Fostering innovation: a mixed approach to university education


Education is one of the essential elements of an innovation ecosystem. Here Professor David Sadler, Rector of the University of Birmingham in Dubai, explains the role universities can play in supporting the ambitions of the UAE for the next 50 years.

The new academic year is well underway and the UAE is in turmoil with Expo 2020 Dubai and preparations for the country’s Golden Jubilee celebrations. The UAE is less than half the age of the University of Birmingham, but by this time it has already achieved incredible feats, propelling itself onto the world stage – and even sending a spacecraft to Mars.

Education has largely helped the country reach its peaks and will be the engine of progress over the next 50 years.

The UAE recently unveiled an exciting range of policies as part of the Projects of the 50 initiative, which is a big boost for young Emiratis ready to embark on an ambitious career.

The bold plans laid out by Projects of the 50 – for example spending up to 24 billion Dh ($ 6.53 billion) to recruit 75,000 Emiratis into private sector jobs – will force higher education institutions to cultivate the local spirits necessary to fuel the country’s bold ambitions.

If the next generation of innovators and pioneers are to help the UAE achieve its national goals, universities across the country will need to ensure that they are aligned with the country’s trajectory. The United Arab Emirates recently announced its intention to attract the world’s best coders to the country, through the “100 Coders Every Day” program, for example.

The move indicates the potential level of demand for computer science graduates over the next several years and represents a major opportunity for young local students interested in carving out careers in some of the most exciting, fast-paced and rewarding industries.

Top universities are creating established degrees such as computer science and entirely new degrees such as artificial intelligence and bioinformatics that are readily available.

Teaching methods are also worthy of consideration. World-class, research-oriented education is the foundation of any higher education experience, and students can benefit from education provided by academic staff who write research papers and textbooks.

While students and universities may have become accustomed to and relatively comfortable with virtual classrooms over the past 18 months, face-to-face teaching is now prioritized wherever possible. The bimodal approach that blends virtual and physical education has made higher education more accessible than ever, but we are now thinking about how technology can complement face-to-face education, rather than replace it.

The integration of technology into the physical learning environment is part of the natural evolution of teaching. Fourth Industrial Revolution technology like AI and blockchain will find its way through every step of the supply chain in industries of the future, so it’s important that universities prepare students now for places of work of the future.

Today’s education service providers face the unique challenge of equipping students with the skills and knowledge needed to take on the jobs of tomorrow, many of which don’t even exist yet. Technology will continue to play a central role in the future of education and will be particularly important in the UAE’s education sector, which strives to build a competitive industrial sector and digital economy in the 50’s. coming years. Indeed, the country needs capable students with basic skills. skills but also with the ability to adapt and apply knowledge to future industries and sectors that are still developing.

Recently, Siemens and the University of Birmingham in Dubai announced the launch of a new “smart campus” right here in the United Arab Emirates. The partnership sees digital sensor and analytics technologies, AI, decentralized energy production and storage, and renewable energies combine to create a ‘living laboratory’, where research, education and learning all benefit from access to new data and connectivity. Already, we can see that the need for a blended approach to teaching, incorporating advanced solutions, creates significant new opportunities for edtech partnerships between multiple private and public sector entities with universities at the heart of these collaborations.

There is enormous local and national value in universities making long-term commitments to their local communities – Birmingham is not alone in making significant investments in the UAE. If higher education is to truly create the caliber of graduates necessary to drive the projects of the 1950s and the industries of the future, institutions must be part of the fabric of the nation.

Each of us who work in higher education has an important responsibility to ensure that students acquire the skills and knowledge they need not only to be successful in their own careers, but also to help the UAE to succeed. achieve their goals over the next 50 years.

We know that investments in technology and collaboration with public and private sector entities will help build the kind of facilities and ecosystems suitable for a global education center. The trick is to act now to help fuel more achievements like the Emirates Mars mission and support the country on its ongoing odyssey of exploration and development over the next 50 years.


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