x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Foreign university to offer PhDs

Heriot-Watt University is set to become the first foreign institution to offer local students the chance to study for doctorates.

Professor Brian G D Smart, Deputy Principal of Heriot-Watt University in HWU Dubai Campus at Dubai Academic City.
Professor Brian G D Smart, Deputy Principal of Heriot-Watt University in HWU Dubai Campus at Dubai Academic City.

DUBAI // The Dubai campus of a British university is set to become the first foreign institution to offer local students the chance to study for doctorates. Heriot-Watt University, which is based in Edinburgh and has a campus in Dubai International Academic City, is now taking applications from potential PhD students. Prof Brian Smart, dean of the Dubai campus, said the aim was for the school to grow into a complete campus.

"It is already fully fledged in terms of the degrees it's offering at present - the academic standards are very high - but the campus is not complete in having research. "We want to help Dubai to grow at the rate it wants to and to help build the human capital to support that growth." Universities from overseas have so far offered only bachelor and Master's degrees on their local campuses. The move to the PhD is in keeping with the desire of the education authorities to see universities develop research expertise alongside their teaching operations.

Prof Smart said people who completed doctorates at the university would develop expertise valuable to the local economy. Most or all of those studying for doctorates would be part-time students who were carrying out research for their thesis in addition to a full-time job. "This needs a recognition by the employer that this PhD is valuable and worth supporting directly in terms of sponsorship or in terms of time," Prof Smart said.

He said the university might also be able to take on full-time PhD students for a three-year course of study, as long as they did not require much space for their research. "We don't have enough room. We are creaking at the seams a little bit with all the students who are here during the day," he said. "We would hope that we could find space for the PhD that only requires a desk and a computer, such as finance or economics-orientated PhDs."

There are about 650 students of 38 nationalities enrolled at the Dubai campus of Heriot-Watt University. About 40 per cent are undergraduates, while the rest are postgraduates earning Master's degrees. The Dubai campus, which opened in September 2005, was one of the first institutions to open in Dubai International Academic City. Heriot-Watt University in Scotland dates back 180 years, making it the eighth-oldest university in the United Kingdom.

Prof Smart said the school's focus had always been on "producing graduates that service the needs of the economy". In keeping with this focus on applied subjects, the campus here offered courses in areas such as construction management, accountancy and finance, mechanical engineering and petroleum engineering. "What excites us about Dubai is that it's a rapidly developing economy," Prof Smart said.

In some ways, he said, Dubai's speedy growth mirrored the fast-changing situation back when Heriot-Watt was founded during Britain's industrial revolution. With lack of space an issue for the university, Prof Smart said Heriot-Watt planned to build a new campus elsewhere in Dubai International Academic City and hoped to accommodate about 2,000 students. "It will be bigger and purpose-designed to cater to what we want to do," he said.

"We are talking maybe four to five years from now. "If we're here we want to be making a substantial contribution. We feel that as our reputation grows, we expect people not only coming from Dubai, but from across the region." Education authorities are keen to encourage universities to expand their research work. Abu Dhabi Education Council has said that when considering applications from universities looking to open branches in the emirate, it would prioritise those from organisations that planned to have large research operations and offer doctoral degrees.

One of the national institutions to offer PhDs is the Islamic and Arabic Studies College in Dubai. dbardsley@thenational.ae