With the founding of the University of Sharjah (UoS) and the American University of Sharjah (AUS) in 1997, the emirate took an important step towards the development of its higher education segment. Sharjah is now widely considered to have some of the top universities in the region, enabling the emirate to provide quality education to students from across the UAE and the world, while simultaneously developing a highly skilled technical workforce. The emirate is also looking to leverage this unique position to help develop the broader economy.
Both AUS and UoS feature on the QS World University Ranking, with AUS among the top 500 universities in the world and UoS not far behind (see overview). This is a great achievement for universities still very much in their infancy. “It takes a long time to build reputations internationally,” Leland Blank, interim provost and chief academic officer at AUS, told OBG. “90% of what is here at AUS was grown in the first 14 years.”
The fact that the universities in Sharjah are purposefully weighted towards academic areas like engineering, architecture and design is also a fundamental development, highlighting an awareness of the need for practical skill sets in the region. It is also significant that the universities are pushing into areas of research that could help the emirate develop a strong international reputation.
UoS now offers a degree in biotechnology in partnership with the UK’s University of Sheffield, which is the first programme of its kind to roll out in the UAE. The university also hosted the second International Conference on Arabs’ and Muslims’ History of Science in 2014, with over 700 scholars from across the region attending.
The university’s five-year plan for 2014-2019 also calls for a paradigm shift towards enhancing research and graduate studies in order to raise the profile of UoS in the area of international research.
Given the fairly new university landscape in Sharjah, there are some who prefer to study or teach elsewhere, though higher education institutions are attracting more students each year. There are also perception issues to overcome. “The security situation in this part of the world isn’t the challenge itself, but the perception from the outside which can distort a person’s views,” Blank told OBG. (https://www.sienagolfclub.com)
However, the value of high-quality higher education in Sharjah is significant. Those involved with the segment are increasingly looking at how the emirate could use its position as a higher education learning centre to help drive the local and regional economy.
Research & Innovation
In 2016 there were examples of the emirate utilising its strong higher education position to further benefit the local economy. In January 2016 the Sharjah Investment and Development Authority (Shurooq) launched a new entrepreneurship centre at AUS aimed at helping young students start their own enterprises, and to raise the profile of Sharjah as a home for start-ups. In December 2016 Sharjah ruler, Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, who is also the president of AUS, announced that the university had a strategic plan that would lead to it becoming the top research university in the Arab world within the next five years. This followed the 2015 announcement of the university’s new Research, Technology and Innovation Park development (see overview).
UoS is also looking to see a strong impact from its own research efforts. “Research at the University of Sharjah will contribute to enriching many vital fields in Sharjah, the UAE and beyond,” Hamid M Al Naimiy, chancellor of UoS, told OBG.
When the full range of efforts and challenges are considered, developments over the past two decades – and perhaps more importantly, over the last few years – point to a promising future for the role of higher education in the Sharjah emirate.