Sharjah: From a two-room training institute to a sprawling 40-acre facility, Skyline University College in Sharjah has come a long way.
Behind this mercuric expansion is Kamal Puri, whose exceptional success as an expat and educator in the UAE demonstrates his grit and determination to succeed.
However, Puri’s journey as an educator was no bed of roses.
Puri landed in the UAE in 1990 with just one bag. He was a war refugee and fled Kuwait following Iraq’s invasion in August 1990.
He left all his personal belongings and assets in Kuwait, including a well-established educational institute that he ran during his nine-year stint there.
After moving to Sharjah, he started his life all over again. First, Puri established a small training institute at the Sharjah Airport Cargo Village.
Today, he owns a conglomerate.
As the business grew, he established Skyline College in 1995 in the Sharjah Industrial area.
Finally, he moved the college campus to Sharjah University City in 2006, renaming it Skyline University College (SUC).
From a start-up training facility, SUC has become Skyline International Group with a diversified portfolio that includes real estate, hotels, F&B, manufacturing, IT services, consultancy and agriculture.
We have seen continuous growth for the last 38 years because of I am very clear in thinking that it is not a financial gain but rather it is commitment towards the society.
Mantra of success
Kamal Puri, founder and president of the SUC, shared his mantra of success in an exclusive interview with Gulf News. He reflected upon his story — one that is marked by determination, courage, honesty, positivity and a never-give-up approach.
He said that to succeed in any business, there’s simply no substitute to hard work and positivity.
“People always see the success. But they never see the hard work that had gone into it,” he said. To give an example, he said that he used to teach nine hours a day while standing in the class every day. He would teach travel, tourism, marketing and business.
“I started with only 20 students in a two-room institution with three full-time faculty members offering courses in travel and tourism. Now we have more than 1400 students and a huge campus equipped with innovation labs in the Sharjah University City,” he said. Some 65 per cent of the SUC students are Emiratis.
In the process of him becoming a millionaire, Puri became known as one of the most successful educationists in the UAE, running the largest private university campus in Sharjah, which has graduated more than 12,500 students so far.
Skyline College was the first private college to offer higher education in Sharjah at that time, as there were only four other higher education institutions in the UAE, including Ajman University, Al Ain University, Dubai Aviation College and the Higher Colleges of Technology. Skyline University College has also opened its campus in Nigeria last year.
“We have seen continuous growth in our business for the last 38 years in the UAE. Though the size of the market is small, as there are now hundreds of colleges, institutions and universities in the UAE, we are still growing because of I am very clear in thinking that it is not a financial gain but rather it is commitment towards the society,” he explained.
“I am a man who believes in internal motivation. I enjoy taking any challenge because I believe that every problem has a solution. But it depends the way you handle it. When Kuwait was invaded, everything was taken away from me — but I did not give up, took my bag, came to Sharjah, and did it all over again.
“The greatest satisfaction for me is my students. I feel utmost pride to see them work and grow around the world. Wherever I travel, I always meet my students. We have graduated more than 12,500 students so far.
“My oldest student is 75 years of age. Recently, he visited me with his grandchildren here. It was one of the greatest joys of my life when he walked into my office and told his grandson ‘I am here because of him (Puri).”
Puri thanked His Highness Dr Shaikh Sultan Bin Mohammad Ali Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah, for his generous support as he provided a huge campus to Skyline University College in Sharjah University City.
Puri not only established the first private higher education college in Sharjah but also set the pace for the higher education system in the country.
“I started my college by offering courses in travel and tourism as it is world’s biggest industry. Then we moved to IT in 1991, and we signed an agreement with a UK base university and offered advanced diploma and degree courses in business and marketing as well.
His role in developing Higher Education
“In 1997, we launched an MBA programme offering the UK degree and we used to fly faculty members from UK and other countries to teach in Sharjah.
The higher education scene, he recalled, was set to change when he applied for accreditation with the UAE Ministry of Higher Education in 1993.
The ministry officials visited the college buy they did not have the expertise to evaluate the higher education system as there was no Commission of Academic Accreditation (CAA) for academic accreditation.
“In 1999, Shaikh Nahyan Bin Mubarak Al Nahyan who was the Ministry of Higher education back then brought a team from USA to evaluate us.
They also wanted proper US education degrees and then the Skyline College signed another agreement in 1999 with the National American University. “Then, we started offering both the the British and the US degree.
“In 2000, Commission of Academic Accreditation (CAA) was established and the ministry decided that all UAE based institute should offer the educational degrees accredited by the ministry and not by any foreign institute.
“At this point, we started to build a UAE brand of education. It took us four years and we started the UAE degree programme in 2005 both undergraduate and post graduate,” Puri said.
Founder of SUC, however, shows concern over the three types of higher educational systems operating in the UAE.
There are colleges and universities which are accredited here with the Ministry of Education in the UAE. The second type are operating out of different free zones across the country while the third type of institutions are those which are not accredited here and are operating out of small offices in the USA or other countries and call themselves are universities. They get licences from the education department and operate out of a few rooms in buildings.
He calls for change of rules in the country as the students studying in free zone universities cannot transfer to regular universities like us in the UAE and vice versa.
“It is not in the best interest of the students to allow three different types of higher educational system operate in the UAE. There should be once system governing all the institutions and all students should get degrees accredited by the federal government.
Born in Delhi
Kamal Puri was born on February 18, 1956, in New Delhi, India. At the age of 18, he started his first job as a journalist with United News of India but in 1976, decided to move to the aviation industry and then went to Kuwait in 1981 and joined Kuwait Airways.
He started training people in the airline industry and then the idea of setting up a private training institute came to his mind. So in 1986, he established Skyline Institute in Kuwait and opened the doors to the general public by offering travel and tourism courses. He himself continued to get education till the age of 40, in addition to teaching.
Kamal Puri believes in giving back to society.
SUC offers scholarships worth Dh8 million every year to students who are financially weak but academically good and want to continue their higher education.
The SUC is one of the leading blood donors in Sharjah as well.
Puri also runs charitable schools in India, as well as an IT school. These schools also offer vocational training to children and unemployed women.
“We are privileged people and it is our duty to help others. I believe in giving back to society as much as possible,” he said. Puri also runs senior citizens home in Canada,” he said, adding that success is beyond financial gains and power. “It’s wisdom, humanity and giving.”
Kamal Puri is also a founding member of various social and business clubs in the UAE and has been awarded with various accolades locally and internationally.
He received the Hind Ratan Award for outstanding service, achievements, and contribution during the 25th International Congress of NRI’s Award in 2006.
He also won the Top Indian Leaders in the Arab World 2018 for the region’s greatest success stories by Forbes Middle East.
He was also given the Achiever Award 2005, NRI of the year by the Indian government.