Bigger campus to give Khalifa University students room to grow

Academics and students await better facilities and more space as the university plans to quadruple the size of its current campus to 135,000 square metres.

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ABU DHABI // Academics and students are keen to grow into the expanded facilities at Khalifa University, which will quadruple the size of the campus and give students a recreational hub.

Prof Tod Laursen, the university’s president, said it was time for the students and academics to spread out, and take advantage of the expansion in space. The 35,000 square metre facility will grow to 135,000 and be completed in about two years.

“Our current space really isn’t a proper student hub,” he said. “We’ve tried to go into the buildings we’ve got around us but this expansion will be a proper student hub with restaurants, fitness facilities, student services and even child care for students and staff.

“It’s what we’d call the student union in the US, and is a place where students can congregate and feel at home.”

There will also be plans in further development for on-campus housing. Currently students are brought in on buses and the campus lacks the feel of a residential university.

Funded by the Executive Council, the new facilities will be more laboratory intensive, enhancing the university’s research activities.

“The new space will be four times bigger than what we have, and it will allow for proper scientific conferencing,” Prof Laursen said. “The kind of events we run, like the distinguished speakers series, will be far better on campus rather than in the Intercontinental Hotel where we hold it now.”

The aim is to have everything ready within two years, although the project has already stalled once because of funding. It was originally due to be completed this year.

There are about 1,300 students at the university. With the expansion capacity, the figure will rise to about 3,000, said Prof Laursen, ensuring the student-teacher ratio remains low. Currently it is 10 to 1.

“Engineering is a hands-on subject and this ratio gives students the best hands-on experience,” he said. “It is a subject that takes space. Most growth will be in the graduate programmes.”

New semi-conductor and aerospace research centres will be a major focus for the university. Lab spaces have been designed to encourage crossover between academic disciplines to encourage collaboration.

“Even down to who sits next to who will be important in shaping what this place will be over the next decade or so,” he added.

Dr Mohammed Al Mualla, senior vice president for research and development, and the head of the expansion project, said growth was vital for the campus.

“It will add value to the university and help us attract academics and the top students from the UAE,” he said.

“The main reason we are moving is for the students,” he said. “We currently don’t have the facilities needed for the students. It’s not as good as we’d like.”

Many of the students the university will be targeting are those doing postgraduate and PhD studies, tying into the research priority of the university.

A two-level discovery centre for school groups, which aims to encourage more pupils into science and technology, will be one of the features of the new campus in addition to a wind tunnel – “a unique facility” said Dr Al Mualla – used by aerospace students and mechanical engineers to design planes and cars.

Ahmed Mukhayer, 21, is a third-year electrical engineering student. He said he was looking forward to the new campus and its new facilities.

“I am at campus all day from about 9am to 8pm, and even sometimes at weekends. It will be nice to have a student hub, somewhere we can meet away from our studies.”

Mona Abbad, 20, is also in her third year of electrical engineering.

“It will make it easier to stay on campus all day without having to go off to get food and we will have more activities,” she said. “It will be more fun having things like the new gym. I am looking forward to having a place to socialise.”