensed by the ministry must apply for accreditation for each programme before they recruit students for it. Prof Aboul-Ela said admissions to the courses under probation had been stopped "until the deficiencies are rectified". Despite concerns about the suspended programmes, Prof Aboul-Ela said students could be confident that in general, standards at ministry-licensed institutions were high. "All our licensed institutions are under our scrutiny and they're visited at least once a year, and they report their teaching load for every faculty every semester," he said. Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, the Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research, last month advised students and their parents to use the ministry's website to identify institutions that were licensed and had accredited programmes. "Some institutions are fully accredited and they do provide a good standard of education," he said. But the accreditation commission would not give assurances regarding unlicensed institutions. Universities in free zones, such as Dubai Knowledge Village, Dubai International Academic City and Ras al Khaimah Free Trade Zone, are not required to have ministry licences or commission accreditation for their courses. Dubai's Knowledge and Human Development Authority set up the University Quality Assurance International Board (Uqaib) to ensure that free-zone institutions in Dubai maintain the standards of their home-country campuses. This week Uqaib began vetting institutions to determine whether to license them. In a statement, the chairman of Uqaib, Dr Warren Fox, said the board worked "with international standards of quality in mind". "This approach is reflected in the board's line up of educationalists from around the world," he said. "It will be working hand in hand with educational institutions to raise standards, if that is found to be necessary. Its role is to help an institution to improve and it will act as a facilitator, rather than an enforcer." Unlike Dubai and Ras al Khaimah, Abu Dhabi does not have an education free zone and institutions have to obtain licences and commission accreditation. Concerns about university standards are not unique to the UAE, said Prof Jim Mienczakowski, the head of higher education at the Abu Dhabi Education Council. Prof Mienczakowski said that in Abu Dhabi, where the council vets applications from institutions wishing to open facilities, there were strong guidelines to determine what kinds of institutions would be allowed. Education authorities in Bahrain recently warned institutions there that they could be sanctioned if they failed to maintain standards by hiring unqualified faculty, or making it too easy for students to gain entry or pass examinations. dbardsley@thenational.ae