As Dubai marches closer to its vision of a knowledge-based economy, the Knowedge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) plays a sterling role in ensuring this happens. Dr Warren Fox, executive director for Higher Edcuation and KHDA, talks to Edcuation about how his department works in tandem with the Dubai government towards ensuring high standards of quality learning in all institutions in the emirate.
Q. There has been a quantum leap in the number of international universities that have opened campuses in Dubai. According to a KHDA report, more than 40,000 students are now enrolled here with a 10% per cent increase in Emirati students. What do you think is the reason for this?
Dubai’s higher education landscape has changed dramatically over the last decade, and the emirate now has the highest concentration of international branch campuses in the world (27), according to the Institute for Borderless Higher Education, UK. The latest available figures show there are more than 48,000 students studying in Dubai, including 20,000 Emirati students, which accounts for 43% of the total. The higher education sector continues to expand year on year.
Some reasons for the success of the higher education sector are the quality and diversity of institutions (from more than 13 countries), as well as the increasingly wide range of programmes on offer. Students now have a choice of more than 460 academic programmes, from diplomas to doctoral degrees. They are able to attain internationally recognised qualifications which are also recognised for employment purposes in Dubai. This wide variety of institutions caters to nationals and to the resident expatriate population, as well as attracting new students from around the world.
Q: What’s the KHDA’s vision to provide a seamless move from school to college?
KHDA’s aim is for early learning centres, schools and universities to provide high-quality learning. Due to the diversity of the students, the types of schools in Dubai and the range of tertiary institutions and workplaces around the world for graduates, it is difficult to talk about a seamless transition from secondary to tertiary institutions. Through our inspections and regulatory systems, we are working with schools to enhance the quality of education they offer and thus providing students with improved opportunities once they graduate. This could be helping students transition from schools in Dubai to universities inside or outside the UAE, or sourcing tertiary students from outside Dubai through enhancing the emirate’s reputation as a regional hub for higher education. In all situations, the aim remains the same; providing high quality education options for students.
Q: How close are we towards converting the UAE into a knowledge-based economy?
Movement towards a knowledge economy has been a key attribute of both the Dubai Strategic Plan 2015 and the UAE Vision 2021.
The KHDA’s vision and mission are aligned with Dubai’s goal of building a knowledge economy. KHDA has encouraged the expansion of higher education programmes in areas of economic interest including tourism and hospitality, banking and finance, and engineering. We have also attracted institutions that offer programmes in highly specialised areas such as nuclear science and solar energy.
The KHDA has carried out research to understand the industry’s needs for graduates in the key sectors of finance, transportation, and logistics. The KHDA also publishes an annual Landscape report on the Higher Education sector in Dubai, which is an excellent guide for the industry to assess the current situation and plan for the future.
Q: What are your strategies for this year and the next for the educational needs of UAE?
Students and parents have identified the need for reliable and consistent information on higher education opportunities in Dubai. Very recently the KHDA launched “Study in Dubai International Campuses”, an online publication available on the KHDA website. There is also an IPhone and IPad App, which enables students to search for higher education institutions and programmes. This will help if you want to know how many institutions in Dubai offer engineering bachelor degrees, for example.
Another area of focus for the next few years is vocational education. As the economy expands, Dubai needs a wide range of employment skills. Currently there are only a few vocational programmes available locally. As a result a quality review process for international vocational institutes and qualifications is being designed.
Dubai also needs more programmes and graduates in some of the key areas of the economy, such as logistics, tourism, healthcare, and education. We are working with existing and new institutions to encourage more programmes in these areas.
We would encourage existing institutions to engage in research with the local community, and encourage the provision of high quality doctoral degrees in more fields of study.
Q: Could you throw light on some of the major policies that the KHDA plans to pursue for excellence in higher education?
In Higher Education, Dubai has worked hard to attract internationally-renowned universities and colleges to set up branch campuses in its Free Zones and assure quality.
The mission of the KHDA is to assure quality and to improve accessibility to education, learning and human development, with the engagement of the community. The KHDA provides a supportive regulatory environment that allows potential institutions to set up in Dubai’s free zones.
The KHDA works closely with the higher education sector, government entities and the wider community to ensure students have access to quality education through a wide range of programme offerings which will shape the future of Dubai and the United Arab Emirates.
The KHDA quality assurance scheme is designed to provide students with quality international higher education qualifications. In the long-term this will benefit Dubai and the region, as well as encouraging national identity and promoting national leadership in key sectors of the economy.
Q. How does KHDA ensure that the quality and standard of education in free zone universities and those in non-free zone areas is comparable to the best in the world?
KHDA established the University Quality Assurance International Board (UQAIB) in 2008 to assure the quality of higher education in institutions in the Free Zones. This is an independent board of higher education experts from around the world. The board makes recommendations about issuing academic authorisation to new institutions, as well as renewing the academic authorisation of existing universities and colleges. It also approves all new programmes offered by higher education providers.
UQAIB carries out external quality assurance independently to determine that the standards of a higher education provider (HEP) are acceptable. Importantly, the quality of the branch campus or programme in a Dubai Free Zone must be equivalent to its home campus. UQAIB secretariatvisit the branch institutions to gather information and the Board visits institutions or meets with representatives from the institutions whenever required.
UQAIB uses an Equivalency Validation Model. UQAIB considers the quality of the branch providers’ activities based on three key elements:
1. The Home campus of the HEP and its programmes must be accredited and recognised by the official higher education system in that country.
2. The standards used at the home country to achieve the above must be acceptable to Dubai and the international higher education community.
3. There must be evidence that the quality of a HEP Branch and its programmes are equivalent with its Home HEP and programmes. Such evidence would preferably include existing cross-border quality assurance provisions from the HEP home country, wherever possible.
Q: Does KHDA have a role to play in University accreditations here?
KHDA does not accredit degrees. The international branch campuses offer degrees from the home campus and these are accredited in the home country. The UQAIB committee of international experts has quality assured these degrees for the last five years. The KHDA is in the process of signing MOUs with several international accreditation agencies, such as QAA (UK) and NEASC and WASC (US). Higher education institutions outside of the free zones in Dubai are accredited by the Ministry of Higher Education.
Q: Is the summer season is comparitively less busy for KHDA? How does it utilise this time?
The KHDA works all year round to improve the quality of institutions. Summer offers a good opportunity to meet with existing institutions and discuss the progress of their campuses and plan for new programmes.
There is also constant interest from new institutions that wish to set up in Dubai. The KHDA provides the necessary advice and regulatory requirements to these potential institutions.