x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

UAE University provost resigns

Prof Rory Hume, a champion of more funding for research and development in federal universities, has resigned.

"It's been a great pleasure to contribute to the development of higher education and research in the country," says Prof Hume.

AL AIN // Prof Rory Hume has resigned as provost of UAE University after four years in the post.

Although Prof Hume would not be drawn on the reasons for his departure, the university's vice chancellor, Dr Abdullah Al Khanbashi, said the provost had simply decided to move on at the end of his contract.

Others, though, blame the ongoing challenge of working in an institution that has had major budget cuts, a resistance to institutional change and a lack of financial support from government and industry on its major research projects.

Funding continues to be a challenge for all the federal universities, which started this academic year with an overall shortfall of Dh428 million. Of that, the UAEU's shortfall was Dh63m - or 4.5 per cent of its budget requirements.

"It's been a great pleasure to contribute to the development of higher education and research in the country," Prof Hume told The National. "I'm looking at some very good opportunities to continue doing that."

His resignation is just the latest in a sector with a constant revolving door of leadership. Zayed University's appointment last summer of a new provost, Dr Larry Wilson, was the seventh time it has filled the post since it opened in 1998.

Dr Al Khanbashi said this was not a problem. "Stability is mostly from the deans and the people who are close to the students," he said.

Dr Maryam Al Marashda, the dean of students who has been at the university for 21 years, disagrees. "Stability of leadership is very important," she said. "You need at least three or four years to see if strategy is working. "

Dr Al Marashda said she had seen five provosts come and go during just 10 years when she was assistant dean of humanities.

In his four years at UAEU, Prof Hume has overseen major changes. He set it on its path towards becoming a research-led university, launching its first doctoral courses as well as degrees in areas such as water resources and energy.

He is also a founding member of the University Leadership Council, a group of provosts at leading UAE universities who are jointly pushing government and industry to give greater support to research and development.

An international search is now on for Prof Hume's replacement, but Dr Al Marashda says there are people already at the university who are ready to take on the role.

Near a third of UAEU's academics are Emirati, which, she says, could make it time to look within.

"We have so much expertise here," she said. "Our dean of engineering [Dr Reyadh Al Mehaideb] is just one of them. He is a Stanford graduate."

But she is sad to see Prof Hume go. "He made significant changes here, like transforming the institution from one primarily focused on teaching, to a research institution which combines both.

"Thanks to him, other areas have opened up, such as social issues, women's issues. His leadership was very transparent."

Dr Peter Heath, the chancellor of the American University of Sharjah, arrived in the UAE at the same time as Prof Hume. The pair have collaborated extensively, on the University Leadership Council and in other areas.

"His main assignment was to increase the research productivity and the international profile of the university," Dr Heath said. "He has in a very short time been able to make significant progress in achieving these goals.

"He has provided more internal university funding for faculty research and development and worked hard to network with external funding sources to provide more support, with very positive results."

Not least, he added, Prof Hume can take credit for the fact that UAEU now ranks in the top 500 universities in the world in the QS international rankings.

"I will miss working with him but am sure that he will continue to enjoy professional success wherever he next goes."

Dr Mark Drummond, a fellow federal provost, at the Higher Colleges of Technology, described Prof Hume as "a true gentleman".

"He has succeeded in putting UAEU on the map as a legitimate and emerging research university and in building bridges between the various sectors that operate in the UAE society,"Dr Drummond said.

mswan@thenational.ae