Dubai and its universities pick up after collapse

The current critique of offshore education as simply a training centre for local labour has been challenged at Michigan State University's second Dubai International Conference in Higher Education, “Sustaining Success Through Innovation”.

The event was held in Dubai's Knowledge Village from 19-20 January and brought together almost 200 delegates from 30 nations.

A broad range of presentations showcased research on the student experience, quality assurance and distance learning.

The conference also served as necessary publicity for Michigan State's Dubai campus, which had the unfortunate – and inaccurate – reputation of being closed after 2008.

The conference centre was full of conversation as attendees debated whether online degrees are as accepted by employers as by their campus counterparts.

Dr Nisha Shantaumari of the Gulf Medical School hosted a session on faculty barriers to teaching in distance education. Her research identified language difficulties and lack of training as primary areas for improvement in the Middle East.

She had eager discussion from the mix of Russian, Chinese, Indian, Nigerian, British and American delegates attending her talk.

Dubai picking up

Also in attendance at the session was Martin Prince, registrar at the British University of Dubai. Speaking afterwards he indicated that the conference was important for Dubai at the present time.

"Dubai is picking up after the economic collapse and universities are moving forward with optimism. Particularly as we head toward Expo 2020, the knowledge society is crucial and conferences like this one are important to show the role of higher education."

Higher education is important for Dubai and the region more broadly, but the conference also provided a needed promotion for Michigan State University's Dubai operations.

Michigan moved operations from Dubai’s Academic City to the Knowledge Village after the financial downturn, leading many to believe it had closed down.

Dr Tessa Dunseath, executive director, was charged with putting the university back on the map. “What can I do to bring Michigan State University out there...and have a conference that gives everyone a chance to present their research on higher education?” she asked.

The conference fulfilled both goals, offering emerging scholars support in writing and presenting as well as publication opportunities.

* Grace Karram Stephenson is a doctoral candidate in higher and international education in the department of leadership, higher and adult education at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, OISE, University of Toronto.