x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Teething problems at new Dh3.7bn Zayed University campus

More space, but delays hit some facilities at site of new campus.

From left: Mohamed Al Blooki, Khaled Ahmed and Ahmed Al Yamani at Zayed University.
From left: Mohamed Al Blooki, Khaled Ahmed and Ahmed Al Yamani at Zayed University.

ABU DHABI // As Zayed University's new Dh3.7 billion campus buzzed with beginning-of-term activity, concerns remained yesterday over whether it was ready to receive thousands of staff and students.

While new students lined up to receive brand-new laptops and sign up for classes, their older classmates yearned for the more familiar surroundings of the old, cramped campus on Abu Dhabi island.

Teething problems remained, a major one being a lack of signage to direct staff and students around the sprawling campus.

Even the security staff, all newly hired, appeared confused.

In the meantime, the canteen - one of the few places that is central and that everyone knows - proved a popular meeting point.

Communication was proving challenging, too, with no working land lines and patchy mobile phone reception.

Some computers lacked network connections, and were not linked to printers.

In an email sent to staff in late August, one academic suggested the problems might not be resolved for some time, and that other promised "state of the art" facilities would be delayed.

The media and communications department, for example, has 47 video conferencing rooms. But for now, only two work.

Last week, the university's provost, Dr Larry Wilson, said such problems were to be expected on a project this size.

Yesterday, girls complained about the amount of walking they would have to do between classes, and pined for the old school site on Delma Street.

Mariam Al Muhairi, an 18-year-old business student in her second year, said: "Now we have to walk very far. The old campus was easier, smaller."

Her classmate Sara Al Alyak, also 18, agreed. "The old campus was more organised," she said. "Everything was close ... here it's a bit chaotic and still feels unfinished. We moved too fast."

She said the air conditioning was not working everywhere, there was no wireless internet and the canteen kitchen was unfinished.

She and her friends said it was a long way to the campus - the drive to the Khalifa City site from the island takes around 30 minutes - but the university has not organised and has no plans to run buses for students.

"Some students have a driver and others have organised a bus themselves," said Amal Al Khouri, the activities coordinator at the university.

While its size and location daunted some, others were happy with the move.

Donald Glass, who teaches remedial English, said the campus was far more accessible. "I've got a back problem and there are far more slopes and elevators which make it easier for me to get around," he said.

He too said it would take time to get used to the size of the new campus.

"We've been talking about getting Segways [motorised scooters]," he joked.

On the men's campus, which houses 700 people compared to the 3,300 women next door, things seemed calmer.

Security guards watched attentively to ensure no lost students accidentally wandered into the opposite sex's campus. In time a swipe card system will prevent such mistakes, but it has yet to be installed.

Ahmed Adhah, 18, said the new campus was "wonderful". He has just begun university and wants to study IT once he completes his remedial English studies over the coming year.

"Zayed University is the best university in the UAE," he said. "When graduates leave here they find jobs very quickly."

mswan@thenational.ae