By Melanie Swan
DUBAI. The regulation of higher education in the country is setting a precedent across the Middle East, where quality standards are still lacking, academics said on Wednesday.
“The Commission for Academic Accreditation [CAA] has not just influenced the UAE but the whole region,” said Prof Hossam Hamdi, vice chancellor of the University of Sharjah. Part of the Ministry of Higher Education, the CAA was set up 12 years ago as the Arabian Gulf’s first quality assurance body.
At the first Mena Higher Education Leadership Forum in Dubai this week, Prof Hamdi discussed the regulation of higher education.
“The CAA is a model which many other regional organisations aspire to and follow now,” he said. “There are standards but at the same time, it is ready to adapt and adopt the implications of changes that are happening in the UAE and accept innovative approaches that are outside the box.”
This is vital for students as well as the higher-education sector, which is growing rapidly. The CAA oversees more than 70 institutions. Thirty additional universities are independent of the commission.
“Many countries come to the UAE and to our university to see the models of education,” Prof Hamdi said. “They are looking at the quality of practices and of graduates, which really shows that quality of education. We receive many people from countries such as Iraq, Yemen and GCC countries as well as Egypt.”
Of the 22 countries in the region, just 11, including the UAE, have signed up to the Arab Network For Quality Assurance in Higher Education.
The group’s vice president, Prof Nadia Badrawi, spoke at the conference.
“We are trying to seek consistency across the region,” she said. “Benchmarks need to be set in areas such as e-learning so we can increase the trust in Arab higher education, which is a must and something we all need to work on.”
Dr Warren Fox, head of higher education the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA), Dubai’s education regulator, and head of its University Quality Assurance International Board, said: “One of the reasons the UAE, and especially Dubai, are leaders in quality assurance is the high number of international branch campuses. Of the approximately 200 branch campuses in the world, about 35 are in the UAE and most of those – 27 – are in Dubai, in the free zones.
“This is the largest number of such campuses in one place. It is important to assure quality to protect students, employers and the country. This is also why KHDA established the University Quality Assurance International Board.
“The UAE serves as a higher education hub for the Arabian Gulf and the region. This hub will only prosper if quality assurance is effective over time, and the UAE is doing that.”
Prof David Woodhouse, former president of The International Network for Quality Assurance Agencies in Higher Education and a senior figure in quality assurance in the UAE, said standards varied across the region, although “the Gulf is doing quite well in the Arab world”.
He said that while Arabian Gulf countries realise they can learn from each other, the UAE is “more advanced in its data collection as there is nothing like the Centre for Higher Education Data and Statistics yet in the Gulf, which is a vital tool for benchmarking”