Dubai: Dr Mariam Al Marashdah, a pioneer in higher education, was among UAE University's first batch of students in 1976.
The UAEU graduate's career has come full circle as she is now Dean of Students at her alma mater.
She reflects on the early years when UAE University was the only tertiary institution in the country.
"At that time it was a like a dream for us students to be studying in our own country. I was lucky and privileged to be among the first batch to enter UAE University since its establishment.
"It is an amazing story because I was doing my secondary school and there was no university … the answer just came and it was the decision of the late Shaikh Zayed to establish a UAE University," Dr Al Marashdah said.
She explained that before UAEU was established, Emiratis had to go to Egypt, Iraq or Kuwait for their higher education. UAEU was the first university that was set up by Shaikh Zayed, and after 35 years of success in terms of the accreditation it got, "it's an indication of the vision and leadership of this country", she said.
UAEU started with few resources and students; however, it was considered the flagship institution in the region.
What started as a slow progression in the beginning has accelerated in the past ten years in the type of education and services offered to students, Dr Al Marashdah said.
But throughout, UAEU attracted the cream of Arab and international scholars.
"We were lucky to be taught by those scholars in academia and an indication of quality of education is that I was one of the first to finish their education in three and a half years [instead of four] and left to get a Masters degree in one of the top universities in Britain."
Dr Al Marashdah, a linguistics major, was exempted from the preparatory year at Essex University and completed her Masters degree in one year. "What I remember is the passion we all had as students. Although UAEU was in Al Ain and distant from the cities, it was a place where we as females were connected from all over the emirates," said Dr Al Marashdah.
She said the "beautiful" memories she had of the early years were over the type of activities — competitions, cultural activities, theatre groups — students engaged in and the freedom they had.
"I remember establishing the English club and we had a magazine called The Gem. I have great memories of Mariam Al Roumi, the Minister of Social Affairs. She had a small typewriter and we used to work on this typewriter together."
Dr Al Marashdah said they would write the articles for the newsletter, print them and distribute them on the campus including the male campus.
When Dr Al Marashdah joined UAEU as a faculty member, she was heartened to see changes happening. "I was driving through the campus and saw an old man driving his own daughter to the campus and this was a very exciting moment for me to see this transition and shift in education."
When she joined, males outnumbered females "and now the most exciting thing is to see the females have not only doubled but tripled over the males here in UAEU".
With the changes in higher education, the mindset of students has also altered. "When I came back in 1992 as a faculty member, I started to see there was a difference in attitude of the generation. The learning was there with the new generation but there wasn't a hunger and passion for learning. Students are very lucky these days, in my point of view, as we have provided them with scholars from around the world, and this gives strength to the university."