Nine leading universities in the UAE are part of a comprehensive action plan to develop accredited online university programmes aiming to bolster the digital drive in the higher education sector.
The move comes after the Ministry of Education and the Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation for Education (AGFE) formed the University Consortium for Quality Online Learning (UCQOL).
American University in Dubai, American University of Sharjah, British University in Dubai, Khalifa University, New York University Abu Dhabi, UAE University, University of Dubai, University of Sharjah and Zayed University are a part of this novel initiative.
The novel coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic upended traditional modes of learning, affecting the education sector the most. The partnership is geared towards reinforcing online programmes and making them accessible to a larger pool of students in the UAE and abroad.
Dr. Muhammad Al Mualla, Undersecretary of the Ministry of Education for Academic Affairs, stressed that the initiative seeks to strengthen cooperation among different universities.
He said: “With this step we inaugurate a new phase of fruitful cooperation in the higher education sector through memoranda of understanding (MoUs) that will have a prominent impact on the quality of learning provided by an elite of our universities, and this partnership is of an exceptional importance as the private sector is a strategic partner in this project.”
The accredited online learning programme will be made available to a large group of students, creating opportunities for universities to develop accredited online university initiatives and launch them by 2022.
Abdul Aziz Al Ghurair, the chairman of AGFE, said: “The launch of UCQOL underlines the Foundation’s social responsibility to make quality online learning more accessible for students and to support the vision of the UAE’s leadership to build a knowledge-based economy. The novel coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic has further highlighted the need to activate innovative learning platforms that can help harness the full potential of our young talents.”
Professor Kevin Mitchell, Chancellor of American University of Sharjah, said that the success of higher education depends on a concerted effort by governmental agencies, philanthropic organisations and universities.
He said, “The UCQOL is an example of a partnership that will contribute to the advancement of the goals of all involved and most importantly, positively impact the experience of future generations of students.”
Professor Abdullah Alshamsi, Vice-chancellor of the British University in Dubai, is in favour of a more personalised educational system in the UAE.
“Digital technologies and online education have been considered an integral part of the education system worldwide. The opportunities in this field are huge,” he said.
He added: “Also, academics will not be required to travel in person to share their knowledge, but they can do that remotely. The exchange and transfer of knowledge will be faster and easier than ever.”
Charles Grim, Vice Provost for Institutional Research, Assessment, and Academic Affairs at NYU Abu Dhabi, said, “We have the potential to offer some of the top online programmes in the region. This cooperative endeavor, seems like an excellent way to help us and all of the other participating universities to engage in online learning effectively much more efficiently than would be the case were we to move in this direction independently.”
The varsities will take part in capacity needs assessment to ascertain their specific challenges and define their strengths and needs for developing virtual courses.
The assessments are scheduled to be completed by early next year, following which universities will receive a report to guide its programme design.
Noura Al Kaabi, Minister of Culture and Youth and President of Zayed University also supported the programme.
She said: “This project will assist Zayed University and other higher education institutions in the UAE to develop high quality degree programmes that will be offered fully online to a regional and international audience.”
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