UAE: Universities face tougher accreditation

New accreditation standards for higher education institutions in the United Arab Emirates are being introduced as part of a government strategy aimed at achieving a first-rate education system and competitive knowledge economy.

The Commission for Academic Accreditation has published its 2011 Standards for Institutional Licensure and Programme Accreditation with criteria covering internal quality assurance, governance, learning resources and use of technology, admission of students, qualifications of teaching staff, equipment and buildings, and the information on the curriculum that must be made available to students.

The standards, outlined in The Gulf Today, will also require institutions to undertake community engagement. Universities and colleges will make facilities and expertise available to benefit the community at large. At the same time, they must investigate local employers' needs for specific knowledge and skills that should be acquired by graduates, the report said.

The government's UAE Vision 2021 project aims to build a knowledge-based, highly productive and competitive economy by developing higher education and promoting science-based innovation.

One the biggest challenges to improving the position of UAE universities on the world stage is school-leavers' lack of preparedness for a university education.

In 2006, about 96% of students who chose to enter university had to begin their studies with developmental education coursework. It is estimated that over 30% of higher education resources are devoted to preparing students to work effectively at university level, according to the 2007 report Educating The Next Generation Of Emiratis: A master plan for UAE higher education.

The strategy calls for increased development of students' skills, knowledge and readiness for higher education by implementing proper governance in the education system, improving pre-school education, school curriculum and assessment, enhancing the productivity and efficiency of administrative and academic staff, improving the learning experience, pursuing the accreditation of private and public schools, and applying international examinations.

Under the strategy, the quality of higher education will be improved and accessibility will be ensured by defining and coordinating the roles of public universities, enhancing higher education curricula and teaching methods focused on empirical research, accrediting and monitoring public and private universities to global standards, encouraging university outreach programmes, diversifying sources of funding for public higher education institutions, and enhancing the effectiveness of Emirati student scholarship programmes.

James Pounder, associate provost for graduate programmes and research at at the UAE's Higher Colleges of Technology, told University World News: "What is being described here is a knowledge economy and it is the role of UAE higher education institutions to produce graduates with the professional and technical skills necessary to foster, and work effectively within, such an economy."

Sehamuddin Galadari, vice provost for research and graduate studies at UAE University, said the strategy set the compass for achieving a knowledge-based economy and would enable UAE to contribute to global knowledge creation.

"The university is set to benefit from and contribute to the fulfilment of this strategy," Galadari said. "It encompasses our desire to be a world-class research intensive university where, through our graduate programmes and research endeavours, we will be actively engaged in developing the future researchers and intellectual leaders of the nation. These efforts will be directed towards contributing to society and addressing important issues of national relevance."

Hilmi Salem, director general of applied sciences and engineering research centres at the Palestine Technical University, said that at an Arab level, the strategy was needed to ensure an adequate scientific workforce to sustain UAE's position as a regional leader in information and communication technologies.

Donald Noel Baker, vice provost for undergraduate education at UAE University, told University World News he welcomed the new accreditation standards but stressed the importance of refereed research publications in criteria for appointments and promotions, as well as ensuring that research capacity is directed towards national priorities.

Other recent steps to implement the strategy include the entry into higher education in August of the largest-ever group of local students. UAE University recruited 3,727 students, Zayed University 2,272 students and colleges of higher education 5,533 students.

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