x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

UAE University aims for top of the table

The new provost of UAE University (UAEU) has pledged to make it one of the top 100 institutions in the world.

Rory Hume, the new provost at the United Arab Emirates University in Al Ain, talks to students Azzan al Falsei and Mohammed Saif.
Rory Hume, the new provost at the United Arab Emirates University in Al Ain, talks to students Azzan al Falsei and Mohammed Saif.

AL AIN // The new provost of UAE University (UAEU) has pledged to make it one of the top 100 institutions in the world and the best of its kind in the Middle East. "The opportunity here is enormous. The nation and the region needs more institutions of strength and this can become one," said Dr Rory Hume. Though UAEU, which was founded in 1976 and is the oldest in the country, is one of the few higher education institutions in the country with significant research programmes, it was not included among Shanghai Jiao Tong University's list of the world's top 500 universities published last month.

Dr Hume said UAEU should make "substantial progress" within two years, adding that it aimed to be the Gulf's leading research university within five years. "I am very familiar with universities now included within the top 100. I would want this university to be at least in their company quite quickly," he said. The goal was entirely reasonable, he said, given what the UAE was doing in other areas. But, he said, to do so would require more funding from a variety of sources, including government investment, competitive research grants, industrial sources and philanthropic donors.

The Government has demonstrated a willingness to fund research, having this year launched the National Authority for Scientific Research, with an annual budget of Dh100 million (US$27.22m). Nevertheless, Dr Hume said, improving standards in the school's undergraduate and professional programmes was more of a priority than expansion. Based in Al Ain, UAEU is one of three federal higher education institutions, along with Zayed University and the Higher Colleges of Technology. It has more than 14,000 students, 95 per cent of them Emiratis and the rest from other GCC states.

Classes are held in buildings scattered across Al Ain, but the university is due to move into a new, central campus within two years. Earlier this year, Zayed University gained accreditation from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, and Dr Hume said UAEU would also seek US accreditation. He said Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research, was "very clear" that he wanted UAEU to secure US accreditation.

Dr Hume, 63 and originally from Australia, served as vice chancellor of the University of New South Wales, Sydney. More recently he was provost of the University of California, which has 10 major campuses, including the Berkeley and UCLA, and nearly 200,000 students. As an undergraduate he studied dentistry before completing a PhD in medical pharmacology. He takes over the provost position from Dr Abdulla al Khanbashi, who was appointed UAEU's vice-chancellor.

Dr Hume added that the university could launch PhD programmes as early as next year. "It's very important that we have high quality research programmes as soon as possible," he said. "That's one of the key steps we have to take." While keen for more Emirati graduates to become research scholars, Dr Hume also hopes to attract graduate students from overseas. He dismissed any potential impact from renowned institutions such as New York University or the Paris-Sorbonne, which are both building campuses in Abu Dhabi. Students will still want to attend a research university operating in the national interest, he said.

"The learning environment of a research-intensive university is very rich and helps prepare young people for a broad range of futures," he said. "It is much more of an education than just training and I think we'll remain attractive to very high quality students." dbardsley@thenational.ae