Quality check for foreign universities

As the UAE continues to attractforeign universities to set up branch campuses, higher education seekers often find themselves asking: Do they offer the same quality as the home campuses? The doubt arises as they are exempted from acquiring a federal accreditation.

By Afshan Ahmed

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Published: Tue 20 Apr 2010, 11:57 PM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 10:54 AM

Dubai has highest number of international branch campuses in the region. Universities hope the review process adopted in the emirate will raise student confidence in branch campuses with the education authority’s University Quality Assurance International Board (UQAIB) aiming to remove the rotten eggs from the basket of higher education institutions.

“The goal is to make sure that we have a large number of institutions that maintain quality that we expect which is good for the students, for their families and their potential employers,” said Warren Fox, Executive Director of UQAIB.

The board that consists of 10 international education experts was established a year-and-a-half ago with the purpose of implementing a process to review branch campuses in Dubai free zones for quality assurance. It is based on a validation model that ensures varisity branches offer the same standards and programmes of their home campuses.

“The campuses need to have the same faculty experience and curriculum that is present on their home campuses,” Fox, says.

“So we are now allowing only those campuses that are accredited in their jurisdiction and make sure that the accreditor (in parent country) is aware of the programmes being offered in Dubai.”

The board makes recommendations to the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) based on which its Regulation and Compliance Commission (RCC) issues education permits to foreign institutes for legal operation.

Dr B. Ramjee, director of the Manipal University in Dubai, sees this role of the KHDA that runs the board as a boon to foreign branch campuses. “The board, comprising very eminent individuals, has put us through a scrutiny to validate our status,” he said.

The university is accredited by the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) in India but does not have a local accreditation awarded by the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research.

Many foreign branch campuses deem it irrelevant to seek accreditation from the Commission of Academic Accreditation (CAA) of the ministry and consider it to be complicated.

“We cannot go through the local accreditation route but at the same time we want someone to authenticate our position,” Ramjee said.

“I am confident that parents’ faith in institutions that are approved by UQAIB will be restored.”

Advantages of CAA

Though not considered a necessity, being accredited by the ministry is a sign of commitment to quality, believes Dr Brendan Mullan, Executive Director of Michigan State University (MSU) Dubai. The university was awarded an academic licence by the CAA this month.

“The first question we are often asked during student enrolments is our status with the local ministry,” Dr Mullan says.

The university is accredited by the American North Central Association Higher Learning Commission and is ranked among the Top 100 universities in the world but Dr Mullan said that is not enough.

“For many parents, the licence by the CAA is a very valuable stamp of official approval of quality.

“From our perspective, the licensing also assures Emirati and GCC students that they can be competitive in the job market.”

Fatma Mohanadi, Director of Government Communication at the ministry, said employers in the UAE value degrees from universities that are accredited by the ministry. “Some government and private employers hire only graduates from institutes that are accredited by the ministry,” she said.

Validation matters

There are a wide variety of universities ranging from federal and government-owned to private and foreign branch campuses for students to choose from. Students need to weigh their options and steer away from unauthorised institutes, say experts.

Member of UQAIB Professor Roger Field said the validation model in Dubai provides a strong guarantee to students enrolling in institutes in the emirate. “Our advice is to enrol in quality-assured programmes that have high standards and relevance not only in Dubai but in the host country,” said Field who is also the Vice-Chancellor of Lincoln University and chairperson of New Zealand Vice-Chancellors’ Committee.

The board is not an accreditation body but makes sure institutes and programmes are in line with the parent campus.

While the KHDA has developed a mechanism to monitor foreign branch campuses in Dubai, there is no such regulator for foreign campuses in the other emirates.

The Troy University ITS Sharjah campus is affiliated to the university of the same name in the US. The university does not have a local accreditation but Dr Samir Odeh, vice-president of Troy, said the degrees they offer are recognised internationally.

“Our academic auditing is done annually and we are visited by the home campus for accreditation every 10 years,” he said.

According to him, not acquiring a local accreditation does not pose issues because students’ degrees are recognised internationally.

But UQAIB has found some foreign universities that are not delivering the promised standards in Dubai that highlights the need for regulatory bodies in other emirates for the welfare of students.

“Most campuses are meeting the requirements and standards of validation but there are a handful where we have serious questions about their accreditation,” Fox said.


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