x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

RAK tightens rules for free zone universities

It will impose stricter quality control on colleges.

RAS AL KHAIMAH // Rules governing universities and colleges in the emirate’s academic free zone are being tightened to protect students.

Until now, a business could open a university in the free zone in Ras Al Khaimah without any guarantee of quality, accreditation or even provision of qualifications.

The Ministry of Education has more than 70 institutions under its Commission for Academic Accreditation, but it does not recognise schools in free zones.

In Dubai, the Knowledge and Human Development Authority’s University Quality Assurance International Board ensures that international campuses in free zones adhere to the standards and curriculum of the main university. Dubai is the only emirate to have such a system.

There are three federally accredited institutions in Ras Al Khaimah – the American University of Ras Al Khaimah, Higher Colleges of Technology, and the Ras Al Khaimah Medical and Health Sciences University.

Ras Al Khaimah’s education regulator will institute new rules to ensure stricter quality control and that schools provide honest and accurate marketing material.

Taner Topcu, director of the emirate’s academic zone, seeks to follow Dubai’s system.

Education providers in Ras Al Khaimah must agree to undertake the branch campus model, which the Swiss Business School is complying with.

“We need the institution to be accredited by its home country before we register them here,” said Mr Topcu.

The London American City College left Ras Al Khaimah after the change in regulations, while other schools – including Abasyn University from Pakistan, and Birla Institute of Technology and Science from India – are seeking accreditation from their home states.

“We want to base the system on a UK model of quality assurance, but we have to do this gradually,” said Mr Topcu.

Making universities more accountable for their marketing is another way for regulators to scrutinise them.

There are guidelines for the use of prose and images, which means that institutions can no longer show pictures of classrooms full of European students when this does not represent the learning environment.

Separately, the financing arm of the University of Bolton has been forced to change its name from “Western International College” to “Western International Corporation” because it is neither part of the university nor a college.

It is a franchise business hosting the university and will now be more tightly regulated by the home campus.

There is as yet no recourse for students who have issues and complaints about institutions.

Dr Natasha Ridge, executive director of the Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research, said stronger regulations and safety nets for students were “well overdue”.

She said many students had been exploited by non-accredited institutions, “so it’s a really good step forward”.

In Ras Al Khaimah, there are about 7,000 students, with 1,500 of them in free zones.

It is necessary for the emirate to tighten education regulations, as it hopes to reap the economic benefits of having a private education system.

“We have rejected more than 10 universities already,” said Mr Topcu.

Franco Vigliotti, dean of the Ras Al Khaimah campus of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL), welcomed the tighter regulation.

The campus is accredited by the institution in Lausanne, Switzerland.

“I believe the ultimate goal across the UAE should be the extension of education programmes into high-quality and full-time research-based master’s and PhD programmes,” said Dr Vigliotti.

“This is what the nation will need to be in place in the years to come.”

Dean Hoke, co-founder of the Edu Alliance consultancy, said change was necessary.

“Parents want to know if the school is providing a good education and that graduates are likely to find meaningful employment,” he said.

“Setting and maintaining accreditation standards in line with international benchmarks is in the best and long-term interests of attracting and sustaining world-class universities, good faculty and students to any emirate.”​

mswan@thenational.ae