x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

New campus to add life to UAE University

Premises will give students complete tertiary experience.

AL AIN // Academics hope the opening of the UAE University's Dh2.5 billion campus in September will help the institution to draw more students and high-calibre staff.

The university's Maqam women's campus opened in September 2010. The male campus next door will take its total capacity to 20,000 and unite seven locations.

It will spare students and teachers the inconvenience of having to drive around the city to complete even the most basic tasks, such as visiting the library.

Dr Abdullah Al Khanbashi, the vice chancellor, said the campus would give students access to a host of extra-curricular facilities on the 80-hectare site, including an indoor swimming pool and sports fields, as well as state-of-the-art laboratories.

"In addition to the university's reputation, the thing that attracts good students is the facilities, accommodation, the student life," Dr Al Khanbashi said. "Personalities are not just formed in the classroom."

The extra space for research should also help to attract top-quality academics. "It is better for the graduate and PhD students, too," Dr Al Khanbashi said.

He said the effect was already visible in the female students, who spend more time on campus. They were more enthusiastic about learning and were engaged in many more extra-curricular activities and events.

Dr Al Khanbashi said he hoped the pattern would be repeated on the male campus.

Dr Sameera Al Zarooni joined the university's teaching staff in 1997. Now the head of architectural engineering, she said the move to unite campuses had made a significant difference to university life.

Students are more enthusiastic, which will filter out to prospective students, many of whom enrol through word of mouth.

Dr Al Zarooni said having all departments in one place was helping staff to coordinate on research and that was likely only to increase when the men's campus opened.

"When I started, my department wasn't even in the same site as the other engineering departments," she said. "This is a great thing for the university."

When UAEU launched as the country's first university in 1977 with five colleges - half the number it has today - it opened up educational opportunities previously unattainable for most, especially women.

At the time, most girls did not even complete the most basic high school education.

Dr Fatima Al Shamsi, the secretary general of the UAEU, joined the college of business in 1990.

"The decision to open UAEU in Al Ain was very wise," Dr Al Shamsi said. "The women here were up against a lot of resistance from their families to even send them to school.

"If the university had simply been in Abu Dhabi or Dubai, the effect wouldn't have helped the women of Al Ain to get their education."

Dr Maryam Al Marashad, the dean of students, was among the university's first class of 1977, studying English literature and linguistics.

Life at the university, where 75 per cent of 13,000 students are female, is a far cry from her student days when it opened with 278 men and 194 women.

Growing up in the small Sharjah town of Kalba, Dr Al Marashad said girls were rarely encouraged to pursue education.

"I remember there were around 60 of us in a class at the start of school, but by the time I finished just four girls were left," she said.

"At 12 or 13, families were thinking of marrying off their daughters and by around 15 they'd be married. I was lucky as my father, who had seven sisters, was a supporter of education and a great advocate of women."

Dr Al Khanbashi said the university was seen as the "foundation" of the nation. Its alumni include Khulood Al Dhaheri, the UAE's first female judge, and Mariam Al Roumi, the Minister of Social Affairs.

"Unlike many other universities in the region, the university was open from day one for men and women, all disciplines open to both," Dr Al Khanbashi said. "It was a university for the people.

"Females couldn't easily travel abroad to study so this opened a door for them to join the economy of the country and was a chance for them to learn. That was amazing at that time. In those days studying was not open to the masses, but now it's an expectation."

mswan@thenational.ae