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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 December 2018

UAE universities to be rated in bid to boost quality

Tertiary institutions found to be failing may face penalties, says ministry

Dr Ahmad Belhoul Al Falasi, UAE Minister of State for Higher Education and Advanced Skills, said the ministry will soon begin rating the quality of the country’s public and private colleges and university as part of a new strategy approved by the Cabinet. 
Courtesy: Ministry of Education
Dr Ahmad Belhoul Al Falasi, UAE Minister of State for Higher Education and Advanced Skills, said the ministry will soon begin rating the quality of the country’s public and private colleges and university as part of a new strategy approved by the Cabinet. Courtesy: Ministry of Education

The Ministry of Education will soon be issuing a star rating to all licensed colleges and universities, as part of the National Higher Education Strategy 2030 that was approved by the UAE Cabinet this week.

The star rating is one of four initiatives of the national strategy meant to raise the quality of post-secondary education and research across the country that was announced by the Minister of State for Higher Education Dr Ahmad Belhoul Al Falasi Wednesday in Dubai.

“The strategy is made up of four pillars – quality, relevance, innovation and efficiency,” Dr Al Falasi said. “Together, the pillars will help build a generation that is productive and equipped with the knowledge and skill-set to contribute to the development of a knowledge-based economy.”

A pilot version of the quality assurance star rating system will be tested in a select number of universities early next year and is expected to roll out to all private and public post-secondary institutions in the third quarter of 2018. The tertiary institutions will be judged on the quality of their teaching, reputation, internationalisation and the quality, quantity and impact of their research.

Much of the data used for the ratings will come from existing reports that universities and colleges are required to complete and submit to the ministry twice a year. Complementing these will be surveys the ministry plans to issue to students and employers and potential inspection visits.

“Currently, we are working on the methodology itself,” said Dr Mohammed Al Mualla, the ministry’s undersecretary for academic affairs of higher education.

Each university will be issued a quality assurance report by the ministry detailing the institution’s strengths and weaknesses.The reports will be available to the public.

“This will be useful in many ways, for example, in informing the parents and students what are the levels of this institution so that they can make an informed decision on where to go,” said Dr Al Mualla. “Currently, what is available is just what the institutions say about themselves, so everybody is claiming, ‘OK, I’m the top in this or that.’ So, that at least will provide some transparency for the community.”

“There are various approaches in the world in terms of doing the classifications. Some of them are based mainly on metrics – self-reported, plus maybe some independent verification. Obviously you have to verify what is self-reported. But also some other systems in the world they do these sort of peer visits and so on. Currently we are looking at various models,” he added.

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Dr Al Mualla said the ministry was studying the value of the Research Assessment Exercise in the UK, for instance, that measures the quality of research coming out of British institutes of higher learning.

Colleges and universities that are found to be failing to deliver on their academic and business promises may face penalties ranging from warnings to suspending admissions, depending on the severity of the infraction.

Aligned with raising the quality of higher education, the ministry has a goal of tripling the number of PhD candidates in the country in order to increase the quantity and calibre of academic research produced here. Of the 139,559 students currently studying in the country’s 74 licensed higher education institutions, 12,837 are graduate students and, of those, 840 are pursuing their PhD.

“The issue we have now is that although there is research conducted in universities, the impact of that research and the level of that research is not what we hope it to be,” said Dr Al Mualla. “In terms of the number of citations, we are number 58 in the world, and I think we are lagging behind. This is why we are launching this initiative to triple the number of PhD students so that we provide those tools for the academic staff to produce more impactful research.”

The national strategy will for the first time analyse historical data compiled by the MoE to look for links between the country’s public K-12 school system and higher education. The “big data” analysis is also aimed at reducing the drop-out rate at universities and colleges.

UAE,Abu Dhabi,5 September 2017: Khalifa University , Vidhyaa for The National
Universities are not currently ranked by the authorities in the UAE, but some major institutions, like Khalifa University, are ranked in global lists such as by Times Higher Education. Vidhyaa for The National

“Globally, the dropout rate is from four to 10 per cent. In the UAE, in the federal institutions, it’s about 14 percent,” said Dr Al Falasi. “We don’t have a huge dropout rate in higher education, but it is higher than average. What we would like now is to try and understand why that is happening.”

The fourth initiative announced by Dr Al Falasi involves creating a “higher education and private sector council” to engage private companies in academia.

“The role is two-fold, one they can be simply be a sounding board where they can tell us the feedback on our students, our graduates and our programs, and they can also tell us what’s happening in their own sector... what’s expected and how can they help us develop the programme,” said Dr Al Falasi. “The second element is to participate, so beyond being a sounding board, they can actually participate. We are keeping it open. They can participate by simply offering internships in the private sector, or they can participate with (funding) research, for example.”

More details about the quality assurance star rating system will be announced by the ministry next year.

Dean Hoke, co-founder of Edu Alliance, an Abu Dhabi and US higher education consultancy firm, said the initiative was “a positive step forward.”

“It should assist parents and students to make informed decisions for undergraduate and graduate programmes,” said Mr Hoke.