Prof Eric Fouache Vice Chancellor, Paris-Sorbonne University, Abu Dhabi, in conversation with Elets News Network (ENN), shares his views on students in the Middle East universities, emerging trends in education landscape, digital transformation of education, Paris-Sorbonne University’s vision and more
Can you throw some light on the achievements of the university?
Is your vision in line with the UAE’s Vision 2020? Paris-Sorbonne University is itself a part of the 2020 Vision. We are here to join the platform of education. We have a specific segment. Today, the country has a good opportunity in education. There are 97 private universities, out of which 77 are American. We are the only French University platform for education in the country. It is very important for a country to cover international market and to offer huge diversity. We represent the French and European system of education.
The UAE is a small country, but from the point of view of investment and diplomacy, it is a country of fi rst importance. In the education sector, investments are the main actor today. Young Emirati people is relatively low in education. Therefore, we need to get access professional skills, which enable them to discuss and negotiate with people all over the world.
Presence of Sorbonne University in the UAE gives the possibility to train Emirati people in the international language and culture. After that we send them to France for specialisation or they join one of our masters. At Sorbonne University, we provide the facility to learn all the European languages, not only French but English, Portuguese, Spanish, Russian, Arabic and more. Around 80 per cent of our graduates have the ability to speak three languages – French, Arabic and English.
Almost 40 per cent of our alumni find jobs in the UAE and 60 per cent of them abroad. Our University is a place where students come to acquire a profile that leads them to occupy international positions in big companies. In terms of measurability of our programmes in Humanity and Arts, we deliver one of the best degrees in the world. The degree is delivered from Paris.
A few places in the world are offering a good system for education and the UAE is one of them. We are here to participate under the umbrella of ADEC, and our programme has the double accreditation of the French Ministry of Higher Education and the Ministry of Higher Education of the UAE. We are here to build a network that has a positive effect not only on the growth of the UAE but on the society as a whole.
How has Paris-Sorbonne University fared in increasing the number of students’ intake in the Middle East region? What about targeting the Indian market?
Today, around 60 per cent of our students are coming from families who are working and living in the UAE and 40 per cent from other places in the world. About 25 per cent of our students are Emirati students. We are really a regional or national university, as we have a better percentage of Emiratis compared to several private universities or schools in the country. Considering the number of our students, 60 per cent are from the Middle East only.
On the other hand, we are also a worldwide university, because 40 per cent of our students are coming from other countries. Currently, we have around 900 students from 77 countries, which is a 13 per cent growth this year. Last year, the growth in number of students was 16 per cent. We want to move to sustainability while also maintaining the quality.
Targeting Indian market is now a challenge for us. However, when it comes to Science and Mathematics, Indian students are very good. As French pedagogies are good in Science education, In Science programmes, we can meet the demand of the Indian market.
According to you, what are the emerging trends defining the education landscape?
Today, the education landscape in the UAE is incredible, given what the country has achieved at secondary level education in a very short time. About 85 per cent of the present generation in the UAE attends high school, which is one of the best percentages in the world. Even in France, only 65 per cent of the generation is going to high school.
The gap is only after that where only 25 per cent of the generation goes for higher education. The country is witnessing high economic growth and the challenge is that it needs highly qualified people. Therefore, it has to increase that percentage. It is strategically important for the country to ensure that they have enough qualified Emirati people. Also, it has to ensure that the quality of education and that all the programmes are also accredited.
Today, a majority of institutions are concentrated at same location in Dubai. Therefore, there are requirements some needs that should be in place. There is a real need in the country for technological education and for professional and practical education. In addition, there is a need for quality intermediate professionals to fill the middle level jobs which are not considered to be good among people.
Given the wide spectrum of opportunities that exist in the education sector, what are the key initiatives being undertaken to bridge the gap between learning and learning spaces for the next generation?
We are amid transition – technological and social, I would rather say even deeper psychological evolution. The young generation today is living in a society having greater freedom. There are opportunities for young people now, which was unbelievable 20 years ago. Life is much less difficult for this generation. As a result, they accept less rigidity and authority of the system, they demand freedom of choice and look forward to self-learning opportunities. In this age of technological evolution, today’s generation—people between 10 and 20 year age bracket—born with a mobile and Internet is educated to work on these tools. They want to have access to all the information, whenever and wherever they require.
But, teachers are conservative about this approach, though considering the importance of technology, they should try to transmit knowledge through new methods, which will also help them learn the new techniques.
Digital technology is revolutionising the education sector. How do you see this transformation impacting enrolment, structure and delivery of traditional education in the country?
We have to change and adapt to this digital transformation. For this, we need massive investment in technology in the university to make possible e-learning, tele-projections and interactions between the people and students, who want to interact with professors online.
However, this technology requires massive investment, because the current infrastructure is based on the old teaching pedagogy. The other challenge will be to follow the increase of the demographic exploration of students to other countries. There is no remedial solution at this moment, but gradually one needs to adapt these technological advancements.