Lebanon’s AUB and UAE's Al Ghurair Foundation to open regional online learning hub

The aim is to make high-quality learning more available to the region's young people

People stand at the entrance of the American University of Beirut, on June 1, 2020. - Since it was founded in 1866 by Protestant missionaries from the United States, AUB has become one of the most prestigious universities in the Middle East, producing generations of leaders, artists, and intellectuals. But AUB president says with Lebanon's economy tanking, the university is facing "perhaps its greatest crisis", and plans to dismiss up to a quarter of its 6,500-strong workforce. (Photo by JOSEPH EID / AFP)

The American University of Beirut is to launch a digital learning hub to serve thousands of Arab students across the region in a partnership with the UAE-based Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation for Education.

The centre will be hosted by AUB’s Faculty of Engineering and Architecture and run 15 online master’s programmes, diplomas and “certificates that align with evolving regional employment trends”.

It will be called the Abdulla Al Ghurair Hub for Digital Teaching and Learning.

The foundation and AUB said they wanted to digitise existing courses at AUB’s Faculty of Engineering to provide access to higher education through online learning, state news agency Wam said. They will also develop new courses to add to the curriculum.

Foundation Chairman Abdul Aziz Al Ghurair said the initiative aims to make quality online learning more accessible to a larger pool of Arab youngsters.

“The future of online learning in the region will be further catalysed by initiatives such as these, and we are confident that more educational institutions will follow suit, in order to provide greater access to education across many more fields of study,” Mr Al Ghurair said.

AUB President Fadlo R Khuri said the partnership would empower young people in critical fields, such as engineering and architecture, using interactive learning tools.

“This partnership reflects the confidence of regional business leaders in the vision and growth of AUB, that has one of the highest employer ratings in the region. We are upgrading the existing infrastructure to be more digital, adaptive, flexible and interactive and will serve as a regional leader in online learning for a greater positive social impact,” Mr Khuri said.

The partnership comes at a challenging time for AUB. Like many of its peers across Lebanon, it is reeling from the worst economic crisis to grip the country in decades.

The crisis, which began in late 2019, caused the national currency to lose more than 90 per cent of its value. More than half of the population fell below the poverty line.

In March, Mr Khuri said AUB would be transferring $100 million from its overseas endowment fund to pay staff salaries as the economic situation worsened.

The university is facing a massive budget shortfall and has said that cutbacks and department closures are possible.

The crisis has weighed on academic institutions across Lebanon. Students have struggled to cover rising tuition fees while academics' purchasing power was eroded.

As well as developing existing courses, the digital learning hub will provide support to underserved students, “enabling lifelong learning and skill development opportunities,” WAM said.

It currently features two active online programmes, the Engineering Management Master’s degree tailored for engineers and architects, and the Building Energy Systems graduate diploma.