x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Oil university rises to the challenge

The Petroleum Institute is slowly but surely tackling a range of challenges, from acquiring international accreditation to restoring school spirit and sdtaff cohesion.

Ismail Tag, second from left, chats on the campus of the Petroleum Institute with the faculty members, from left, Ebrahim al Hajri, Hamad Karki and Khalid al Hammadi. Ravindranath K / The National
Ismail Tag, second from left, chats on the campus of the Petroleum Institute with the faculty members, from left, Ebrahim al Hajri, Hamad Karki and Khalid al Hammadi. Ravindranath K / The National

ABU DHABI / The new provost of the Petroleum Institute is slowly but surely tackling a range of challenges - from acquiring international accreditation to restoring school spirit and staff cohesion - in an effort to make the institute a genuine community. Melanie Swan reports from Abu Dhabi

Lecturers at the capital's oil industry university say it needs to work on becoming a community, and it must gain international academic recognition.

Four months ago, Dr Ismail Tag started as provost at the Petroleum Institute, an institute a fifth of the size of the one he previously headed - Cairo's 7,000-student Arab Academy of Science, Technology and Maritime Transport. However, the new job comes with no less pressure.

One priority, according to Ebrahim al Hajri, a lecturer at the institute for the past year and a half, should be to get it recognised by Abet, America's accrediting body for university engineering and technology courses.

Abet accredits more than 3,100 programmes at more than 600 colleges and universities worldwide, including UAE University in Al Ain.

"It's a priority that would set us up at a level equivalent to other universities around the world and the quality of our graduates will be recognised worldwide," Dr al Hajri said.

Accreditation, said Dr Tag, would acknowledge "that we're really delivering the required qualifications". Without it, he said, was "like being able to drive but not having a licence".

There are calls for more community spirit on campus, too - something of which Hamad Karki says he has seen little in the two and a half year he has taught there.

He said staff need a "common line" to follow so they are on the same wavelength.

Dr Tag said he immediately felt the lack of cohesion when he arrived, with the arts and science colleges especially alienated from the engineering "in crowd". In an effort to bring the academics together, he has set up committees and other forums.

Dr Karki said, too, that there is little mixing between the university's ethnic groups. Some 70 per cent of undergraduates, and 30 per cent of postgraduates, are Emirati.

"We need to capitalise on the ethnic diversity we have here," Dr al Hajri said. "If they're interacting more closely, the Emiratis will learn from the expatriates and the expatriates will learn from the Emiratis, rather than leaving without having expanded their fields of thought."

One answer, says Dr Tag, is more activities such as sports and cultural programmes. "We need more interaction," he said. "It's not just about academics but student life needs to be about mixing and diversity.

"We are already achieving this interaction by encouraging more team work between the students both in and out of the classroom."

Dr Karki said would help cultivating more loyalty to the institution, breeding better, prouder students:

"We need them to feel that they belong like the well-established universities. We lack this 'university life,' which would perhaps give them a better sense of belonging."

All graduates from the institute go on to work for Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (Adnoc) and its affiliates. The aim is for 75 per cent of students to be Emiratis by 2014.

As well as sending Emirati academics into schools as role models - "they are the success stories," he said - it will offer new academics seed funding for research.

"We are advertising internationally for faculty but also trying to work with the industry to get Emiratis in for postgraduate study," said Dr Tag. "Bachelor's degrees now should not be the terminal degree for graduates.

"Industry needs [Emiratis] badly so we need to encourage industry to send their engineers back to get a master's degree.

"We'd like the companies to send their employees without them losing their salaries and benefits, because education is a very important part of their career as well. It's viable for companies to send two or three engineers a year to do this."

Better staff would also help reduce the 10 per cent dropout rate, said Khalid al Hammadi, who has been a lecturer at the institute for more than four years.

Dr Tag hopes to hire at least 10 new lecturers in his first year. For that, he said, "we have to give them a good package in order to get the best."

"Now, we are bringing people to the institution to see what we're doing, the facilities, the research work, and that has tremendously improved things already."

Dr Hammadi thinks his new boss has already made a mark. He said: "The new administration is listening. Before, it wasn't very clear how things were meant to be done. "We have more clearly defined systems and goals."

Dr al Hajri agreed. "We're starting and are going in the right direction," he said. "The ball is rolling but not at the speed we want."

 

mswan@thenational.ae