Abu Dhabi: The UAE’s top universities are looking at significantly increasing the number of graduate students and researchers in the country in order to meet the country’s ambitious goals. Speaking at the International Forum for Higher Education and Research, they called for greater and diversified funding and for flexible policies that attract and retain talent in the country.
“We do not yet have enough graduates from the UAE universities to meet the ambitions of the country and to keep pace with the economy. At the Khalifa University, we have had 200 PhD graduates so far and we will see another 200 over the next four years. But we need many more [to realise the country’s innovation goals],” said Dr Arif Al Hammadi, executive vice-president at the Khalifa University of Science and Technology.
Call for research funding
“We need research to be established here and we hope this will be led through research funding agencies led by the Ministry [of Education],” he added. According to Dr Al Hammadi, the prioritisation of research will be the next tipping point in the UAE’s academic journey, much like the 1976 establishment of the UAE University that introduced tertiary education to the nation.
The country’s first university was set up 44 years ago and the nation now boasts of 120 institutions of further learning, providing a range of graduate and undergraduate degrees. Every year, 160,000 new students enter universities in the country, but the academic leaders said there is need for greater focus on graduate education and the research it promotes.
Dr Al Hammadi explained that a place on international university rankings is one of the best ways to attract talent into the UAE’s universities and subsequently its economy. “The QS World University rankings now include eight UAE universities on the list and to even feature on these rankings, a university must have a research component. This shows that UAE universities are maturing,” he said. The Khalifa University that he heads is itself featured among the QS top 200 universities at present.
Dr Mariet Westermann, vice-chancellor and chief executive of New York University Abu Dhabi (NYUAD), also suggested the creation of a digital system that records each student and researcher’s verified education history, explaining that it would make application processes faster and easier. “In addition, while the UAE has many fields for applied research development — space science, culture heritage protection, smart cities, energy security [and many others] — I don’t believe it should limit its focus. In fact, it should also explore theoretical fields like quantum computing because there is much to discover and innovate,” she said.
Along with other leaders on the panel, Dr Al Hammadi and Dr Westermann also called for policies that would attract more international students to the UAE for further education.
“A number of universities already attract students from abroad, making the UAE an exporter of education. The advantage is that these students often stay back to contribute to the economy,” Dr Westermann explained.