NYU Abu Dhabi

After reading a couple of articles on the benefits and strategies of international universities going global I started thinking of the many institutions that have made their way to the Middle East. Examples range from NYU, Paris Sorbonne, and Babson College in the UAE, to Carnegie Mellon, Georgetown, and Northwestern in Qatar. Being western educated at both an undergraduate and graduate level has given me an incredible depth of knowledge not just academically about subjects of the world, but personally and professionally as a human being. I love seeing world class academic institutions set up shop in our own back yard, and here are some of the reasons why.

1. They align with the social, political, and economic ambitions

To increase potential impact on society the universities have to be aligned with the high-level agenda and goals of the country. For example one would question why a university that is known purely for its sports program would set up in a country that has no need for sports. In the examples we are seeing in the Gulf the UAE has put a high priority on entrepreneurship, enter Babson College, which is currently managing the Abu Dhabi School of Management with an undergraduate school that has been ranked number 1 in entrepreneurship for the last 18 years. Another example Northwestern School of Journalism which set up in Qatar that aligns with their development of Al Jazeera into a global news platform, I had a chance to visit their booth on my recent trip to Qatar and some of the work they are doing is phenomenal.

2. They create thinkers

Whenever you speak to a group of faculty or staff from New York University’s Abu Dhabi campus and ask about the curriculum or subjects being taught they will almost always come back to the same response “Regardless of what subjects they learn, we are here to make them better thinkers”. In my first quarter at Stanford I took a course called critical analytical thinking of which I scored in the bottom ten percentile of the class, growing up until that point everything was either black or white, it’s not that I didn’t want to acknowledge a grey area, to me a grey area didn’t really exist. To this day it was the class I grew the most from, it taught me to question what I read and hear, to think thoroughly when presented an argument, and to use my knowledge as a force for good in the world. Building thinkers is critical to the Arab region, in a world that is becoming more connected every day we need a youth that are willing, excited, and capable of creatively solving the global issues and problems that lie ahead.

3.They promote the academic industry

Today a big chunk of the academic industry in the Arab world is pretty much limited to teaching a class of students. Although teaching and knowledge distribution is a critical part of the academic strategy, in the Western world professors are much more than that. They are thought leaders, advisors to governments and large institutions, and contributors to some of the world’s most influential publications. Attracting Nationals of the country into the field of academia is critical, more so for their cultural and historical understanding of the country, and their inherent ability to naturally connect with the local people. I can think of no better way to do that than by welcoming some of the best institutions and the brightest minds from around the world into our countries.

Of course having international universities set up in the Arab world is not without its potential pitfalls, specifically quality control with regards to the education by not solely relying on the brand name to attract students. Ensuring that their institution is a pure extension of their home campus, with the same processes, platforms, and standards of excellence, rather than a separate entity entirely. Another important pitfall mentioned by many academics in the articles is to avoid a lack of independence, therefore it is important to gain support from authorities to maintain academic independence to ensure that staff, students, and faculty are given the flexibility to do their best work.

The Gulf youth have the opportunity of a lifetime, and in all honesty are pretty spoiled for choice when it comes to academic options within the region. The government authorities have done their best to ensure these institutions have top notch facilities, the universities and professors are on the ground, now it is on us, the people, to step up and make the most of it.