Three of the leading lights in Abu Dhabi’s higher education sphere came together in 2017 to create the Khalifa University of Science and Technology. The fusion of the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, the Petroleum Institute (PI) and Khalifa University of Science, Technology and Research (KU) is a recipe for multi-disciplinary research across the fields of energy, renewables and engineering.

In October 2016 Hussain Al Hammadi, federal minister of education, who spoke at an education conference, said “This integration will pay off very soon and we expect [it] to result in a pioneering institution that will ultimately build a generation that will be able to achieve the goals of the leadership.”


Based on numbers for September 2016, KU had 1875 students, including 1142 undergraduates and 218 graduate students. PI had 2271 students, including 1498 undergraduates and 337 postgraduates, and the Masdar Institute had 456 postgraduate students. Based on these numbers, the combined institution has over 4600 students, including 2640 undergraduates and 1011 postgraduates, which together have filed over 190 patents. Both PI and KU offer foundation courses to help students transition from Cycle 3 to the university level, with 951 foundation students across the two institutions.

At the doctoral level, the Masdar Institute runs an interdisciplinary PhD, which saw its first two graduates in 2015, while KU has 62 students enrolled in a doctoral engineering programme in 2016. There were over 200 faculty members at PI in 2016, while KU had 182 academic staff, including faculty, post-doctoral research fellows and librarians, and the Masdar Institute has 85 faculty members with PhDs. This means there are over 465 academic staff at the three institutions.

In February 2017 Abu Dhabi issued a resolution setting up the board of trustees for the Khalifa University of Science and Technology. The structure of the new university will continue to be consolidated throughout 2017, with the joint entity already having begun the process of unifying academic programmes, admissions and the research agenda in early 2017. While a full integration plan is in the development stage for the interim period, provisions are in place to ensure the three institutions can continue to fulfil their educational obligations with minimal disruption.

In a letter released to stakeholders, Tod Laursen, interim president at KU, said, “We will deliver research-led teaching to all our students, whether they be undergraduate or postgraduate, and we remain committed to providing scientific and technological solutions of national, regional and international importance. We will do so by building on the international reputations of each of these institutions and aggressively pursuing the goal of transforming Abu Dhabi and the UAE into a knowledge destination in science and technology.”

Combining Cultures

All three institutions are relatively young and have developed in different ways. The oldest of the three, PI, admitted its first cohort of 139 male undergraduates in 2001, with its first female undergraduates starting five years later. Its first master’s programmes were offered in 2007. PI was licensed by the Ministry of Education in 2009, and in 2012 its bachelor’s programmes in chemical, electrical, mechanical and petroleum engineering were accredited by the Engineering Accreditation Commission of the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). Its bachelor’s degree in petroleum geosciences was accredited by ABET’s Applied Science Accreditation Commission in the same year, while its first programmes at the PhD level received accreditation in 2016.

PI is financed and governed by the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), which employs most of its successful students. It has a total of 1722 alumni, and provides engineering and geoscience programmes at the undergraduate and postgraduate level. For masters students PI offers courses in the fields of applied chemistry and health, safety and environmental engineering.

KU, which has campuses in both Abu Dhabi and the emirate of Sharjah, also has ABET engineering accreditation for six of its 10 undergraduate programmes. It offers nine postgraduate programmes with courses including electrical and computer engineering, nuclear engineering, information security, and systems and engineering management. KU has a number of research centres and institutes covering aerospace, biotechnology, nuclear energy, security, robotics and telecoms. Its 272 alumni include 226 bachelor’s graduates, 39 master’s graduates and seven successful doctoral students. Since KU has the advantage of teaching both undergraduates and graduates, while maintaining a notable research presence, it is the only one of the three merging institutions to have qualified for and appeared in the QS World University Rankings and Times Higher Education rankings in 2016. This international presence should be an attribute that the newly merged institution will be able to build upon and carry forward.

The Masdar Institute is closely linked to Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the US, which contributes to curriculum and course development, offers faculty staff to sit on PhD committees and participates in joint research projects. More than 550 students have graduated from the Masdar Institute, with the first master’s cohort receiving their degrees in 2011. It has faculty members from over 20 countries and students from 50 countries, 51% of whom are female.

