Where are the majority of your students from?
EL-REFAE: Most of our students are from United Arab Emirates particularly from Al Ain City and Abu Dhabi. This year, we accepted more than 1,000 students and most of them are from Al Ain and Abu Dhabi. These students would like to study law, business, pharmacy, engineering, and education.
What makes Al Ain University (AAU) different from other local universities?
EL-REFAE: The main concern of this university is the quality of education. Today, most universities care about this issue. When we talk about students, we talk about our final product. The quality of the student is the most important to me. When we talk about academic institutions, I encourage the faculty and staff to be involved in the local community. There should be engagement and there is engagement between the university and the local community. The way to help and to serve local community is through the research of the faculty and staff. We encourage our faculty and staff to do their research according to the needs of our society.
What methods do you employ to maintain quality education at AAU?
EL-REFAE: When we talk about quality education, we must also discuss the strategy on how to keep this. It is easy to say that we are at a certain level, but what are the techniques needed to maintain this? I think what’s important is the selection of faculty-staff. You should have a system to choose the faculty-staff and to make sure that they have the qualifications and that they are good in terms of research. But to have good faculty and to encourage them to be concerned about teaching and research, you should have incentives. If you want even the best professors, to work hard for your students, university and community; you should have a system of incentives. If you do not have this in place, no one will listen to you. In the end, you have to reward good people; otherwise, they will be the same as other people. I believe in this strategy and have applied it for maybe 15 years when I was the Dean of the business school at another university. This is most important. We have to differentiate good faculty and staff from average faculty and staff. Good faculty will spend most of their time with their students because our students are our product and they spend good time doing research.
On the other side, our students are our target. We would like to have good students, but as you know, we are in a private university. Like most private universities, our students we have are average students. We have to work hard on these students help them keep up. Maybe the student likes to move his performance by himself, but we don’t depend on this type of student. We have to really assist them inside of the university and encourage these students to study hard in order to improve their performance. We explain to the students that their performance at the university is very important to potential employers when students enter labor market. We also have an incentive system for our students. For example, if a student was good in his high school, we have a scholarship for this him. If she is among the top students in the country, she gets incentives, she gets a scholarship. This is before they enter the university. If they enter the university and they keep the minimum average, they will continue to receive their scholarship. After they enter the university, let’s say that they finish the first or the second year; we become concerned about academic incentives within the university. If these students achieve a 3.6 average every semester, they will get a scholarship every semester. We emphasize this issue when we meet the students.
How would you describe competition among public and private universities here in the UAE?
EL-REFAE: In any country there are public and private universities. Some students would like to attend public universities; maybe it is cheaper in terms of tuition. Maybe they offer more majors than the private university. From my experience, the private universities are concerned about certain programs and there is high demand for these programs. Maybe these programs cost less to be established, we have to be fair and honest with this issue. Public universities can offer a program that costs a lot of money. You will need a huge investment for this program. Private universities, because these courses need a huge investment, are limited from having these kinds of programs. At private universities, we live in a competitive environment. You have to look at it from two points: negative and positive. My concern is that I think it is positive to have another university to at least compete with you in the market because if you are alone in the market, you won’t care about your quality. Why care about quality if I am the only university in the market and I monopolize the market. Now when you have another one in the market, this means that you have to care about your competitor. You have to care about your strategy and you about your quality of education. In terms of universities, it is important to have universities who compete with you to improve your performance.
Around 40% of the students attend a private university in Arab countries today.
The number of students who graduate high school each year has increased significantly. How does the education industry in the UAE keep up with the demand for schools? How is AAU preparing students for the workforce?
EL-REFAE: In most of Arab countries, the United Arab Emirates included, the number of students is increasing. Within the last ten years, the number of students who have finished high school has been very high. This means that the public universities cannot afford to accept all of these students to be accepted and to study in the programs they like. Most Arab countries have started to establish private universities to share this responsibility. Around 40% of the students attend a private university in Arab countries today. Instead of going outside of the country, students would like to enroll in the local private university.
I think this is a good number when we are talking about thousands of students are finishing their high school. This is good in terms of your local student who wants to be at a local university. Secondly, at the undergraduate level, it is important to have your kids around you. Most people, they would like their kids to finish their undergraduate or bachelor’s degree in a local university. With regard to the job market; the most important issue is how to qualify my students to the job market. We have to keep in mind, especially in the United Arab Emirates, that we have many international companies and many multinational corporations. We have to keep in our strategy that the quality of our student is not to meet the standard of the local company. It is an open country with a global environment. Here, we have to qualify our students to meet the standards and the qualifications asked by local companies and international companies, or multinational corporations in the United Arab Emirates. I think that the qualification here could be the same or not the same. We assume that if it is not the same, maybe international companies ask more because they have more responsibilities and more challenges to the student or their employees. We have to prepare our student to face multinational standards. We have to work very hard through our programs to meet these challenges and to prepare our students on how to really deal with these markets. With this, you need a very strong student. You need the student who will put them under pressure, who will travel around to the other countries, who knows how to deal with other people. You have train him for all of these challenges and how to handle them especially when it comes to the international and multinational corporations.