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Arab Universities Presidents Forum: Innovation in Higher Education Institutions

11 February 2015


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Schools need to adopt smart learning processes, say educators

Speaking on the need for introducing innovation in higher education institutions, Dr. Ali Rashid Al Noaimi, Vice Chancellor, UAE University, moderated a session attended by top educationists from the Arab World at The Government Summit 2015. The panelists were: Dr. Yasser Saker, President, Helwan University; Professor Ekhleif Y. Tarawneh, President, The University of Jordan; and Dr. Mohammed Abdullah Al Baili, Provost, UAE University.

Dr. Noaimi began the session stressing on the vision of the late HH Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan to make education accessible to all Emiratis. HH Sheikh Zayed did this by constructing schools and colleges around UAE and also supported those who wanted to go abroad and study. What distinguished the great leader from others during his time was that he delivered on his vision.

“Our leadership invests in its people, because of which we have experts in every field possible,” said Dr. Noaimi. He also quoted HH Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan’s inspirational vision during the inaugural speech of The Government Summit 2015: “In 50 years, when we might have the last barrel of oil, the question is: when it is shipped abroad, will we be sad? If we are investing today in the right sectors, I can tell you we will celebrate at that moment,” adding that it is our responsibility to work towards that goal.

Dr. Saker began by describing innovation. Universities play a crucial role in promoting innovation, he said. The crux of innovation from universities comes from research and finding new ways to serve society. He also said that for innovation to happen, universities need to adopt changing technologies, which helps in building knowledge societies.

While governance, leadership, and management are some of the problems that higher education institutions have to deal with, it can all be overcome by strategizing the roles in accordance with innovation management, Dr. Saker said. He concluded by saying that for any plan to be successful, there should be a vision; and for universities to be successful, continuous development must be made mandatory.

“The primary obstacle to innovation and development is the human factor. Once we tackle that we can top any accreditation,” Dr. Saker said.

Prof. Tarawneh said running after accreditation is not as important as making the quality of education better. “Not everyone thinks alike, so it is difficult to please everyone. Some universities want to achieve greatness in a short span of time without looking at their own future, but that is not the case in the UAE,” he said. “The country has gone to great pains to develop a long-term vision.”

Higher education institutions should not be built on reaction, but on proper planning, he said. 

Universities should put innovation at the forefront, build key performance indicators, invest in scientific research, introduce training programs, strengthen faculty and management, and incentivize student innovation.

“Technology should play an important part in all this and should be adopted to equip every citizen. Creative skills should be given importance while at the same time developing their communication skills,” Prof. Tarawneh said.

Al Baili took the opportunity to speak about UAE University, one of the pioneering institutes in the country, saying it has always been at the forefront of promoting innovation among its students. In line with the National Innovation Strategy, the university has introduced different departments to complement the needs of sectors including education, transportation, health services, technology, water, renewable energy, and space. A committee was set up in this regard and has from day one been focusing on capacity-building and scientific research in the seven sectors.

UAE University has been at the forefront in terms of scientific research and presentation of papers in line with some of the top universities in the world, Al Baili said, and added that this is expected to increase exponentially in coming years. UAE University has also partnered with leading companies and universities around the world to provide its students with the expertise in related subjects.

Faculty need to listen to what students have to say. “It is the digital generation. We need to address situations according to their mindset. This can be done through smart learning processes and I am proud to say that UAE University has striven to introduce the same in all its classes. We began with just a few smart courses and plan to take the number to 300 by 2021,” Dr. Baili said.