The proportion of Emirati students enrolled at the Masdar Institute has increased significantly from 11% in 2009 to 52% in 2016. In 2016 a total of 21% of its faculty members were also Emirati. The university has also secured more than $80m in industry and government research funding and has secured agreements with companies including ADNOC, Mubadala Investment Company, Emirates Global Aluminium, which is part-owned by Mubadala, BP, Abengoa, Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Etihad Airways.

In addition, a total of 91% of its alumni are either working or taking PhD courses at universities all over the world. The Masdar Institute’s vision is to become a world-class, research-driven institute focusing on energy and sustainable technologies. Its campus is entirely powered by renewable energy and its graduate students are focused on producing real-world solutions to sustainability issues.


Although the former institutions are comparatively young, both KU and the Masdar Institute have already produced their own successful Emirati PhD graduates. In 2014 Fatma Taher received her doctorate from KU for her work on the early detection of cancerous cells using medical imaging technology. Taher is now on the KU faculty in the role of assistant professor, and she was the first Emirati to receive a PhD in engineering at a university in the UAE.

Furthermore, in 2015 two Emiratis successfully completed their doctorates at the Masdar Institute. Faisal Al Marzooqi was appointed assistant professor of chemical and environmental engineering at the institute after completing his research there. With a master’s in chemical engineering from Imperial College in London, Al Marzooqi had worked for ADNOC as a process and corrosion engineer before joining the Masdar programme in 2013. His doctoral research focused on one of the most critical issues facing the UAE, desalination. Using nanotechnology, he was able to produce a device that could efficiently and sustainably desalinate water, and he has applied for a US patent for the product. Also receiving her PhD from the Masdar Institute in 2015, Aamena Alshamsi’s thesis examined how social networks shape personality and emotions. An Emirati graduate of the University of Sharjah, with a master’s in information technology from The British University in Dubai, Alshamsi is now a visiting assistant professor at MIT’s Media Lab.

Doctoral Programmes

In Abu Dhabi itself there are a few doctoral programmes young Emiratis may aspire to join. Emirates College of Advanced Education has PhD offerings in education, while the National Defence College offers one in strategic studies and Paris-Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi has clearance from the Commission for Academic Accreditation to offer a PhD in science and management. Mohammed V University Agdal-Abu Dhabi also offers a PhD in fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) and issues of contemporary society. The federal UAE University (UAEU) in Al Ain offers doctoral studies in education, pharmacy, medicine, health, engineering, IT and science.

In September 2016 there were 123 students working towards PhDs and 73 for a doctor of business administration (DBA) at UAEU. PhD programme intake in 2016 at UAEU included 37 PhD and 11 DBA students. At the end of the 2015/16 academic year six DBAs were awarded and 12 PhDs, including one in humanities, four in IT, three in medicine and health sciences, three in engineering and one in science. A total of 56% of people enrolled in its graduate schools are citizens. In 2011, a total of 152 members of the faculty at UAEU were Emirati. The university had 13,479 students at all levels in 2015/16, 81% of them female. There were 569 female and 374 male graduate students.

Data from the Ministry of Education on Emiratis receiving scholarships to pursue PhD or post-doctoral research overseas show that in 2015 four men were studying abroad for PhDs in engineering, administration, science and political science, while three women were studying medicine, engineering and education overseas. Scholarships were also granted for post-doctoral specialist training to three women and one man.

The work Abu Dhabi has put into transforming education to cultivate a knowledge economy has itself been a subject for research. In 2015, while an economics lecturer at Zayed University, Martin Hvidt published a paper entitled “The State and the Knowledge Economy in the Arab Gulf Countries: Structural and Motivational Challenges”. Hvidt’s conclusion was that for a knowledge economy to be developed in the region, mechanisms must be created in order to give foreign knowledge workers more incentives to stay and contribute to the economy, while also inspiring the country’s own younger generation to develop an ethos of motivation, aspiration and entrepreneurship.