x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Universities 'can do more' to collaborate on research

A university director has said he has been disappointed with the amount of research and collaboration between universities in the UAE

Dr Raed Awamleh, the director of Middlesex University Dubai, says co-operation on research has not developed as fast as it could.
Dr Raed Awamleh, the director of Middlesex University Dubai, says co-operation on research has not developed as fast as it could.

Universities are not co-operating enough on joint research projects and are instead competing to attract and teach undergraduates, according to senior figures in higher education. Academics say the UAE has yet to develop a "research community" of institutions that share ideas and expertise on a regular basis.

However, with Dubai International Academic City set to expand and more overseas institutions moving to Abu Dhabi, officials are hopeful the co-operative research culture they say has eluded the country will develop. Dr Raed Awamleh, the recently appointed director of Middlesex University Dubai, said in Knowledge Village, where the university is based, that joint research initiatives had developed "below expectations".

"It has progressed but we can do more. [Research collaboration] has not developed as fast as it could." He said there had not been as many academic conferences that drew together academics from different universities as there might have been. "There have been some good quality ones, but it's been more for professional development and trade, rather than academic [subjects]." Middlesex University Dubai opened in 2005 as the first overseas branch of Middlesex University, a London-based institution.

It is one of several university branch campuses based in Knowledge Village, an academic free zone near Dubai Media City, which was launched in 2003 and also contains commercial companies operating in fields such as publishing, personnel and e-learning. Prof Jim Mienczakowski, the head of higher education at Abu Dhabi Education Council, said there was a lack of collaborative research projects, and even of research within institutions.

"Many of the private universities, especially with activities related to undergraduate qualifications, haven't got a specific research focus as institutions," he said. "They're concentrating on the business side of higher education rather than focusing on research, and they probably won't collaborate on research very easily. Their focus has not been on it and they're in competition." However, he said the leadership of Abu Dhabi emirate was "very committed" to developing a research culture that was beneficial economically and also enhanced the capital's international reputation. He said some universities, notably the UAE University, were already producing high-quality research.

"It's about making the opportunities available and assisting them to take up the research challenge." He said the opening of branches of New York University, the Paris-Sorbonne and Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, all world-renowned institutions and all planning major research operations, was a major step forward. "The view of the leaders of this emirate is clear: to have the research required to give credibility to academic programmes and to enrich our cultural and economic capabilities."

The tertiary sector is also set to expand in Dubai, with much of the growth centred on Dubai International Academic City, described as the world's only higher-education free zone. Dr Awamleh said Middlesex University Dubai could move there, joining Michigan State University, which opens a branch there this year, and several other institutions. "With some universities in Academic City [and others in Knowledge Village], there are now two campuses, but as more universities arrive in Academic City, a critical mass [will develop] and I expect more co-operation and interaction," he said.

Prof Ashly Pinnington, the dean of the faculty of business at the British University in Dubai, which is based in Knowledge Village but is looking to move to Academic City, cautioned against the perception that universities were not co-operating on research. He said there was "informal interaction" between staff and students at Knowledge Village, even if this rarely extended to taking part in funded research.

"Academics and students [from different universities] do meet up and we have a range of workshops at BUiD and large numbers of guest lecturers on a range of subjects," he said. He agreed that Academic City was "the place of the future" in Dubai emirate, saying it would become "a much bigger hub". "It will be a bigger beacon in terms of higher education research." @Email:dbardsley@thenational.ae