The new Zayed University campus, spread over an area larger than 30 football fields, has provided the impetus for the institution to move forward in new directions. Image Credit: Supplied

Now in its fourteenth year, Zayed University is in a period of self-study, reflection and transformation. Its recently completed Dh3.7 billion campus in Abu Dhabi has provided the impetus for the institution to move forward in new directions.

"A year-and-a-half ago Shaikh Nahyan [Bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research and president of Zayed University] asked us to think about what the next decade should be about," said ZU provost Dr Larry Wilson.

He said the university started as an institution for undergraduate Emirati women but now offers 16 masters programmes with doctoral programmes in the pipeline. It has also, in recent years, admitted male and international students and had to address the needs of these constituencies.

The Abu Dhabi campus is addressing how it will align itself with the Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030, the needs of the communities that surround it and the nation as a whole.

"This new campus allows us to have the space and first-rate facilities to have programmes in all kinds of areas like the arts, Islamic studies, tourism, public health administration. We have to carefully ask what are the needs of the community and graduates."

Among the broad scope of science and business programmes that the university offers, humanities and the arts will be an important focus for ZU, Dr Wilson said.

He said the university will create a new College of Arts and Creative Enterprises, which is new for the UAE. It will offer studies in traditional art, painting, culture, performance art, theatre, music, and graphic design.

"We don't have all those things, and it's very important to us now to connect to the Saadiyat Cultural District, Guggenheim Abu Dhabi and Louvre Abu Dhabi that are being planned for the emirate. We will be offering things like museum studies because some people don't want to be businesspeople."

Dr Wilson said a modern society that wants to be a knowledge-based economy needs programmes in the arts, literature and humanities and the nature of the human condition.

ZU is already set to launch a fully fledged television production studio with the Du telecommunications company. "It will take us into a whole area of film - we will have first-rate cutting-edge facilities."

Since ZU began admitting males, it has had to think of offering programmes that they would be interested in.

"That's a very exciting thing and it's a challenge too. The programmes we have developed are interesting for females, but we have to consider whether males have these interests and other interests. It's a great opportunity that didn't exist in the old campus," said Dr Wilson.

The Abu Dhabi campus has 3,200 female students, 600 male students and 43 international students.

The Abu Dhabi student population is growing at 25 per cent per year and has a current capacity for 7,000 students with room for 10,000 students in the future.

The Abu Dhabi campus is also looking at expanding programmes in the Al Gharbia region together with the Higher Colleges of Technology so that students don't have to travel long distances.

Furthermore, the institution is taking advantage of the lack of Arabic programmes that international students can take up due to the current political turmoil in the Middle East.

The Institute for the Arabic Language, which will also conduct research, is planned. "We are working on international exchange programmes for study groups that want to study Arabic in the UAE and that's a huge initiative. For decades students went to Cairo and Syria to learn Arabic but it is not possible at the moment - we are taking advantage of that."

Springboard for Emiratis

Zayed University (ZU) was founded for Emirati women in 1998, with campuses in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Today, the university is educating more than 7,000 male and female students from almost 20 countries. The institution is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

Initially ZU was charged with developing an undergraduate educational programme for Emirati female students that would produce graduates comparable to the best in the world. More recently, the institution has offered masters programmes with doctoral programmes in the pipeline.

Today ZU also caters to male students, who make up about 30 per cent of the student population. International students make up about one per cent on campus.

Students have the opportunity to study at campuses in Khalifa City B, Abu Dhabi; Al Ruwayyah, Dubai; and Knowledge Village, Dubai. They will soon be able to complete programmes in the Al Gharbia region of Abu Dhabi.

Shaikh Nahyan Bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research, is the president of Zayed University. Dr Sulaiman Al Jasem was appointed ZU's vice-president in 2006 and Dr Larry Wilson recently rejoined ZU to take up the post of provost.