Inspectors take fresh look at 'problem' university

Ittihad University in RAK suffered a rare measure - being put on probation - after ministry officials visited in March. Now they are back.

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RAS AL KHAIMAH // Inspectors will visit the emirate's biggest private university today to see what progress has been made since they issued a report that led to the resignation of its chancellor.

When they last visited Ittihad University, on March 31, they found "serious problems" with its teaching, curricula and management. On April 21, the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research put the university on probation - preventing it from recruiting new students.

Six days later, the chancellor, Dr Adnan al Bazi, quit and was replaced by his vice chancellor, Dr Abdul Sattar al Alusi.

It is only the second time the Commission for Academic Accreditation, the ministry body responsible for inspecting universities, had taken such a sanction since it was formed in 2000.

While the inspectors' report is confidential, the commissioner at the ministry, Prof Ian Cumbus, said the problems were "sufficiently serious and wide ranging" that the ministry had "no alternative at that stage to impose the only sanction we really have, which was probation status".

The move was a last resort, he said, after previous poor reports. "They have not been responding to our recommendations. Ittihad has had regular inspections but you get accumulation where not enough action is being taken.

"Other issues crop up, recommendations haven't been implemented, and this really is the last resort we've had to take.

"It's very rare for it to go to an institutional level. Often programmes may be put on probation, but not a whole institution."

"It's a very serious action on our part and we consider it very carefully before we do it, but we find it results in things getting results and things are sorted out swiftly," Prof Cumbus added.

The only other university to have been put on probation was the University of Jazeera in Dubai, in November. The measure was lifted four months later.

Ittihad responded to its probation by setting out a series of plans and goals, although like the inspectors' report the detail of the response has not been released.

Today five experts from the commission will be looking to see whether the changes it called for have been implemented.

"We hope a lot of things have been attended to," said Prof Cumbus, who will be leading the team. It is unlikely, though, that they will have done enough for the ban to be lifted immediately, he said, with further inspections likely over the coming weeks.

In the meantime, not only does the university start the academic year unable to recruit to its eight bachelor's degree courses, but many of its 650-plus students are likely to look elsewhere to finish their courses, deterred by the prospect of weeks or months of uncertainty.

Prof Cumbus admitted the sanctions would be a serious setback. Even when the university is allowed to take on new students, he fears the damage to its reputation will mean it struggles to do so.

Dr al Bazo says he is confident that the university can rise to the challenge. "I've been here since day one of the university so I know its heart," he said yesterday.

He has been at Ittihad since it launched 12 years ago and is confident that the commission will see things have already improved.

"We hope once the committee release the probation, we will continue our plans for expansion with new programmes like an MBA and other specialisations."

Dr Natasha Ridge, head of research at the Sheikh Saqr Foundation for Policy Research in RAK, said Ittihad's probation showed the importance of accreditation and external regulation in ensuring that institutions meet standards.