x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

MSU offers a master's to rebuild its campus

But with changes of leadership and a recent closure due to financial losses, critics question whether the university can recover

DUBAI // After closing its doors to undergraduates last year, Michigan State University's Dubai campus is trying to rebuild itself with more diverse postgraduate offerings.

In October, the university will begin teaching a master's degree in public health, tackling issues from car safety to obesity.

Dr Ayoub Kazim, the managing director of Knowledge Village where MSU now holds classes, said it filled a gap in the market, helping "working professionals but also health care in this region as a whole".

However, with just a handful of students - it currently has just 15 - and yet another executive director on his way out, questions remain over whether MSU can succeed.

Its launch, at the height of the downturn in 2008, was poorly timed. And its fees were high - at Dh58,000 a year, some Dh15,000 more than its rivals. The result has been losses running into the millions of dollars.

Last summer its original executive director, Dr Brendan Mullan, left Dubai to return to MSU's home campus in East Lansing and resume teaching in the sociology department. Shortly after, the Dubai campus's 85 existing undergraduates and 300 who had accepted places for September, as well as 24 academic and administrative staff, received an e-mail telling them the university would be closing.

About half the students relocated to the US, but many transferred to local universities, including the Rochester Institute of Technology's Dubai campus and the American University of Sharjah.

The new master's degree, a part-time two-year course, will be issued by the US university's college of human medicine, which according to rankings compiled by QS, the career and education consultants, and the Times Top 100, published by the British Times Higher Education Supplement, is among the world's top 1 per cent of medical schools.

The degree course will be delivered by MSU academics and healthcare professionals from the US to a class of 20 to 25, and will address issues resulting from the region's dramatic development in recent years.

"The key philosophy is prevention, preventing people from getting ill," said Dr Michael Rip, the course director. "Public health is a very invisible discipline. People only think of it after people start getting ill, for example, from poor water, obesity or epidemics like H1N1."

Last month, the university posted an advertisement for a new executive director, a "one-year position … with the option for a two-year renewal by mutual agreement".

However, a former MSU academic who asked not to be named said the institution still appeared to be faring badly, even with its focus on postgraduate studies. "It's a leaderless institution, which is not being managed well," he said. "I fear it will go the same way in time, as the undergraduate programme."

The campus's interim executive director, Dr Kevin Dunseath, said the new occupant of the role would ideally see it "through the next few years", a period that will include the launch of a master's in US law and jurisprudence next year. "It's very important to have the right kind of leadership," he said.

Dr Kennon Ryder was one of the academics who lost his job as a result of the closure, receiving the news by e-mail while on holiday.

Although he quickly found work - he now teaches child, youth and family services at Zayed University - the transition was not easy.

"It's been tough as every transition is tough but I'm settled now and happy to be here, and looking forward to starting the new year."

Abdallah Janeer, a 21-year-old undergraduate, transferred from MSU to RIT as his family in Saudi Arabia did not want him to be as far away as the US.

However, he had to switch subjects two years into his degree, changing from construction management to business and management. "I've settled in now but it was upsetting in the beginning."

mswan@thenational.ae