Bold new plans for Khalifa university

The new president of Khalifa University of Science and Technology said he wants to boost its research and teaching capabilities.

October 25, 2010/  Abu Dhabi / Dr. Tod A. Laursen is the newly appointed President of Khalifa University in Abu Dhabi October 25, 2010.  (Sammy Dallal / The National)
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ABU DHABI // The new president of Khalifa University of Science and Technology said he wants to boost its research and teaching capabilities.

The university will embark on an aggressive recruitment campaign seeking top faculty from around the world and is developing a new medical school and an Institute for International Studies and Homeland Security, said Tod Laursen.

They are adventurous plans, he admitted, and he expects challenges along the way. But with financial backing from the Abu Dhabi government, he said, his choice to come to the UAE from Duke University in the US - where he had been for 20 years - was driven by the ability to not just make grandiose plans, but execute them.

"How often does the chance come to start something almost from scratch with some real opportunities to apply creativity? It is much harder to make changes in a more mature institution," he said.

"If we do our job right, we're going to create a generation of students who can not only anticipate the needs of society but be part of its innovation."

The university - which took in its first students in 2008 - is now in talks with the Health Authority Abu Dhabi and the armed services to open a medical school, which he hopes will attract graduate students primarily from its newly launched bio-medical engineering programme.

With the medical school will come a 200-bed teaching hospital - although it will be another four years before the students can apply for posts, said Mr Laursen.

Competition will be fierce. There are five medical schools within a 200km radius encompassing Ras al Khaimah and Al Ain.

"I'm not as interested in having a huge pool [of students] as I am in having a really good pool," he said. "I'm optimistic we'll be training a new type of physician."

Dr Hassan Galadari, assistant professor at UAE University in Al Ain, said the combination of engineering and medicine will give students a unique opportunity and give the university a "niche" in the market.

"This would be a fantastic thing: developing doctors who have more than an understanding of the machines they're using; having the capacity to develop new equipment, drugs, research."

Meanwhile, The Institute of International Studies and Homeland Security hopes to take its first Masters students this spring.

Mr Laursen said that, in time, he hoped the institute would not only serve the UAE but attract students from around the region.

David Goldfischer, the head of the new institute who was recruited from the University of Denver, said the programme would initially focus on civil security. The first group of about 20, will all be professionals in the field.

It is a unique programme that, he said, "looks at ways of improving the safety and security of the UAE".

Mr Laursen admitted it has not been easy to recruit faculty, but they are reaching out to the global community with competitive packages and well-funded research opportunities. Even in terms of students, with over 90 universities in the country, he said they have their work cut out pulling in the country's elite.

"We feel we can offer something different," he said. "Just as in business, in higher education, competition is not a bad thing."

One of these niche areas is its new Masters in Nuclear Engineering, which they also hope to launch in the spring.

Four faculty from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology have already been recruited for the six Emirati students who will be the first in the programme.

It is a long-term strategic partnership, said Mr Laursen, between the institutions. Collaborations with the Emirates Nuclear Energy Company and the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation mean the students will be prepared for jobs in the industry.