Global University with LOCAL PERSPECTIVE

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Prof Ammar Kaka

Prof Ammar Kaka
Vice Principal, Heriot-Watt University
Dean & Head, Dubai Campus

Dubai has become an attractive destination for global economies to invest in education domain, says ProfAmmar Kaka, Vice Principal of Heriot-Watt University, Dean and Head of the Dubai Campus, in an interview with Elets News Network (ENN).

Can you brief us about the initiatives and achievements of that Heriot-Watt university?

Heriot-Watt University Dubai Campus is one of the most prestigious universities in the UAE. We established the Dubai branch in 2005 and recently celebrated our 10th anniversary in the country. Initially, we set up in the Dubai International Academic Centre – Main Site and secured the very first lot, to which we introduced a couple of programmes: one postgraduate and the other undergraduate. At the time, we admitted 120 students. Since then, according to the plan, we have grown very rapidly and inaugurated many other programmes. Currently, we have about 40 undergraduate and postgraduate programmes, boast a student population of just under 4,000 students, and have emerged as the largest international branch campus, not only in Dubai but also in the whole of the UAE. We have recently introduced a number of PhD programmes as well in three of our schools; these are the school of Engineering and Physical Sciences, the school of Management and Languages, and the school of Energy, Geoscience, Infrastructure, and Society (EGES). We have established a purpose built campus that has its own residence halls and food courts.

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With the increasing number of student traffic getting directed towards the UAE, what are the factors that are making the UAE a viable alternative university destination?

Dubai now has the largest number of international campuses in the world. There is a variety of students who want to come to Dubai for its availability of technical programmes.Career prospects post-graduation are also a major motivator. The Middle East is a very vibrant region at the moment;Dubai has a lot of opportunities for economic, business, scientific, and infrastructure development and thus, requires a strong workforce. Some of our graduates that come from abroad opt to remain in Dubai and begin their careers here, developing job experience in the region. After two to three years, they can return to their home country with a stronger CV and work for reputable multinational organisations.

Are you targeting Indian students in here?

We are definitely targeting the Indian market as it is an important sector for us. At the moment we have a dedicatedoffice in India for student recruitment. As you know, there are many Indian schools in the UAE,we also have British schools with Indian students. In the past, the trend was that Indian students would finish their primary education here and join a university in their home country. With us establishing a presence in the UAEthey now have an alternative in Dubai and don’t have to leave home. It is also worth mentioning, that a portion of the Indian market comes to Dubai for their college education as well.

What are the emerging trends defining transnational language education in the UAE? 

The concept of transnational education is growing in Dubai. Students residing in the region who desire a British education now have the option to come here as opposed to moving to Scotland or England.At the moment we have three campuses in the UK and one in Malaysia, which we opened about two years ago. We run a programme under which a student can join in Dubai, do a year in the UK,a year in Malaysia, and then come back to the UAE for their fourth year or Masters. The students in the UK who are coming to Dubai value this experience a lot. In essence, transnational education is about incorporating the interaction with different cultures into the plan,which makes for more prepared and well-rounded students.

Given the wide spectrum of opportunities in education in the Middle East, whole of MENA countries included, what are the key initiatives to bridge the gap between learning and learning spaces for the next generation?

We feel that classrooms are no longer a place to put a professor to simply deliver lectures to students; it is more about discussion, problem-based-learning, etc. As part of the learning spaces, we have a virtual system called VISION. Professors are able to upload all of their learning materials onto this platform for students to access it at their convenience. It also eliminates the necessity of printing things, allowing us to go paperless in many instances.

Digital technology has revolutionised the education sector. How do you see this transformation impacting the entire enrolment structure and delivery of traditional education in the UAE?

As aforementioned, education has evolved greatly with the advent of new technologies. We invest in interactive, thorough teaching methods at Heriot-Watt University Dubai Campus. Our use of virtual education technology is an example of this, allowing us to provide students with the necessary educational materials instantly and making it easier for our educators to target their pupils. A product of a different generation, students nowadays operate differently and have grown up with technologies that were not available to us a couple of years back.

How do you see higher education landscape shaping up in the region with growing investments and innovations transforming the education paradigm?

There is likely to be an increase in the amount of higher education providers in the Dubai education hub. We are seeing many new schools being inaugurated year on year, so the market is definitely flourishing. At the same time, the UAE government is takingthe initiative to support innovation and development in many areas of society, with education being one of them. At Heriot-Watt we see this as a fantastic opportunity for us to showcase our research strength. Apart from educating students, the core mission of educational institutions such as Heriot-Watt is to carry out research and develop innovative solutions to society’s problems.

Your views on the World Education Summit? Any message you would like to share?

I think it is a very good initiative and one of the things Heriot-Watt University Dubai Campus looks forward to attending. The line-up of professional speakers are very good, with each of them targeting relevant topics. I participated in the event as a speaker and am excited to network with the other speakers featured. I believe the event would have benefitted from the attendance of delegates from Indian organisations and institutions.

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