x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Uni gets overhaul to attract students

One of the Ruler's projects to reform the emirate's education offerings is to support the ailing American University of RAK.

New degrees in civil engineering and general education are part of the changes coming to the American University of Ras Al Khaimah.
New degrees in civil engineering and general education are part of the changes coming to the American University of Ras Al Khaimah.

RAS AL KHAIMAH // One of the Ruler's projects to reform the emirate's education offerings is to support the ailing American University of RAK.

The facility has been undergoing a radical transformation since the appointment of a new vice chancellor in August.

Dr Hassan Al Alkim left UAE University to take up the post in his hometown and admitted he faced a huge challenge.

The private institution, established in 2009 on the site of the short-lived George Mason University, has struggled to recruit students and has seen a high turnover of teaching staff and leadership.

Dr Al Alkim has increased enrolment from 102 students to 195 and, by September, will have discharged 75 per cent of the teaching staff in a bid to raise standards.

"The academics were [of] very poor quality, many without even any academic experience," he said. "They have done their job. We're grateful for them and thank them for what they have done but because the university's mission has changed, we intend to inject new blood who adhere to the academic principles of hierarchy ranking."

Dr Al Alkim admitted that student recruitment was small due to the university's limited offerings.

But a host of new degrees are being launched, including civil engineering and general education.

The facility is hiring deans and department heads to run these new programmes.

"If you want to have a good university, you have to have good faculty," said Dr Al Alkim.

Many of the academics will be American and agreements with the State University of New York, George Mason University and California State University means more US curriculums for the students.

Dr Al Alkim, who also heads the RAK Economic Department, has also established advisory councils made up of Emirati academics from UAE University and industry representatives.

These will oversee the establishment of the new colleges and ensure curriculums have local relevance.

The university is one of a number of private institutions in the emirate being supported by the Ruler, Sheikh Saud bin Saqr, who believes that bringing greater education choices to the young men and women of the emirate is vital.

There is currently just one federal institution in the emirate, the Higher Colleges of Technology, which serves only Emiratis and is free.

Few attend the emirate's private institutions, where fees are about Dh40,000 a year.

To address this, Dr Al Alkim has set up a series of scholarship programmes with local industries to entice Emirati students to the institution, which will offer a wider range of courses than its federal counterpart.

More than 40 new students have enrolled for the coming year thanks to the schemes with companies such as the pharmaceutical manufacturers Julphar, which will sponsor five of the university's biotechnology students annually.

Sheikh Saud said such scholarships offer vital opportunities to young Emiratis who cannot afford the fees of a private institution.

"It's how industry can secure better quality graduates," he said in an interview with The National.

The Sheikh Saqr Programme for Student Excellence will now also send 10 students annually to the university.

mswan@thenational.ae