University in RAK eyes Dh100m expansion

RAS AL KHAIMAH // Seven years after its first students enrolled, the American University of Ras Al Khaimah is planning a Dh100 million expansion to accommodate thousands more.

Funded by RAK Bank, the 10-year project will increase the university’s capacity to between 5,000 and 7,000 students, from 900 students at present.

Aurak’s president, Prof Hassan Al Alkim, who was appointed to the role five years ago after three decades at UAE University, has breathed new life into the institution.

“We’ve achieved a lot,” he said. “It’s not all we want, but we are growing according to our plan. Three years back we were in the 200s [of students] and now we are more than 900.”

About a third of students are Emirati.

Students at Aurak, which is accredited by the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, are from countries such as Nigeria, Russia and Colombia. “For a university to succeed in Ras Al Khaimah, we have to look beyond the emirate. There are more than 100 universities competing, so we have to go abroad,” Prof Al Alkim said.

After its initial instability, the university was “regaining our name”, he said.

In addition to offering niche subjects such as petroleum engineering, Aurak’s tuition fees and housing costs are competitive with other institutions in the UAE. On average, undergraduate degrees cost about Dh45,000 a year, about half the price of other universities.

The dusty little office and prefabricated buildings that once held administrators and staff are a thing of the past, with new and brightly coloured modern buildings springing up in their place, offering sports facilities and an auditorium.

The next graduation ceremony will be the first to be held on Aurak’s campus.

“It is changing the students’ quality of life,” Prof Al Alkim said. “We always ask, ‘Why would a student come here?’ The university’s quality and the diversity of programmes is important, but goats used to wander on to this campus.

“What impression does that give to students and parents? What do they think when they see prefabricated buildings?”

The goats are long gone, which is good news, as they would make short work of the newly planted green spaces and flower beds around the student housing blocks.

“We want to make Ras Al Khaimah a destination for education,” Prof Al Alkim said. “Many universities started in very small villages and then the village becomes built around the university, and it becomes a city because of this spillover.”

In addition, Aurak was “developing the people” of the emirate’s future, part of the emirate’s transformation, Prof Al Alkim said.

Mohammed Badran has witnessed the changes of the past four years. Born and raised in Ras Al Khaimah, the Palestinian graduated from Aurak’s business school in the summer and now works as a student life counsellor at the university.

“For me, it was the best days of my life, but there were gaps in the student life which we filled ourselves, away from the campus” he said.

For example, students could not compete in certain inter-university sporting competitions without the proper training facilities, such as a track-and-field arena that is being built.

Mr Badran was part of a theatre group that did not have an auditorium in which to rehearse.

“The new facilities make it much easier to offer many more extracurricular things to students. For a long time it didn’t feel like a university campus with that atmosphere.”

Maram Rashad, a recent engineering graduate, has lived in Ras Al Khaimah since she was 5. Since she started university in 2013, she has watched its growth, although she was attracted by its small size and proximity to her family home. “Life here changed a lot. It’s a much nicer campus with so many more facilities for us. It’s a much better quality of life,” she said.

The university’s size also drew Huzaifah Sabo, a Nigerian. Mr Sabo, who had planned to study in Dubai, said there were “too many distractions” in Dubai, so he chose a quieter environment in Ras Al Khaimah and Aurak’s competitive fees.

Mr Sabo, who has been at the university since 2011, is in his final term as a computer engineering student. “It looks and feels more like a university campus now,” he said.

mswan@thenational.ae

Published: September 13, 2016 04:00 AM

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