Professor Mohamed Salem is President of the University of Wollongong in Dubai. He first joined the institution in 2004 and has since worked alongside the 320 employee-strong staff body in a number of roles, including Dean of the Faculty of Engineering and Information Sciences before beginning his tenure as President in January 2015. As a highly respected academic, Professor Salem completed his PhD in Computer Science from the University of Montreal (Canada) where he was a recipient of a Doctoral Scholarship from the IBM Centre of Advanced Studies (Toronto). He has also worked as a Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of Waterloo (Ontario) and the University of Ottawa. Since moving to the UAE, Professor Salem has been actively involved in many collaborative activities between universities in the region and served as an active member of the steering committee of the North Africa and Middle East ACM Programming Contest for many years. Professor Salem is also a founding member of the UAE Engineering Deans Council.
The University of Wollongong in Dubai is Dubai's oldest private accredited University. Established in 1993 by the University of Wollongong (UOW) Australia, UOWD has a longstanding reputation for academic excellence, graduate employability and an unparalleled student experience. With over 4,000 students and a graduate network of over 8,000 people, UOWD has built a reputation for quality and integrity. It is held in high regards by its students, alumni and the business, government and community sectors. It offers 25 different degree programs, specialising in Business, Finance, Information Sciences, Engineering and Arts and Humanities.
The UAE has placed education as a number one priority in its national agenda. How developed would you say is the UAE’s education sector? What challenges do you see going forward?
The UAE’s education sector is becoming increasingly more developed and the government’s focus on ensuring the growth and success of quality institutions is making it an exciting environment to be working in. Compared to many years ago, the higher education sector is now becoming more focused on outcomes, employment and national priorities. There is no doubt that there are a considerable number of universities in the country but quality is gradually overtaking quantity. The longstanding reputation for quality that UOWD has is clearly reflected in the feedback we receive from students and their parents and also from employers. The competition is certainly getting tougher as quality levels rise amongst other universities.
One of the main challenges I see going forward is to ensure great adequacy and alignment between the education provided to students from such a large number of nationalities and origins, and their ability to get suitable jobs after graduation.
One other important challenge for the education sector in the UAE is regarding Research and Development. In general, research requires a substantial amount of resources and rarely contributes to a university’s bottom line. However, it is one of the main pillars necessary to foster innovation and quality of teaching. Different levels of the UAE government are currently working very hard to develop frameworks and initiatives to help bring innovation to the forefront of education in the UAE.
Dubai is being increasingly known as an educational hub around the world. What is the position that Dubai has internationally as an education hub?
Here at UOWD we have students from 117 different nationalities, many of whom are international students who have come to Dubai to pursue their education. We also have staff from over 44 different nationalities, many of whom have moved to Dubai especially to teach at UOWD.
Internationally, the UAE is currently highly ranked as an attractive education destination in the world, according to the Workforce Planning study conducted by Deloitte. Whilst there is still room to grow, Dubai’s universities are largely seen on an international stage to be fulfilling market needs and expectations, especially in comparison with other educational hubs in the region. As the gateway between Europe and Asia, Dubai is in a very unique position to be able to encourage educational collaborations between universities in different regions and to foster innovative research that addresses issues that are unique to this area of the world.
University of Wollongong Dubai is recognized as one of the most prestigious universities in the UAE. Why would you say students choose to study at UOWD? What are the university’s key strengths?
Since our establishment in 1993, the University has offered a quality Australian-based education that is expertly tailored to fulfill the demands of the local market. Because we are licensed and accredited by the UAE ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research along with being quality assured by UOW Australia (which is registered with the Australian Tertiary Education and Quality Standards Agency), our degrees are recognized both locally and internationally. We also offer students the choice to transfer to UOW Australia or to receive a UOW Australia degree after completing a program at UOW Dubai.
Students are attracted to UOWD programs because they are designed to bridge the gap between higher education and industry in the UAE. Students go into the workplace with thorough subject knowledge, the ability to work independently, great communication skills and the capability to think outside the box. The Australian flavor to our courses encourages our students to put theory into practice at every possible opportunity: whether that be through internships or capstone projects.
Mr. Salem, you first joined UOWD back in 2004 and since then have worked alongside 320 staff members in a number of roles. How would you describe the development that UoWD has witnessed?
UOWD has witnessed huge levels of growth since 2004. When I first joined the University we had just received initial accreditation for the Bachelor of Computer Science and the Bachelor of Internet Science and Technology courses. We were also running around 8 business programs. Since that time we have grown the number of degree courses we offer to 25, including a PhD program, and our engineering and business faculties are considered among the best in the country. In 2004 we had around 1,500 students. We now have over 4,000, along with an alumni network that is over 8,500 strong. We have introduced a number of humanities courses, moved to our campus in Dubai Knowledge Village in 2005 and held 28 graduation ceremonies.
Mr. Salem, upon your appointment as president of UoWD you said, “I believe the University of Wollongong Dubai has an important role to play”. What is this important role and by playing this role how will it offer potential growth in the region?
UOWD has a very important role to play in producing graduates that have the depth of education needed to fulfill the UAE’s ambitions, including major milestones such as Expo2020, and are able to work towards the creation of a knowledge based economy which is fuelled by cutting edge research.
At the moment, our cohort of PhD students (many of whom are UAE Nationals) are largely working on topics that are related to national priorities, including the role of women in leadership in the UAE and the development of the country’s health sector. By focusing on such research areas, they will be able to develop the knowledge needed to lead growth in the region.
We are also evolving our current programs to allow graduates to be ready to lead Dubai’s future growth, along with focusing on aspects, including entrepreneurship and innovation, that will be a key part of Expo2020’s legacy.
We are continuously evolving our offerings to help ensure that the country has the skillset it needs to manage future challenges. For example, we are going to introduce a program that will focus on managing the maintenance and reliability of engineering infrastructure projects – an issue which is becoming increasingly important in countries in the Gulf region where expensive infrastructure has recently been built, and now its successful maintenance and continued success is of upmost priority.
For the last decade expats have been moving to Dubai in large numbers and are taking up about 92% of the economy. How does UOWD help to satisfy the academic needs of various international students?
Our priority at UOWD is to provide a quality international education that will stand our students in good stead wherever in the world they end up living and working. Along with a focus on the unique issues that the MENA region faces, we also ensure that our students are equipped with the skills to successfully enter the international workplace.
What does the future hold for UOWD and its students?
Over the next five years, our goal is to continue with substantial investment in the institution, growing student numbers, the amount of courses we offer and investing in our campus. We want to play on our strengths by introducing a new range of courses that the University of Wollongong in Australia is renowned for globally, growing UOWD into a comprehensive educational institution that offers a full range of programs across a number of different disciplines – from health, to education, to humanities. We are working extremely closely with our external advisory committee to ensure that there is a clear alignment between UOWD’s strengths and the priorities of the UAE government. We are also currently exploring options for a long-term University campus to accommodate plans for further growth. It’s important to us to invest in innovative learning facilities to ensure that we grow and evolve.