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QS Maple Strategic Summit For University Excellency

28 Apr 2019

A major international conference to debate barriers to university research excellence faced by academics in the Middle East and Africa was recently held at Zayed University.

The 9th annual Strategic Summit for the Advancement of University Excellency in all its Forms, QS Maple 2019 'Promoting Research in the Middle East and Africa' hosted 289 participants from 28 countries to explore methods to overcome such challenges for the benefit of the region and the wider world. The event included 24 exhibitors from higher Education Institutions and partners.

“We believe that we are in the middle of a new transformation that will change the traditional roles of universities,” said Prof. Reyadh Al Mehaideb, Vice-President of Zayed University. He added that “Universities must find ways to fund researchers at their institutions and to the levels that allow them to demonstrate to society the value of their research and innovative outcomes.”

“Researchers on the other hand have an obligation to be enterprising and make their research relevant to their societies, be mindful of the risk of playing it safe staying close to their ivory towers, as this defeats the whole rationale for universities to be engaged in research. Without limiting intellectual freedom, higher education institutions need to encourage and find a balance between Research for knowledge sake and Enterprising Research that can impact society.”

He further added that Zayed University is developing its research and graduate study portfolio where research outcomes have tripled in the last four years. “We are adding several new graduate programs to our current portfolio to continue expanding the research and creative outcomes.”

Zayed University has also changed its curricula to introduce the concepts of research, development, innovation, and entrepreneurship from the first level, has introduced both a minor program in entrepreneurship, and an 8-month extra-curricular training program in which hundreds of students enroll, so programs can build up the innovation and entrepreneurship training into the students preparation.

Ms. Mandy Mok, Chief Executive Officer, QS Asia – Singapore, said, “Employment is not always easy to achieve, universities are not mass producers of talent, and the right employee for the job is complex person, as is the employer who hires and manages them.” “The challenges of research are massive in the Middle East and Africa due to a perceived lack of resources, cultural and language barriers as well as the issues of relevance.”

Mok pointed out that overcoming barriers to research in the Middle East and Africa may well hold the key to addressing issues of unemployment, because if university research is aligned to local industry needs, which then education shall follow. “The challenge of employment is graduating a student whom employers desperately want to hire, whom academics are proud to have educated, and whom every young person wants to be, and so if your institution can manage this, then it will solve the unemployment puzzle,” she said.

Prof. Michael Wilson, Provost at Zayed University, said that researchers in these regions face challenges ranging from funding, language, and scope, which can lead to the undervaluation of their research output and sometimes limit their ability to contribute to global science.

“QS Maple is a great hub for Researchers, trainers, teachers, professors, administrators, and technology experts from around the globe to present the latest learning solutions. As well as discuss and exchange recent findings and innovative ideas based on ongoing research, practice, and experience. Driven by such constancy, we shall continuously advance and improve the university academic programs, research mission, and university learning experience.”

The conference held a debate session on whether ‘You should only be called a University if you conduct and publish research’ hosting esteemed academics who proposed and opposed the motion.

Dr. Warren Fox, Chief of Higher Education, Knowledge and Human Development Authority, spoke in favor of the proposition, saying that research is the key to the future, and creating new knowledge is the answer for our social and economic advancement. “Throughout time we gather information and placed it in libraries, then categorized it accordingly. And one of the ways that we disseminate knowledge from research has come through teaching, where the teacher has the wisdom, which he imparts to the students.

Prof C. Raj Kumar, Founding Vice-Chancellor, O.P. Jindal Global University (India), proposed in favor of the motion as he believes that Universities are fundamentally researching institutions, they work substantially if not exclusively in the realm of ideas and the development of the human mind.

"They are expected to pursue new ideas that have the potential to transform the world for better. the last century has witnessed enormous changes to the idea of University that the pursuit of knowledge and research with the view to problem-solving has become the objective of Universities. For example, the seat belt was actually developed following research by Cornell University, the Internet grew out of the foundational University research ideas, as well as the Periodic table, and many more life-changing examples," he said.

Dr. Michael Allan, Assistant Provost for Research at Zayed University, opposed by simply saying that “You should be called a research University if you conduct and publish research. And if you’ve devoted the resources of time, funding and infrastructure required to sustain a high quality of research activity.”

“Even the experts of research Universities acknowledge that not all universities should go by that title, and there is no shame in that. Among all the hundreds of institutions in higher education in the U.S only about 4.3 percent are engaged in a significant amount of research.”

“Ironically now that many institutions are requiring their professors to publish, almost 50 percent of the faculty in their working conditions surveys complain that they no longer find time to keep up with their fields.”

Universities are centers for intellectual contribution and innovation that help drive change and impact society positively. Universities in the Middle East and Africa continue to strive to play these important roles. However, researchers in these regions face challenges ranging from funding, language, and scope, which can lead to the undervaluation of their research output and sometimes limit their ability to contribute to global science.

At this conference, governmental officials, university administrators, directors of research centers, editors of academic journals, as well as young and expert researchers are all invited to discuss the barriers to university research excellence faced by researchers in the Middle East and Africa together with ways to overcome these challenges for the benefit of the region and the wider world.


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