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Wed 4 Mar 2009 04:00 AM

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Getting clever

The UAE’s ambition to build a knowledge economy is not lip service. There are major changes taking place in the Emirate’s higher education sector.

The UAE’s ambition to build a knowledge economy is not lip service. There are major changes taking place in the Emirate’s higher education sector.

Aviation, healthcare and now education; the UAE has made no secret of its desire to line up every major sector for ‘hub' status. Whereas planes can be bought, buildings erected and equipment installed, education doesn't always follow the text book rules - and it's a lesson the Gulf knows only too well. Spending isn't always indicative of success, or guarantee of quality and talent.

But by combining capital investment in infrastructure with increased international co-operation, and placing greater emphasis on standards and introducing more specialist programs, the omens for the region's higher educational sector have rarely looked better.

Abu Dhabi University inaugurated an AED600m campus at Khalifa City in November, whose four floors include 100 classrooms and 26 specialist science labs, as well as a library, all surrounded by 20,000sq metres of greenery.

The investment splurge has continued into the new year, with First Gulf bank (FGB) signing a $323m syndicated 20-year loan with Mubadala Development Company along with five other leading banks - Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ, BNP Paribas, Calyon, which is the facility agent and offshore security agent, Royal Bank of Scotland and Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation - to finance the new campus of Paris-Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi (PSUAD). FGB will act as the mandated lead arranger providing 25% of the total project value, as well as the onshore security agent and the onshore accounts bank.

The university, popular with UAE, French, Moroccan and Algerian students, is scheduled to move to the new campus on Al Reem Island in September where, upon relocation, it will have one campus.

Maysoon Barber, PSUAD's Communication and PR co-ordinator, said its effective student-professor ratio, which doesn't exceed 20 per class, is one of the university's main strengths.

"This enable professors to devote more attention for such a relatively small group, when compared to a hall of 400 students at Sorbonne in France," she said.

And there can be no accusations of a watered-down educational offering in the Gulf entity, since the majors, professors, books and every related educational tool are from Paris-Sorbonne and Paris-Descartes, ensuring the same quality and level of excellence.

Moreover, a PSUAD degree is accepted and accredited at all universities belonging to the European Union.

"Professors from France come on missions to give lectures, while other Sorbonne professors are residents in Abu Dhabi," she said. "Students receive, upon graduation, the same certificate accredited from France, regardless of any of the two campuses attended."

PSUAD now resembles an energetic toddler, recently chalking up its third year. A Humanities and Law university, it covers a range of humanities and artistic subjects - it started its academic year on October 5 - although it as garnered something of a reputation as a research and cultural center too, serving as a venue for events in the UAE capital.

The university follows the LMD European system for Higher Education, that is Licence (currently 235 students), Master (47), and Intensive French Programs, where students who have poor or no knowledge of the French language can join for a year before they become eligible to join the Bachelor programs.

Students receive their bachelor degree (European Licence) in three years, followed by a two-year Master Program, to finally study on different intervals the Doctorate. The university offers a European Licence (three years) in Archaeology & History of Art; Economics; Geography & Urban Planning; History - Civilization and International Affairs; Languages & Business; Law and Political Science; Modern Literature; and Philosophy & Sociology.

As well as providing students with lectures, PSUAD lays on extra curriculum activities, field trips, museum and gallery participation, and encourages interaction with companies in the field of studies, to produce a highly-educating, distinguished experience.

André Sayegh, FGB's Chief Executive Officer, said education is the cornerstone of any country's future and having strong infrastructure helps build generations of educated and knowledgeable youth.

"The development of our youth ensures the development of the UAE, which will ultimately be of benefit to all."

That message was echoed at The Future Capitals World Summit, held in Abu Dhabi between January 13-15, which attracted 60 speakers, among them Hector J. de Ruiz, Executive Chairman of Advanced Micro Devices, who identified educated human talent, underlying infrastructure and innovation as critical factors in lifting the world out of recession, generating sustainable growth and creating future capitals.

New graduate programs

Zayed University has launched eight new graduate programs, starting in February, which are established in collaboration with several international partner universities.

These include the Master of Science in Finance in partnership with the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University; the Master of Science in International Business program in partnership with Thunderbird School of Global Management; the Master of Science in Innovation and Entrepreneurship program in partnership with Northeastern University; the Master of Arts in Tourism Communication program in partnership with Florida University; the Master of Education in Special Education program in partnership with the University of Washington in Seattle, Washington and the University of Connecticut; the Master of Science in Information Technology (specialisation in cyber security); the Graduate Certificate in High Technology Crime Investigation, and the Graduate Certificate in Information Security in partnership with The George Washington University.

Dr. Chet Jablonski, Director Research and Interim Director Graduate Programs, said, admission to the eight grograms is open to males and females of all nationalities, and applicants will be evaluated by completion of an undergraduate degree in IT, MIS, Business or any related field from an accredited university.

Dr. Leon Jololian Acting Dean of College of Information Technology, said the Master of Science (M.S.) in Information Technology (specialisation in cyber security) focuses on the development of concepts, knowledge and skills that will enable successful participants to become experts in the area of information security, internet crime prevention, and digital crime investigation.

"The goal of this program is to develop highly qualified technical experts to meet the demands of the national, regional and international workplace for information and network security," he said.

The Graduate Certificate in Information Security will enable graduates to detect, prevent and mitigate threats to systems and data and have the skills to investigate cases such as identity theft, fraud, child exploitation, money laundering and violent crimes.

"The increase of high-technology crime has generated an urgent need for a new type of investigator who can combine the science of information technology and forensic science with the art of investigations and critical thinking," he added.

"Today, any crime that involves a computer as a part of the crime, as the crime itself or as the storage place for evidence, may be part of an investigation."

Dr. Micheal Owen Dean of the College of Business Sciences, said the Master of Science in International Business program was tailored to offer students a broad introduction to the range of business and management disciplines.

"The focus of the program is on developing an understanding of how organizations function internationally and the complex issues which managers encounter in a global environment."

He added that the Master of Science in Finance will enable students to acquire a broad and in-depth knowledge of the tools and knowledge of finance, and the Master of Science in Innovation and Entrepreneurship program will draw upon concepts of creativity, innovation and communications.

Dr. Kenneth Starck Dean of the College Of Communication and Media Sciences, said, the MA in Tourism Communication targets professionals who seek to advance to upper-middle management and senior management levels in tourism organisations.

The Master of Education (M.Ed.) in Special Education will prepare professionals to assume roles as resource teachers, specialists in business and corporations, and leadership in education organizations, and is aligned with the goal of the UAE to create and support inclusive education for students with special needs.

Zayed University and The National newspaper agreed on a three-year partnership in December, intended to encourage young Emiratis considering careers in journalism.

Zayed University undergraduates and recent graduates will be able to gain valuable real-world experience at The National through summer internships and a work-experience programme.

Four academic research centres specialising in education, the environment, medicine and nanoscience, are scheduled to be established in Zayed University and UAE University this year. Zayed University, which currently has over 4,000 females studying in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, is to admit male nationals and expat students this year.

The Western Region Development Council (WRDC) launched its Student Advisory Program last November, focussing on secondary schools, higher education and post-education.other way.

These things take time, at least for the fruits of learning to ripen, but the results for the UAE will be permanent.

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