Interview: Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan

Given the young demographics of the UAE, what are the government’s higher education priorities?

SHEIKH NAHYAN BIN MUBARAK AL NAHYAN: The government is committed to providing education and equal opportunities for all students, both male and female. In order to ensure sufficient capacity, the ministry carries out an annual study to monitor how many students plan to enter higher education institutions. We have reached an understanding in government that all students should be able to enter higher education according to their abilities. Each institution has its own criteria for admission, but every student will be entitled to a place in higher education. We believe the future of this country – the ability to sustain its development as well as maintain its security and standard of living – will depend on the quality of education we give our young people.

What measures are being taken to support scientific research capacity at universities?

SHEIKH NAHYAN: This is a key component to improving our universities. Continued economic development can be achieved only by enhancing and embarking on meaningful scientific research, especially in areas relevant to the local economy. As such, the ministry has established the National Research Foundation to support scientific research. Research in areas such as health, renewable energy, desalination and other industries complement the local economy. Additionally, we have encouraged the expansion of post-graduate studies, since research initiatives and post-graduate education must be closely aligned.

How is strategy being developed in terms of quality assurance within the higher education sector?

SHEIKH NAHYAN: This is a major priority. One of the initial objectives after the establishment of the Ministry of Higher Education was to establish the Commission for Academic Accreditation (CAA). The CAA has now established itself as one of the strongest accreditation bodies in the region. A very rigid standard is applied to all institutions that seek accreditation and licensing by the ministry. This process includes evaluating the curriculum, academic plans, examination process, quality of professors, size of the class and other metrics. Each university programme is only accredited after the first batch of students graduate from it. This enables us to review the students and ensure that they have command of the subject they have studied. Additionally, authorities in Abu Dhabi and Dubai have their own processes of accreditation. This is an additional layer of evaluation that benefits all parties.

In what ways do local universities work with the private sector to ensure graduates are leaving with the most appropriate skills for available jobs?

SHEIKH NAHYAN: It is our responsibility in both public and private education to equip graduates with the tools and work attitude enabling them to be productive in their field. If we are successful, they will not have a problem working for the public or private sector. We are very pleased with the private sector’s eagerness to employ our graduates and invest in continued training.

What is the future importance of electronic and distance learning in local university curricula?

SHEIKH NAHYAN: The Commission for Academic Accreditation has developed a regulation to accredit electronic and distance learning. We believe this method of instruction will play a significant role in the future. It will allow prospective students in more remote areas to have increased access to education. It is also important to encourage life-long learning.

We have also embarked on a major project called iPads in Education, which will introduce iPads in the foundation programmes of the three federal universities. There are many advantages to this initiative. It will create a new way of teaching and allow students to keep up with any new development in their field of study. It represents a huge leap from previous methods of teaching towards a new way for students to acquire knowledge.