It is nearly 20 years since Al Maktoum College of Higher Education opened its doors in Dundee, Scotland’s fourth-largest city.
Offering subjects including Arabic, business, finance, management, and Middle Eastern and Islamic studies, it has taught thousands in the decades since it opened.
But while it is proud of those achievements, the college was set up to be more than a place in which people studied to obtain qualifications.
Much of its funding comes from the Al Maktoum Foundation, with the college established on the initiative of the late Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid, the former Deputy Ruler of Dubai and Minister of Finance, who died in March.
“We’re not here just simply to offer educational programmes,” said Abi Abubaker, head of college and vice chancellor.
“It’s what else we can do to make sure that the vision of our founder, our patron, [is] achieved. And that is to build links between communities, between people of different cultures.
“I’m proud to say that the college became very much involved in within the community and it’s very widely recognised within the city of Dundee and beyond as a place where people come to discuss issues like cultural engagement, like interfaith issues.
“People want to know about Islam, for example, or the Middle East, this is the place to come to,” Mr Abubaker said.
He said the college had been instrumental in building links between the UAE and the UK, and between the cities of Dundee and Dubai.
Indeed, Dundee is the only UK sister city of Dubai.
Mr Abubaker, who has been with the college since its inception, said it had worked to build links with the local council, interfaith organisations and the Scottish government, while also establishing cultural programmes with institutions around the world.
It also co-teaches a highly regarded master of science degree in Islamic finance with the University of Dundee.
He says student numbers have tripled in the past five years, with people from more than 40 countries among those studying at the college in the past term.
This year, a master of philosophy degree in The Middle East in a Global Context will be launched in collaboration with Trinity College Dublin.
“Honestly, we have students from all walks of life. Young, old, Muslims, non-Muslims, of no religion at all. We promote diversity and we celebrate diversity. Actually, our tagline is Discover Diversity in Dundee.
“And, really, this is how we see ourselves,” Mr Abubaker said.
“A place that’s open to all people, all walks of life, as long as they have a genuine interest in learning, in education, and that they share our views of a multicultural open, diverse society.”
The college’s role and importance perhaps could not be highlighted better by a recent development, in which it was granted funding to research refugee resettlement.
This month it will begin its project on financial inclusivity for Muslim refugees and entrepreneurs coming to settle in Scotland.
“This is a very interesting time for the college and its wider engagement with the local authorities, with the government, and being seen as an institution that may assist decision makers in areas of competence for us here at the college,” Mr Abubaker said.
While the initial funding application was based on a project for Syrian refugees, the expected rise in Afghan asylum seekers means the project could not have been more timely, he said.
Moving forwards, the college wants to continue to expand.
Mr Abubaker says there was a clear vision to become a university college within 10 years, and eventually be able to apply for degree-awarding powers.
“It’s a big ambition, it’s a big plan. But we can see it happen. We have started to build the building blocks that will get us to that end.
“It is very feasible that we may get there even sooner than we’re hoping, if all our plans come to fruition.”
Mr Abubaker has lived in Scotland for four decades, and joined the college initially as a volunteer.
He said he was most proud of seeing how much it had grown.
“The sense of establishing something from scratch, the sense that you are building a legacy. This is absolutely priceless, to see where we were, how we started, the various stages that we progressed through and the challenges that we faced, to where we are now.
“And, indeed, then you think ‘OK, now we have a very interesting vision for the future’ and you can actually see that vision starting to become realised,” Mr Abubaker said.
“There isn’t anything for me as satisfying as that, the knowledge that you will be leaving behind a legacy that future generations will benefit from, that hopefully you provided a space for people to study and prosper and develop themselves, and something that the community could be proud of as well.
“So that, for me, is the main reflection that I have over the last 20 years.”