Perspectives in Journalism

March 7, 2009

Educational Development in the UAE

Filed under: Education — willnortonjr @ 8:17 pm

On February 28 I returned from my second visit to the United Arab Emirates. I was astonished at the educational development that I observed since my first visit in March 2004.

Will Norton stands with team members after lunch during an accreditation review in 2004:  Norton; Tom Kunkle, former dean of the Philip Merrill College of Journalism; Richard Cole, former Dean of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and a commissioner of the Commission for Academic Accreditation of the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, United Arab Emirates.  The Burg Al Arab hotel is in the background.

Will Norton stands with team members after lunch during an accreditation review in 2004: Norton; Tom Kunkle, former dean of the Philip Merrill College of Journalism; Richard Cole, former Dean of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and a commissioner of the Commission for Academic Accreditation of the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, United Arab Emirates. The Burg Al Arab hotel is in the background.

On this visit I observed the early accomplishments of the American University in the Emirates. It was licensed as a two-year college and is pursuing a four-year licensure. We met new faculty who are experienced journalists, active columnists in several newspapers across the Middle East and Northeast Africa and television personalities.

After three days, we visited American university of Sharjah, a university that had only 1,000 students in 2004. Today it has more than 5,000 students and a productive faculty of experienced media professionals who hold the requisite graduate degrees.

Progressive rulers can provide exceptional opportunities for broad liberal arts education and serious professional preparation. It is heartwarming to note the understanding and insights of bright young students who understand the importance of preparation of professionals for work in the media.

It encourages one to believe that professional media education can be a crucial building block in building freedom.

There are six institutions licensed by the Ministry that offer accredited programs in media/communications: Abu Dhabi University, Ajman University of Science and Technology, AUE, AUS, American University in Dubai, and University of Sharjah. Slightly more than 2400 students are enrolled in these programs; about 75 percent are female. University of Sharjah is the largest. The Commission for Academic Accreditation’s records show 1070 students enrolled in Fall 2008 and 31 faculty in the College of Communication. AUS is second largest. Ajman University of Science and Technology and American University of Dubai also have more than 300 students in the major. The other two programs, including AUE’s that we visited, are very small.

Fifty-seven universities are licensed by the Commission for Academic Accreditation of the United Arab Emirates, and the number keeps increasing as more organizations successfully apply for official recognition.

Three federal universities have been established. These institutions do not charge tuition.

About 20 or so additional institutions operate without licenses in the “Education Free Zones”; institutions in those zones may operate without Ministry licenses (though some, like AUE, choose to do so) but they are subject to whatever regulation that the Free Zone authority imposes. In Dubai that is the Knowledge and Human Development Authority, part of the Dubai Government.

Will Norton stands with the Jumeirah Beach Hotel behind him during a visit in March 2004.  The 600-room hotel offers grand views of the Arabian Gulf.

Will Norton stands with the Jumeirah Beach Hotel behind him during a visit in March 2004. The 600-room hotel offers grand views of the Arabian Gulf.

Among these is Michigan State which basically offers a Michigan State faculty education in the U.A.E. The experiment is relatively new, in its first year. Whether it will succeed is an interesting question. George Mason is ending its operation in the Emirates.

Of the 57, the range is from two-year, degree-granting institutions to graduate-only programs. The majority are four-year comprehensive universities. Engineering and business institutions are more popular.

The high end of the tuition is slightly less than $15,000.

Institutions that the ministry licenses are expected to meet minimum standards — an acceptable level of quality: facilities available and quality resources. In other words, among licensed institutions, any diploma mill-type of university does not exist.

There are at least three institutions that have received U.S. regional accreditation and several have U.S. professional accreditation. That type of double recognition enhances opportunities for students who wish to pursue graduate education in the U.S.

The commission was slated in 2000 by the Ministry of Higher Education as a result of the growth of education in the U.A.E. Institutions were licensed, beginning in 2001; 350 academic programs were accredited.

Some might say the commission is quite prescriptive. However, U.A.E is a place where family values are practiced. Parents watch their children’s progress carefully. Because of the diversity of institutions and the need to guarantee quality education, the commission adopted strict standards. Perhaps those strict standards have resulted in the great progress that was evident to us during the last week of February.

Despite some commonalities, there are many differences between our two nations. Weather is not the least. When I landed in Lincoln the temperature was below freezing and a fresh layer of snow had fallen overnight. In Dubai it already was summer, the highest February temperature ever recorded, 37 Celsius (98 degrees Fahrenheit) plus a sandstorm.

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