Futuristic UAE university courses cannot be just 'trendy' but must meet national need

Institutes are introducing degrees in everything from artificial intelligence to 3D construction to prepare students for the workplace of tomorrow

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - September 16, 2019: Dr David Schmidt is the new president of American University in Dubai. Monday the 16th of September 2019. Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Dubai universities are moving with the times by expanding their degree offerings to ensure learners are equipped to meet the challenges of the modern age.

Institutes are introducing innovative courses covering subjects such as artificial intelligence, 3D construction and special needs education.

Education leaders said it was crucial to provide students with the skill-sets required in a changing world, while not being enticed by "trendy" subjects without long-term benefits.

Business courses and engineering degrees have traditionally been favoured by students in the emirate, but universities are diversifying to meet demand.

American University in Dubai will soon be launching a one-year masters in artificial intelligence, a one-year masters in innovation, and another masters in robotics.

The university is also planning to launch programmes focusing on intellectual property and innovation management, urban design, robotics and 3D construction.

Dr David Schmidt, president of American University in Dubai, said the move to extend its degree options is made with great care.

“We try to balance our core undergraduate curriculum while constantly improving it, and making new offerings," said Dr Schmidt.

"We have to make sure we have the facilities and that these programmes are sustainable and we do so cautiously."

Dr Schmidt said that universities need to balance industry needs and when launching new courses cannot be swayed by public opinion or "the flavour of the day."

"You do not want to offer something that is trendy. You have to be cautious and look at whether you have the material, the faculty and the expertise."

Imad Hoballah, provost and chief academic officer at American University in Dubai, said the new courses are geared at boosting the employability of students.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - October 23, 2019: The opening of the largest 3D printed two-story structure in the world. Wednesday the 23rd of October 2019. Warsan, Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National

"We are revisiting the programmes to make sure we include soft skills and have new ways of teaching.

"We are introducing new programmes such as the artificial intelligence programme that build on what we have before and are aligned to the industry's needs."

At the university's Centre for 3D printing, the impact and lifespan of 3D constructed material is to be studied.

It is a timely course, given the fact Dubai Municipality unveiled the world's largest 3D printed building in October.

Officials said 3D printing techniques would transform how the construction sector operates, reducing costs and improving efficiency.

We have to make sure we have the facilities and that these programmes are sustainable

University of Birmingham Dubai said it is also focusing on a "national need" by launching courses to increase numbers of Arabic teachers.

"There is a significant need to support the growth of home grown teachers," said Ben Bailey, director of campus operations at University of Birmingham Dubai.

"Teacher training is an area of focus and we have new programmes in primary and secondary education, and have added a post graduate certificate in education of Arabic.

"We have listened to partners like the KHDA and Ministry of Education and they want to see improvement in Arabic standards in schools."

The university's year-long postgraduate certificate in education is aimed at teaching assistants or people who want to become teachers.

As of September, the seat of learning will also have new masters programmes in computer science, law, international commercial law and in civil engineering.

The university has launched a three-year bachelors in psychology with a focus on social psychology, while masters programmes in artificial intelligence and computer science, arbitration and maritime law are also in the pipeline.

Middlesex University in Dubai is another institute broadening its offerings

"Once the university has got a base of students, it can venture into various areas," said Cedwyn Fernandes, pro-vice chancellor of the university.

He said the university's programmes in education are in high demand as they focus on teaching children with special needs.

The university is helping to shape creative minds with the launch of courses in fashion design, fashion communication and creative writing.

"We also plan to launch a bachelors in creative writing in September 2020," he said.

"People are realising the importance of creative programmes."