Interview: Riyad Y Hamzah

How is education policy being developed to attract more overseas students to UoB?

RIYAD Y HAMZAH: As part of our efforts to attract foreign students, UoB expects to have a 25% foreign student population by 2021. We expect to achieve this through the internationalisation pillar of our transformation plan, which will come about through a combination of academic excellence and marketing. We have launched a new website with an international section and relaunched our social media feeds to help capture the attention of overseas students. From the academic side, we are launching several cutting-edge post-graduate programmes that we expect to attract students from across the Gulf. We have also launched a public policy programme in partnership with Aix-Marseille University in France, which has proved extremely popular with overseas students. Establishing more post-graduate programmes will lead to more research collaborations with overseas universities, and this will attract more students as we move towards increased knowledge creation and innovation through post-graduate routes.

What criteria are being followed in order to allocate research funds and maximise their impact?

HAMZAH: With current oil prices relatively low, Gulf countries are being careful regarding public spending. This represents an opportunity for universities to be more innovative, resourceful and entrepreneurial when it comes to research funding and research impact. Vision 2030 envisages a Bahrain built on the knowledge economy, so universities in the country need to be at the forefront of knowledge creation and solving regional issues. Under our transformation plan, UoB seeks to conduct research that has a societal or economic impact, which can be achieved through collaboration with international partners. Cloud technology is enabling collaboration across borders in addition to reducing the costs of joint research. Our approach is to increase joint research by drawing on our strengths, which revolve around the key regional issues of water security, renewable energy and food security. Our aim is to tackle real-world problems with research that brings practical solutions by working with other universities and industry players and sourcing international funding.

What does Bahrain need to do to become an educational centre in the Gulf?

HAMZAH: First, all education centres are based on the availability of quality education, and as part of our transformation plan, the university has a clear strategy to enhance teaching through accelerated capacity building. UoB is the only university in the Arab world accredited by the Higher Education Academy in the UK, the UK government agency responsible for auditing the quality of higher education. We have over 120 fellows at the academy, which is a significant part of our teaching workforce. UoB is committed to attracting more international students by running programmes that focus on having the right skills for the future, because they are built around key regional economic sectors.

How does UoB work with stakeholders to ensure that its graduates are ready for the job market?

HAMZAH: UoB works with many stakeholders, both in the public and the private sector, as it establishes itself as the regional engine of economic growth. The UoB strategy when dealing with graduate employability is multi-layered, but at the heart of it is employer engagement. We actively engage with employers to help us design curricula, teach, provide internship opportunities and understand the future economy through industry insights and human resource planning. We must respond to employer needs in this fast-moving economic environment. This means planning for tomorrow’s jobs rather than today’s, focusing on giving students not just knowledge but the technical, language, creativity and digital literacy soft skills required to succeed in business, government and as global citizens.