x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

New UAE Minister of Higher Education to pick up the challenges

The new Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mubarak, comes into a portfolio that is not without its challenges.

ABU DHABI // The new Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mubarak, comes into a portfolio that is not without its challenges.

Although his background is not in educationhe has served as Minister of Public Works since February 2004.

For the time being at least, his brother Sheikh Nahyan will keep some of his old role, as chancellor of UAE University and the Higher Colleges of Technology (HCT), and president of Zayed University.

HCT's provost, Dr Mark Drummond, said allowing Sheikh Hamdan to keep his focus solely on ministry affairs would ease the transition.

Dr Drummond said the Commission for Academic Accreditation, the university regulator set up in 2000, will continue to need "close attention and support as the number and complexity of institutions in the UAE increases".

And the federal universities are crying out for more money.

With the number of students rising by about 20 per cent a year, even with tougher admission standards, several campuses desperately need to expand - especially the overflowing Zayed University campus in Dubai.

More money is also needed for meaningful research. UAE University has set itself apart as the country's only dedicated research institute but funding remains is a major hurdle, not only there but at other institutions trying to make their mark, such as the Petroleum Institute and Khalifa University.

"If research cannot continue in the Emirates, it won't lead to innovation and patents," said Prof Mohamed Baniyas, the provost of UAEU. "You still have to encourage the bigger steps. There should be some sort of mechanism to support research."

The UAE's research accounts for about 0.01 per cent of gross domestic product, compared with more than 3 per cent in Finland and Japan and more than 2.5 per cent in Denmark and the US.

mswan@thenational.ae