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University of Dubai president: ‘Knowledge is different from education’

New president has big plans for University of Dubai and believes that every discipline is important for humanity and society

  • By Ruqya Khan
  • Published: 07:00 November 10, 2013
  • Gulf News

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Dubai: Dr Essa Mohammad Bastaki, the recently appointed President of the University Of Dubai (UD), lives by the simple principle that ‘Life is in the doing and sharing’. He believes every moment offers you learning and that knowledge is quite different from education.

After taking over as President of UD, what changes do you envision for the institution?

“At UD, emphasis is on independence and confidence. We have an obligatory internship clause that greatly benefits the students. This means that doing a semester of internship is essential for a student to complete graduation.” Dr Eesa Mohammad Bastaki

Top priority on my list of things to do is to get the University of Dubai on the list of top 100 universities worldwide. Even though our standards are good and competent, we are currently not in that league. It will not be easy to get there but this is my vision and we will steadily make it. It is about making our presence felt and not compromising on quality of education and learning.

What is unique about the university that makes a strong case for students to enrol here?

The University of Dubai was founded in 1997 by the Dubai Chamber of Commerce. It is the first university in Dubai to have an Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) accreditation. The IT college bachelor’s degree is accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (Abet). In addition, schools can take quality assurance a step further and earn specialised accreditations for specific degree programmes and disciplines — such as for business and engineering. UD is, therefore, the first college in the Middle East to be accredited by Abet for their information systems discipline.

Due to strict rules in the country, there is a minimum standard of quality education providers have to maintain. While all schools and universities are accredited, we must realise that not all accreditations are the same. For business degree programmes, AACSB accreditation is the largest and most recognised specialised accreditation worldwide. The requirements for AACSB accreditation are very stringent. Plus, Abet is a recognised accreditor in the US by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. Abet accreditation provides assurance that a college or university programme meets the quality standards established by the profession for which the programme prepares its students. Going to college is a big investment. You are going to spend hours studying, writing papers and taking exams. You also are going to spend a lot of money. It is only fair that all that work and money should give you what you have paid for.

What programmes at UD are compatible with the new era of technology and management?

The University of Dubai distinguishes itself from other universities not just in accreditations but also in the wide array of disciplines and degrees that it offers. It is one of the few universities that has seven degrees in Bachelors of Business Administration (BBA). The programmes are accounting, finance and banking, marketing, management, HR and management, supply chain and logistics management and entrepreneurship management. For the master’s programme, they have four programmes, each is a double major with two disciplines – finance and accounts, leadership and HR management, international business and marketing and operations and logistics management.

One of the main and much-in-demand programmes in Bachelor of Sciences is the information system security programme. This is largely due to the shift in the world’s pattern of work. As we move towards the cloud computing era, the main issue that anyone will face is information security. Hence we are encouraging our students to take up subjects that will be of value in the market of tomorrow. We want to ensure we graduate professionals that are capable of looking at security of all the stems, whether it is cyberspace security or even the local network, the intranet and/or the internet.

Among other things, UD is awaiting approvals to add new programmes such as a Master of Laws degree and a doctorate degree in business administration to its repertoire.

Tell us about the new campus building that UD will soon have.

Work is in progress for it that will be located on three million square feet of land in the Dubai Academic City. The design has been approved and construction is likely to begin soon. The building is in a spiral design with a solar veil and individual blocks and wings for each faculty. As we grow, the spiral will continue to grow from its main base of administration. The idea is to reflect the continuity of learning and growth. We are aiming for the new campus to be ready in 2015.

What needs to be done to bring academics on par with the industries so that students are on the career path soon after their degree?

At UD, emphasis is on independence and confidence. We have an obligatory internship clause that greatly benefits the students. This means that doing a semester of internship is essential for a student to complete graduation. UD is in MoUs with the industry so that students get internships. This gives them the much-needed hands on experience. It prepares them for their future full-fledged jobs. Ninety- eight per cent of our graduates find jobs soon after graduation. We are able to maintain this staggering percentage due to the strong relationships that we have with the business sectors.

We also have an Alumni student mentoring programme, wherein college alumni come back and mentor students at the university and help them grasp the learnings of transformation from university to industry. We also have a very strong base in terms of training and executive development. We run CED (Centre of Executive Development), where professionals in the community looking to develop themselves are catered to. We have 40 programmes already and also make customised courses as per the need of the associate organisation. We are in special agreement with Dewa, Dubai Police and the Ruler’s court to train their team across a wide cross section of areas like customer service, HR skills, etc.

What are your views on Emiratisation vis-a-vis a multicultural and vibrant work force for international competition?

About 65 per cent of the students at UD are expats and this gives it an identity of its own. We give importance to unity in diversity. Just as it takes different kinds to make the world, so it is for a campus too. We are no longer divided in countries and regions – we all have a global existence. We need different ideas, different ways of thinking and all this can be achieved when we are progressive and liberal.

How different is education today compared to your time?

When I was a student the level of learning was very high. That is because we went with a thirst to acquire knowledge and not because that was expected of us kids. My peers who graduated with me in 1976 are now all at good designations. We all yearned to get the degree not just for ourselves but also to provide for the family and the country. The day a student realises the power of his education, that is when he becomes a blessing for his nation. In keeping with this logic, universities have shifted their focus from the teaching aspect to understanding what the student has learnt.

You are the recipient of the highest award in the UAE, the ‘Emirates Excellence Award in Sciences, Literature and Arts’ in the field of sciences. How do you think curriculums can strike the balance between sciences and humanities?

While I did receive my honour in sciences, I still do not belittle my role in arts and literature. I do not believe these can be two different entities. Arts and sciences complement one another. They cannot exist without the other – engineering with knowledge of economics is futile, just as architecture is vain without knowledge of sociology and human nature. The ideal curriculum gives a broader perspective at the onset of higher learning. It is one that understands that every discipline is important for humanity as a whole. While knowledge is everything, knowing is true learning and it is different from education.

The writer is a Sharjah-based freelance writer.

Fact Box

Dr Bastaki speaks with an extensive experience behind him in education, leadership, technology and communications. For more than 30 years, he worked as a professor at United Arab Emirates University (UAEU) specialising in Communications Engineering. He also recently held positions as CEO of ICT Fund; Director of Education, Training and Research & Development for Dubai Silicon Oasis (DSO); Consultant and IT Project Manager for Al-Ain Municipality; and Chairman and Partner of Barajeel Engineering Consultants.

He is one of the founders of DSO and RIT-Dubai. He is a member of 7 academic boards, Honorary Chair of IEEE, Chairman of Emirates Science Club, Board member of Cultural & Scientific Association, Board member of KHDA’s UQAIB, Board member of Ankabut (UAE’s NREN) and many more.

During his time at UEAU, Dr. Bastaki chaired several technology and research boards - work which will surely enhance the University of Dubai’s recently launched Master of Science in Information Systems Management program and UD’s continued efforts to provide research to local and regional companies.

Gulf News
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