President defends relevancy of foreign universities

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The new president of an Australian university in Dubai has defended branch campuses of foreign universities, saying they offer an education that is appropriate for the Middle East. Professor Rob Whelan, the head of the University of Wollongong in Dubai (UOWD), said such campuses allowed students to "remain rooted in local culture" while attending a foreign university. His statement follows comments in The National this month by Dr Peter Heath, the new chancellor of the American University of Sharjah, who said branch campuses might not offer an education that was "relevant" to the Middle East.

"This model has worked admirably and the UOWD is proud to have contributed to this effort by introducing the Australian model of higher education to this region," said Prof Whelan. UOWD, which has a campus in Dubai Knowledge Village, was one of the earliest foreign universities to open a branch in the UAE 15 years ago. "UOWD has built a very strong platform for expansion and part of my brief is to look at the best strategic opportunities to broaden the range of programmes offered," he said. The university had a "strong track record" for its postgraduate courses in business and IT, he added, and was keen to "build on that in other fields", particularly in health and education.

Prof Whelan, who has been dean of the faculty of science at the main campus in Australia since 2002 and has worked for the university for 25 years, said he was "delighted" to be leading a university with "research-active staff" and a strong research emphasis in its teaching programmes. "I believe that in a diverse and multicultural society, higher education has to evolve with the needs of the times, while maintaining the age-old academic traditions and processes."