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How University of Wollongong in Dubai is looking to alter the higher education landscape

Gulfbusiness.com logo Gulfbusiness.com 24/10/2020 Motivate Freelance
a room filled with furniture and a large window © Motivate Publishing a large lawn in front of a building: UNNI3812 © Motivate Publishing UNNI3812

In 1993, the University of Wollongong in Dubai (UOWD) became the first international university to enter Dubai.

This year, the Australian university opened its newest facility – the sprawling ‘Campus of the Future’ in Dubai Knowledge Park.

Speaking to Gulf Business, university president Professor Mohamed-Vall Mohamed Salem Zein, talks about the prospects of the country’s higher education sector, the changing model of university education and the need to focus on career opportunities for fresh graduates.

How has Covid-19 disrupted the traditional university model?

I believe that Covid-19 has forced a shift that will transform how universities function, as many universities have been struggling to maintain operations without access to their students. We have seen that, with no access to international students or university campuses, blended learning has become increasingly important.

Through combining online educational materials and traditional classroom-based methods, students are now able to interact and also benefit from being inside the classroom or laboratory, now that restrictions have eased slightly.

With a blended learning system, have you upskilled the faculty too?

Previously, the university had offered blended learning elements alongside traditional classroom-based teaching within certain degrees, so the infrastructure and staff know-how were already in place.

Using innovative approaches, [we have used] global leading education technologies to facilitate student-to-instructor, student-to-student and student-to-content interaction.

With any form of distance learning, it is also extremely important to ensure that all assessments and exams conducted online follow a strict academic governance process. Although the method of education delivery has been altered, UOWD still adheres to the same standards of governance in terms of assessments to guarantee a complete alignment with regulatory bodies, and to ensure no compromise on the quality of the degree issued.

UOWD has introduced new computer science degrees in cybersecurity, big data, and mobile and game development. Tell us about them as well as the advisory board that will oversee the programme?

We have introduced three computer science degree programmes for the September 2020 intake. We are currently finalising an advisory board, which will be a representative panel of industry experts from the healthcare, retail, business, telecommunications, FMCG and tourism fields.

These experts will work closely with academics and students, providing connections with the industry and allowing these students to increase their engagement with working professionals.

Are there any new programmes that are currently awaiting approvals?

We are waiting to receive final approvals on our Master of Business Analytics degree for the Spring 2021 semester. While designing this programme, the University of Wollongong in Australia and Dubai consulted with global analytics firm SAS.

The synergies between the designed programme and technology developed by SAS would allow graduates of the programme to develop unique practical skills using SAS technology and would thus qualify them, in addition to their UOWD degrees, for a SAS Advanced Business Analytics joint certificate too.

We are also exploring options for artificial intelligence, mechatronics and nursing sub-specialities qualifications.

How is UOWD equipping its newest graduates with a fresh set of skills to help them become more employable in the current market conditions?

We have a very strong job placement rate, with 77 per cent of undergraduate students and 85 per cent of post-graduate students finding employment within six months of their graduation.

Our team has dedicated career advisors, a career development centre and also conducts events such as our annual career fair.

Internship and partnership opportunities are also available for students with Fortune 500 companies located in nearby business communities. Additionally, all degrees offered by UOWD are accredited by the Ministry of Education through the CAA, which is an important factor for future job seekers.

What were some of the key objectives of opening the new campus?

Our new ‘Campus of the Future’ is a 200,000 square foot purpose-built facility, designed from the ground up for our students, which will facilitate the internationalisation of higher education with our campuses in Australia, Hong Kong and Malaysia.

Featuring cutting-edge technologies, contemporary architecture, and a mix of traditional and innovative learning spaces, it will provide an enriched experience to meet the demands of today’s student population, while supporting teaching staff and community research projects.

The premises will also house major laboratories dedicated to power and circuit systems, chemistry, thermodynamics, media and communications, cybersecurity and gaming, to name a few.

What must educational institutions now do to encourage students to return to their campuses?

Students are actually very eager to come back to campus, in particular for the extracurricular activities. Although the current restrictions are difficult for everyone, we are optimistic that this is only a temporary situation.

We have implemented a range of preventive measures on the campus that include heat scanners at the main entrances, as well as disinfection tunnels and daily sterilisation and cleaning of all classrooms.

Staff and students need to show a negative Covid-19 test result on their Al Hosn app in order to enter the campus, which has reduced occupancy at all times.

Online lectures will remain, utilising the blended learning infrastructure, but lab work that requires the use of equipment will be done on campus.

Are there any permanent changes that you predict will go into effect in the education system as a result of the pandemic?

I believe that universities will change by having a much greater adoption of new technologies and features such as blended learning with advanced teaching and learning methods. Universities will also have to adapt to the increasingly strong focus of students on their chances of securing employment after graduation.

The shift in culture from the traditional university models and students’ priorities will require enhanced engagement between universities and businesses.

What must Dubai do to ensure that its higher educational institutions have a distinct competitive advantage over their global counterparts?

During the current pandemic, the distinct competitive advantage over global counterparts includes continuous promotion of the safety of Dubai and the great success of alternative teaching and learning initiatives implemented by our universities, and the increased opening of borders for international students.

Students consider a variety of factors when deciding on a destination to pursue their studies; safety and career opportunities are at the top of the list.

It is pleasing to see that many universities in the country were able to provide domestic students who were unable to travel abroad due to pandemic-related restrictions, with excellent and viable options for their education.

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