The higher education sector in the United Arab Emirates is built on a solid foundation and plays an important role in consecrating sustainable development plans for 2030, as the country embraces more than 1,200 accredited academic programs in various disciplines in licensed educational institutions, and has the largest number of foreign university branches in a single country in the world. This is what the Minister of Education and Learning in the UAE, Hussein bin Ibrahim Al Hammadi, affirmed, stating that the institutions are characterized by the diversity of their educational systems, with a common national base that they have to abide by through the application of licensing and academic accreditation standards, and the fulfillment of the specifications of the different levels of qualifications, defined by the national system.
The minister made these remarks during a national workshop titled “The Role of Higher Education Institutions in Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the UAE” which was implemented by the Regional Center for Educational Planning in partnership with the Ministry of Education, UNESCO, the UAE National Commission for Education, Culture and Science, the UNESCO Regional Office for Arab States in Beirut and the UNESCO Sub-regional Office for the Gulf states, with the participation of 13 universities in the country.
The workshop aims to provide representatives of higher education institutions in the UAE with various and general aspects of the sustainable development goals and their relationship to the diverse work of universities, and to provide representatives of higher education institutions in the UAE with practical information on how to contribute to the achievement of the sustainable development goals and the role they can play.
In his opening speech, Minister Hussain bin Ibrahim Al Hammadi said that the vital role of higher education institutions is not limited to achieving quality and comprehensive education only, but that it rather extends its impact by achieving the various goals, through teaching, learning, research outputs, campus initiatives and higher education institutions, to facilitate social, environmental and economic development. He noted that higher education institutions have become one of the most important incubators of ideas and solutions to global problems, mainly with their central location between government networks, civil society and industry partners, which means that they have enormous potential to generate a positive impact.
He also stressed that the steps taken by the Ministry of Education and the setup of an education road map that derives from national visions and targets, their path, tasks and goals, and that is in line with the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, is unfolding according to a well-established and clear methodology with specific features, and is bearing fruit as it stems from a deep vision and extensive studies.
He also pointed out that the national strategy for higher education in the UAE aims to develop an innovative and high-quality educational system in both academic and professional tracks, that achieves effective research outputs and contributes to supporting the knowledge economy. He added: "The National Strategy for Higher Education 2030 is based on 4 main axes, which are quality, alignment, efficiency and innovation. The UAE has the largest number of foreign university branches in one single country in the world, which contributed to achieving global competitiveness indicators through the proportion of non-citizens students in the UAE”.
Thirteen universities participated in the workshop, and five universities in the country, namely the Emirates, Khalifa, Zayed, the American University of Sharjah, and the Higher Colleges of Technology in Sharjah, presented specialized presentations, in which they reviewed their strategies and their connection with the national strategies and the sustainable development goals in order to integrate these goals in the universities societal programs, activities and research programs, and how to implement these goals at the levels of the university building, the student activities and academic and research programs, so that the challenges of implementing these goals are overcome nationally, regionally and globally. The universities also presented their strategic and technical partnerships in this field.
For her part, Mahra Al-Mutaiwee, Director of the Regional Center for Educational Planning, said that with the launch of the sustainable development goals, many universities at the national, regional and global levels have begun to review their agendas, plans and strategies, to start putting forward and implementing initiatives and projects that are consistent, and work to support the implementation of the sustainable development goals.
She stated that universities have begun coordinating their activities with the sustainable development goals, highlighting the effective role played by higher education institutions in addressing urgent challenges in the world, and noting that the international community is aware of the essential importance of higher education to achieve all 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGS), which aim to eradicate poverty, protect the planet, promote gender equality, defend and promote cultures and cultural understanding. She also said that universities are dedicated to helping the world achieve those goals.
On her side, Salma Al Darmaki, Secretary-General of the National Committee for Education, Culture and Science, stressed that this workshop represents a qualitative and distinct initiative to motivate and encourage higher education institutions, to develop plans and programs aimed at contributing to achieving all sustainable development goals without being limited to the fourth goal of quality education. She considered that the role of higher education institutions is fundamental and is not limited to research and innovation, but rather includes the human element which is more important, since students are the future leaders who will continue to work to achieve the goals of sustainable development. The more their understanding and awareness for these goals, the more it will reflect positively on the way they deal with them in the future.
Dr. Anasse Bouhlal, higher education program specialist at the UNESCO Regional Office for Education in the Arab States in Beirut, gave aspecialized presentation on the importance of the role of higher education institutions in achieving sustainable development goals, and reviewed regional experiences in this field as well as strategies for integrating sustainable development goals into the university’s plans and programs, with regard to scientific research programs and their role in addressing the challenges that impede the achievement of sustainable development goals at the national, regional and global levels. He also highlighted the efforts of countries in this field, and reviewed the the UNITWIN/UNESCO Chairs Programme, and how national, regional and international universities are relating to this programme. Giving an overview of UNESCO Chairs and their importance in supporting scientific research, and the mechanisms and strategies for joining them, he underlined how they can benefit the university and the state.