x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Stigma of online learning needs to be debunked, say UAE academics

Academics hope international policy-makers in higher education will help counter the myths and stereotypes of online education when they meet in Dubai during the Mena Higher Education Leadership Forum in November.

DUBAI // Academics will face the challenges within the country’s higher education system at a conference in November, and top of the agenda will be technology and research.

The Mena Higher Education Leadership Forum will see UAE organisations and institutions such as the University of Dubai and the Saudi German Hospital coming together with international counterparts from around 30 countries.

Dr Narimane Hadj-Hamou, the forum chairwoman, said the conference will “tackle what a world-class university actually means” and how those concepts and qualities can be applied to the UAE.

“We will focus a lot on technology and research, which is a problem across all disciplines.”

She said with the “impressive growth” in the number of universities in the UAE – there are more than 100 – some areas still need to be smoothed out.

“There is still a perception that online learning, for example, is inferior quality but I think that will change if you see how many online universities are launching in the region, including Hamdan bin Mohammed e-University here in Dubai.”

The e-University has been around for nearly a decade, and it is the only accredited online university in the UAE.

“The key issue is to ensure we have proper quality frameworks to make sure it doesn’t become inferior. Many of these programmes, when done properly, actually produce better graduates as the student has to take the responsibility for themselves.

“Places like the UK’s Open University have been producing quality graduates for several years and there are many others like this.”

Dr Hadj-Hamou said she hopes the forum will reach the audience of the policy-makers whose support is needed to break down the stereotypes, misconceptions and the stigma attached to online learning.

Dr Mathew Nicho, director of the information systems masters degree at the University of Dubai, said mainstreaming online education was vital.

“Not everyone can come to class always. Online learning, technology in learning, the availability of information through online media has completely changed the world,” he said.

Iftikhar Asfi, the business planning manager at the Saudi German Hospital, said his facility will focus on the need for more medical education and research in the country.

The hospital in Dubai, its first in the UAE and sixth branch, aims to expand its medical schools to the country.

“This forum can help promote the success and planning of research and new ideas,” he said. “This is a platform for coming up with our own ideas as well as sharing those of others.”

The University of Texas is one of the worldwide organisations expected to participate in the forum.

“We have a long history of involvement in the Mena region, from numerous research, scholarship and teaching relationships, to our alumni holding key leadership positions in business and education,” said Prof Richard Flores, associate dean for academic affairs in the college of liberal arts.

“The Leadership Forum is an important arena to build on this history and deepen our partnership bonds with key educational leaders.”

mswan@thenational.ae