In keeping with the educationalist philosophy of Sharjah’s ruler, Sheikh Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, the emirate is home to two of the Gulf’s leading universities, as well as a cluster of research institutes and technical colleges.
The largest and one of the oldest of these is the University of Sharjah (UOS), founded in 1997 by Sheikh Sultan himself. UOS has risen up the international rankings, with 2018 seeing it make the Times Higher Education Arab World University charts for the first time. It joined the table at 14th out of the 31 top institutions examined. UOS is also now the largest university in the region, both in terms of student numbers, with around 14,500 currently registered, and in terms of the number of programmes, with 96 now available. These span the academic spectrum, including business administration, fine arts, sciences, medicine, dentistry, engineering, law and Islamic studies. As well as its main campus at the emirate’s University City, UOS also has branch campuses at Al Dhaid, Khorfakkan and Kalba.
In recent years UOS has been working towards enhancing the quality of its provision, with a particular focus on deepening the research end of its activities. A number of research institutes have been founded under the auspices of UOS to further this objective. These bodies work across a range of priority fields and include: the Sharjah Centre for Astronomy and Space Sciences (SCASS); the Sharjah Institute for Medical Research; the Diabetes, Endocrinology and Nano Medicine Centre; the Public Health Research Centre; the Research Institute of Sciences and Engineering; the Sharjah International Foundation for the History of Arab and Muslim Sciences; and the Sharjah Islamic Centre for Economy and Finance Studies.
The focus on research has also led to an increase in tie-ups with international laboratories and institutes, and boosted the university’s presence in academic journals. The institution’s growing reputation and expanding opportunities for research have also supported the development of its faculty, which, according to the university’s vice-chancellor, Maamar Bettayeb, is increasingly international.
Refining the focus to a smaller number of centres of excellence is the next objective, with UOS now working to prioritise and streamline its research activities to ensure that funding is channelled to the most promising projects. The question of funding is also partly driving a push to increase commercialisation of academic research. The university intends to establish a technology-transfer office to develop patents and licences and spin-off research breakthroughs to start-ups. Intellectual property (IP) rights are also being registered in the US and Europe, while IP laws in the UAE continue to be rolled out.
Collaboration with local firms is an area where further improvement is needed, as few firms dedicate significant percentages of their budgets to research and development. There are exceptions, however, and the university has pursued partnerships with those entities. Private sector partners include local conglomerates Easa Saleh Al Gurg Group and Al Batha Group, which provide scholarships for students at UOS. All told, the research department at UOS has 18 local partners and 27 agreements with international bodies. Complementing this, UOS provides services to the community, including technical and scientific consultations, and training.
Commercial tie-up is also an issue for the emirate’s other major higher education institution, the private American University of Sharjah (AUS). Set up in 1997 with US accreditation, AUS has some 5500 students from 93 nationalities, with 366 full-time faculty members. AUS comprises four colleges and schools: art, architecture and design; arts and sciences; engineering; and business administration. As well as undergraduate courses, the university offers 14 master’s degrees, with its first PhD programme launching in 2018 and others to follow. In 2018 the Times Higher Education Arab World University ranked AUS 12th out of 31 institutions. As with UOS, AUS is in the process of shifting its focus to research these days, with business linkups and commercialisation particularly significant for such a self-funded institution.
“In terms of commercialisation, faculty are encouraged to patent ideas and the university currently has patents pending,” Kevin Mitchell, acting provost and chief academic officer at AUS, told OBG.
Ensuring employability is also a priority for fee-paying students, leading to a practical bias to the courses on offer. All students undertake an internship programme as part of their studies, with these now being extended from around 5-6 weeks to 12 weeks across the board – matching the duration of time the school’s business students have to already spend on such schemes.
The emirate’s main start-up facility, the Sharjah Entrepreneurship Centre (Sheraa) also has its main offices at AUS. This provides students and faculty with a close link to the business world, with the centre providing an incubator and accelerator, while conducting the Ideathon programme – a consolidated training and business advice course for prospective entrepreneurs.
Another separate, yet closely connected outfit is AUS Enterprises, which has its own board and CEO, and has been tasked with developing the financial future of AUS. One of its projects is the Sharjah Research Technology and Innovation Park (SRTIP) free zone, located next to the campus. The park will provide a platform for research onto water technologies, renewable energy, environmental technology, digitisation, production design and architecture, and transport and logistics. SRTIP has signed a number of memoranda of understanding with international bodies, such as Oxford Sciences Innovation, the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, Oulu University of Applied Sciences and the China-Arab States Technology Transfer Centre. The 4645-sq-metre park will see three interlinked buildings in its first phase, with delivery expected in early 2019.
Both AUS and UOS are located in the emirate’s University City. This 6.5-sq-km zone is home to most of the emirate’s educational institutions, such as SCASS, the Sharjah Research Academy, Sharjah Higher College of Technology for Men, Sharjah Higher College of Technology for Women and Sharjah Institute for Heritage.
Sharjah Police Academy, Teaching Hospital, Library and University City Hall are also on the site, along with Skyline University College (SUC) and Al Qasimia University (AQU). The Dr Sultan Al Qasimi Centre of Gulf Studies is also present, along with the Regional Centre for Educational Planning and Training, the Institute of Training and Judicial Studies, University Hospital Sharjah and Sharjah Institute of Technology. Some 20,000 students attend institutions in University City, which was opened by Sheikh Sultan in 1997.
AQU is the latest addition to Sharjah’s tertiary sector, launching its first academic year in 2014. AQU is a specialist Islamic institution, offering courses in four colleges – sharia and Islamic studies, arts, economics and communications. Like UOS, AQU was also founded by Sharjah’s ruler.
SUC, meanwhile, was one of the first private universities to start up in the UAE, launching in 1990. The university specialises in business-related courses, with a focus on industries such as aviation, hospitality, travel and tourism, marketing, business management, IT and finance. From their second year of study, approximately 60% of students undertake an internship programme to help prepare them for the job market. SUC also runs a business incubator and works closely with Sheraa.
SUC also has a significant number of international students, with some 40% of undergraduates and 65-70% of postgraduate students coming from abroad.
Indeed, international enrolment is a key feature of Sharjah’s higher education sector. For 2015/16, UOS recorded some 5227 UAE nationals in its student body, studying alongside 1459 students from other GCC states and 5788 from other Arab countries. A further 1337 students came from outside the Arab world. At AUS, the autumn 2017 enrolment broke down into 19.3% UAE nationals and 80.7% non-nationals, with Egypt sending 13.5% of the total, followed by Jordan with 10.1% and India at 9.7%.
This multinational environment is seen by university chiefs as a major advantage and attraction to study in Sharjah, bringing a wide variety of cultural backgrounds into the learning environment. For SUC, this internationalism is now also being reflected outwards, with the university currently completing a campus in Nigeria, home to many of its students.
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