What educational system is the University of Dubai based upon? What partners and accrediting institutions do you work with?
HEFNI: The University of Dubai uses an American system of education, so we are operating like any university in the USA. We require 129 credit hours for graduation with a bachelor degree, typical of American universities. We are accredited by the Ministry of Education in the UAE, a requirement mandatory for every institution of higher education that operates here. In addition to that, we are accredited by the AACSB (The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business) for the college of business and ABET for the college of information technology. This puts us as the only private, non-government university in the UAE to earn these two accreditations.
What are your projections for student enrolment numbers in the next two years? How much of an impact has the downturn had upon higher education both in terms of enrolment and course offerings?
HEFNI: I have a target to grow 10% to 12% per year. It is a strategic decision not to admit too many students in order to maintain quality in terms of what we provide and its impact on learning outcomes. We have about 1,400 students now, but strategically, we do not look for numbers, we look for quality. Within the next 10 years, we do not want to exceed 4,000 students. Within the next two years, we are going to increase the high school requirement scores from 65/100 to 85/100 to ensure that we are getting small numbers of very high quality students. We are also going to ensure that we get very high quality faculty and very well recognized accredited programs. We are a non-profit organization, and we do not have owners of capital, so we are not like any other institution of higher education here. We have been growing by about 200 students every year, and we will likely continue this trend. Out of 400 applicants last year, we took 150. The downturn has not affected UD at all. We have increased growth rates of newly admitted students, so we have not felt any real impact.
How important is research in tertiary education?
HEFNI: Research is a very important element in higher education. Typical faculty members come to teach and to undertake research. We have a research committee that sets policy and expectations for research requirements for each faculty member. These things are carefully monitored. A faculty member is supposed to be granted 3 credit hours every semester to do research. Our mission emphasizes the fact that our faculty members must contribute research. We focus on applied research that will have a tangible economic impact on the growth of the economy in the UAE. If faculty members do not produce research, they are out. The accrediting agencies really admire the fact that we do not keep any dead weight around. We have worked on many different research initiatives. We have a very strong finance and banking curriculum so therefore faculty members in this area have contributed many research projects – not only in collaboration with the DCCI, but also for the banking sector in the UAE. All of our faculty are required to work on research that is related to the growth and economic development of the United Arab Emirates.
What methods are employed to convince local students to attend universities here in Dubai as opposed to going abroad?
HEFNI: About 60% of our student body consists of local people (UAE nationals). In general, we offer a discount in tuition to UAE nationals as well as people who work in government organizations. We use this method to encourage people to come and enroll with us. The main challenge is competition. The competition leaves the door open to attract students whether they have qualification or not. Some students in general prefer to go to these types of easy universities. We here emphasize and insist on quality and concentrate on high scores for incoming students every year. I think the most important thing about University of Dubai is that it has been established by the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DCCI). This puts us in a closer relationship with the business community than any other university. The business community is accessible to us and helps us in providing internships for students and in finding jobs for our students at graduation. Also, we work very closely with the Chamber of Commerce in conducting research that specifically benefits the business community in Dubai.
How will the federal governments spending freeze for state run universities impact higher education in the UAE? What kind of support are you receiving from the government?
HEFNI: I do not think that any non-governmental education institution receives any funding from the government. The only three schools that are government funded are United Arab Emirates University, Zayed University, and the Higher Colleges of Technology. These schools do not charge any fees to students, so the door is open to nationals to receive free education. They allocate their budgets based on enrolment numbers, and there is not a place for everyone.
We focus on applied research that will have a tangible economic impact on the growth of the economy in the UAE. If faculty members do not produce research, they are out.
In what ways is the job market different today for graduates?
HEFNI: The job market to me is open. In other words, in our last graduating batch, 190 students or so, 97% of them are employed. The other 3 %, we have 2 females who decided to get married and not work, and two students who decided to do full time MBAs, and 2 students are changing jobs. I have not made any changes in my curriculum. I review it for any changes every two years. The current or existing financial crisis did not have an impact on any changes in the curriculum. We make continuous improvements, but not to the degree that we make drastic changes in response to what is happening in the market. We look at the labor market and try to determine what is new in terms of demand. In the bachelor’s degree, we have 8 concentrations up from 4. We added 4 in the last 2 years. We are now emphasizing the areas of HR, supply chain management, business economics, etc. The same is true for our MBA program which is doing very well. We are trying to be unique in offering 4 double specializations. So a student may specialize in accounting and finance or international business and marketing and so on. We are the only university that has introduced this type of double majoring in the MBA program. In addition, we are only university in Dubai that earned the prestigious AACSB and ABET accreditation for the Business and IT degree programs.