x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Pioneering university wants Obama

New Zayed University campus could be inaugurated by President.

President Obama could inaugurate the new Dh4 billion Zayed University campus - but may have to make his appearance via videolink.
President Obama could inaugurate the new Dh4 billion Zayed University campus - but may have to make his appearance via videolink.

ABU DHABI // Two years ago, the world listened as Barack Obama spoke of the importance of educating women, and of increasing understanding between the Muslim world and the West.

"A woman who is denied an education is denied equality," he said in his Cairo speech in 2009.

"And it is no coincidence that countries where women are well-educated are far more likely to be prosperous."

Now the country's pioneering university for women is hoping the US president will follow through by inaugurating its new Dh4 billion campus.

The first Zayed University students will start at the state-of-the-art campus in September but hopes are being pinned on a videolink from Mr Obama to mark the grand opening in December.

While the president is planning to visit the UAE this year, according to a source at the State Department, the ceremony falls on December 7 - the anniversary of the Japanese invasion of Pearl Harbour. That ties Mr Obama to a series of engagements in the US.

Sources at the State Department and the university confirmed that talks were under way to arrange a video link-up with the president to coincide with the opening, symbolising the strong ties the two countries now share.

The US ambassador, Richard Olsen, has met the university's vice-president, Sulaiman al Jassim to discuss the project, which was also discussed with the US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, when she visted the UAE last month. The UAE's ambassador in Washington, Yousef al Otaiba, is involved, too.

The new campus, almost a kilometre square, has been designed to represent the country's desert plains. Its roof, an undulating structure that conjures not only dunes but the shayla, will be "iconic" and recognised around the world, according to the university's provost, Dan Johnson.

It will have space for 6,000 student capacity - a long way from the 200 women who started at the original campus in 1998, says Riham Hwaidi, director of the development project, and double the size of its current campus in the capital.

"This is a big expansion in one decade, not only in physical space but in terms of the student body," she said.

As the university has grown, so has the students' confidence. "Back then, the girls we saw were so shy and now, they are so confident, doing public speaking, giving presentations, they are so different and have developed quite nicely."

The east and west campuses, for male and female students, will be divided by a wall. Men and women will use the facilities at separate times.

Established as a women-only institution, it does now have some men, but women still comprise 70 per cent of the student body.

The new campus will demonstrate the university's continuing commitment to its female students, with a childcare centre available for the children of students and staff.

It will also have a four-storey library with a tiered amphitheatre design based on the US Library of Congress.

Dozens of date palms, a UAE symbol, will be dotted around the campus, and there will be shaded walkways and indoor promenades.

The on-site dormitories will offer services from pharmacies to hair salons, encouraging the students to spend their evenings on campus.

There will be facilities for the public, too, with 1,000-capacity theatre and a convention centre used for special events and performances to involve the wider community in the evenings.

Fatima Abdulla, an Emirati education consultant and managing director of Global Consulting, said Zayed was a pioneering institution when it opened in 1998, growing a name for itself as much as it grew its student body.

"It was the first of its kind, hoping to develop the leaders of the future," she said.

"Although the Higher Colleges of Technology had women's colleges, this was the first university only for women."

She said the new campus was badly needed to replace the current, overcrowded facility.

mswan@thenational.ae