DIDI: Designing courses fuelled by demand

Mohammad Abdullah, President, Dubai Institute of Design & Innovation
Mohammad Abdullah, President, Dubai Institute of Design & Innovation

DIDI future-proofs students to prepare them for a rapidly changing career market that will contribute to a knowledge-based economy, writes Mohammad Abdullah, President, Dubai Institute of Design & Innovation

How is your university contributing to the UAE's higher education in line with government's Vision 2021 to realise a 'First-rate Education System'?

As the region's only university exclusively dedicated to design and innovation, we're committed to meeting the UAE's demand for talent because design matters more than ever before. At the Dubai Institute of Design and Innovation (DIDI), we offer a single degree, the bachelor of design (BDes). In place of a single major, students have the opportunity to combine two design concentrations from four disciplines to create their own cross-concentration study path. In a world were today's jobs may not exist in the future, this creates graduates with hybrid skills by blending visual literacy, tech fluency and strategic proficiency.

Superlatives notwithstanding, Dubai's design sector is the subject of growing importance and there is great potential in its future trajectory. For example, studies showed that the design market in the MENA region accounts for $100 billion of the global design market and will require thousands of new design graduates to fuel growth in this industry. We're not only meeting demand for design graduates but developing the next generation of innovators.

What challenges and opportunities did you witness moving from physical to online classes during the Covid-19 pandemic? How is technology and digitisation influencing higher education?

Dubai's digital infrastructure enabled schools and universities such as DIDI to swiftly and seamlessly adopt online learning in line with the guidelines issued by the UAE Ministry of Education. As a university focused on design and innovation, maintaining our hands-on curriculum was a challenge that we had to successfully overcome. To do so, we developed design kits that were sent to our students to ensure they could complete practical work at home. We also used virtual communication and video conferencing to maintain academic continuity and critique work for students across our four disciplines: product design, multimedia design, fashion design and strategic design management.

Please explain some of the futuristic educational trends developing in the UAE

The exceptional circumstances of the Covid-19 pandemic demonstrated that Dubai and the UAE were ready and prepared to adopt online learning, which suggests we have an opportunity to become a regional hub for innovative education. According to the Dubai Future Foundation, the education technology market continues to grow, and its global size is expected to reach $341 billion by 2025. With digital skills woven into the DNA of DIDI, education technology holds plenty of promise when it comes to futuristic teaching trends. In a world that looks very different from a few months ago, it's important to futureproof the next generation of talent. Helping students develop an entrepreneurial spirit can catalyse a fast-growing culture of talent and innovation that contributes to the development of a sustainable, knowledge-based economy.

In your opinion, how adept is the UAE education system to fulfil the demands related to career opportunities?

The UAE has a first-rate higher education system, and DIDI future proofs students to prepare them for a rapidly changing careers market. We are the first university in the region to offer an integrated BDes degree. We have collaborated with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Parsons New School of Design in New York to create a unique curriculum which has allowed students to create their own cross-concentration study path. This has helped us attract promising design students from as far afield as Cuba, South Africa, China, the US and Russia to create a diverse student body where UAE and GCC nationals account for 30 per cent of DIDI's student body. They learn from a world-class academic team featuring Harvard-educated and award-winning designers from all four corners of the globe, which helps to convince students that Dubai is one of the best places to study.

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