New York University Abu Dhabi celebrates a decade of achievement

It always planned to become a leading institution in the world, says vice chancellor

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A founding member of staff at New York University Abu Dhabi (NYUAD) has described how a long-held vision to bring an academic centre of excellence to the capital became a reality.

At an event to mark the university's 10th anniversary, professor of economics Yaw Nyarko recalled heady ambitions of students 'wanting to change the world', and moving to a new campus on Saadiyat Island.

NYUAD began a two-day celebration on Tuesday in honour of the milestone.

The virtual programme included a series of discussions covering a wide range of subjects, including talks by global leaders such as former French president Francois Hollande and primatologist Jane Goodall.

No other university in history has become a great university as fast as NYU Abu Dhabi
Mariet Westermann

Prof Nyarko spoke of discussions held 15 years ago about setting up a campus in the Emirates.

“At that time it was just really just an idea. We thought we were going to create an institution, an academic beacon to the world, academic excellence. And then 10 years ago, our university did open,” he said.

He reflected on the university's formative years operating from Sama Tower in Downtown Abu Dhabi until its purpose-built campus was ready in 2014.

“We brought those very eager students. I still remember the first cohort,” he said.

“They came in and wanted to change the world. Then we moved to Saadiyat Island.

“I remember going on a helicopter ride. We went over Saadiyat Island, and I kid you not, the place was full of sand.

“And I remember seeing gazelles, just jumping up and down. That was then. Today of course, we have a wonderful campus, many students, faculty from all different fields. We have a number of labs all over the campus.”

Success came ahead of schedule

Speaking in a media roundtable about the institution’s achievements, NYUAD vice chancellor, Mariet Westermann, said the university knew it could “create something very good” in the UAE.

She said it had always planned to become a leading institution in the world.

But it did not anticipate how fast it would achieve its goal.

“No other university in history has become a great university as fast as NYU Abu Dhabi; 10 years is a blink of an eye after all in the scope of human history,” she said, adding that its partnership with Abu Dhabi was critical.

Emirati poet and artist Shamma Al Bastaki, of the class of 2018, described her time at the university as “nothing short of magic”.

She said NYUAD is often characterised as an experiment that “observes the reverberations of an American liberal arts education” in the Arabian peninsula.

“I find the word experiment does not do NYUAD enough justice,” she said.

“In fact, I find it a little reductive. Experience to me is a better word, one that captures the expansive nature of what NYUAD has and continues to achieve.

“For those of us who have been part of the community, NYUAD is an experience in the fullest, most vibrant sense of the word.”

Updated: September 21, 2021, 12:19 PM