ABU DHABI // Prof Badr Aboul-Ela has spent his working life teaching young minds in the UAE and his native Egypt.
Prof Aboul-Ela graduated from Cairo University with a bachelor’s degree in agriculture and animal production at 19, before becoming a teaching assistant at a government university.
“Even as a teaching assistant I was young,” he says. “Many of my students were older than me.”
After completing his master’s degree in animal physiology, he was granted a PhD scholarship at Aberdeen University in Scotland, where he spent five and a half years.
After completing his studies there he moved back to Egypt and became an assistant professor at Mansoura University.
In 1987, he achieved his professorship and was granted the presidential medal for excellence in research in Egypt. The following year, he moved to the Emirates to chair the animal production department at the college of agriculture at UAE University.
Prof Aboul-Ela moved through the ranks to become assistant to the provost.
“I learnt a lot during those five years in that role,” he says. “It was nine colleges and 37 departments. I was involved in everything from budget to curriculum.”
Prof Aboul-Ela, now 66, left in 1997 to return to Mansoura University.
“I thought I’d enjoy being just a professor and not doing any administration,” he says.
But in 2000, he was asked to spend a few months at the newly launched Zayed University to help to establish its policies and procedures.
“It’s been a long journey and a very good learning experience for me, being exposed to all kinds of areas of education, from military to policy,” he says. “One keeps learning all the time.
“The challenges have been many, of course – number one being the diversity in terms of the various education systems we have to deal with and accommodate, and making sure that everybody thinks the same and follows the same standards. It’s a real challenge.”
Prof Aboul-Ela has been head of the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research’s Commission for Academic Accreditation since 2007. He joined the CAA as a commissioner when it was established seven years earlier.
In its first three years the CAA closed down 26 institutions, many of them unregulated “diploma mills” issuing fake degrees.
“The growth in higher education has matched the growth in population and the fast development in different areas of the country,” Prof Aboul-Ela says.
“I have made sure that the CAA has standards, policies and procedures, which match those applied by mature and highly reputable accreditation agencies.”
In 2011, the CAA was externally reviewed and awarded a certificate of recognition as an agency that complies with international good practices. The CAA is the only quality agency in the Middle East that has received such international recognition, said Prof Aboul-Ela.
Having spent so long here, he says the UAE feels like home.
“I don’t want to retire and I’m used to being a workaholic. My family got used to it,” Prof Aboul-Ela says.
His three daughters are following in his footsteps.
“For some reason they all love to be poor university professors. Maybe they were affected by the environment they grew up in.
“The whole environment at home is books and papers.”