Zayed UniversityUsing data science to power the UAE’s future

Using data science to power the UAE’s future

Zayed University campus

Zayed University has launched a number of new programmes and laboratories to meet the growing interest in data science and artificial intelligence

In 2015‭, ‬when Dr Feras Al-Obeidat joined Zayed University in the United Arab Emirates‭, ‬the College of Technological Innovation‭ (‬CTI‭) ‬at the university did not offer any courses linked to data science or analytics‭. ‬Since then‭, ‬the discipline has burgeoned as‭ ‬the institution pushes to keep up with the government’s artificial intelligence strategy‭, ‬which is part of the UAE Centennial 2071‭ ‬plan‭. ‬This strategy hinges on the country’s use of data science‭, ‬from increasing government efficiency to bolstering education‭. ‬“The UAE is moving in the direction of data science and artificial intelligence‭,‬”‭ ‬says Dr‮ ‬Al-Obeidat‭. ‬“The‮ ‬idea at Zayed University is to serve the market and to prepare graduates to work‭ ‬as leaders in those areas in academia‭, ‬government or industry‭.‬”

The field of data science is broad‭, ‬encompassing skills such as mathematics‭, ‬statistics and programming‭. ‬With that in mind‭, ‬CTI‭ ‬now offers multiple courses in data science‭, ‬analytics and artificial intelligence‭. ‬To continue its lead in this area‭, ‬CTI will‭ ‬soon launch a newly approved Master of Science degree in information systems management‭, ‬which offers courses on digital transformation‭, ‬data science‭, ‬data analytics and artificial intelligence‭. ‬Additionally‭, ‬two new data science and analytics laboratories‭ ‬will open soon‭. ‬“These labs are developed to serve the university‭, ‬industry and the country‭,‬”‭ ‬Dr Al-Obeidat says‭.‬

The new CTI NextGen Center‭ ‬is a collaborative effort between government‭, ‬industry and academia to develop new technologies related to applied artificial intelligence and data science‭, ‬in order to help realise the UAE’s 2071‭ ‬vision‭. ‬With the aim of making the latest technology available to its students and faculty‭, ‬Zayed University has memoranda of understanding with industry leaders including IBM‭, ‬SAP‭, ‬Oracle‭, ‬Cisco and Microsoft‭.‬

Five more data science experts have recently joined the college and are engaged in a range of research projects alongside their‭ ‬teaching‭. ‬One such project uses social media to detect food-borne diseases and outbreaks‭. ‬The Middle East and North Africa region struggles with food-borne diseases‭, ‬mainly because of water scarcity and a reliance on food imports‭. ‬The project has developed‭ ‬predictive models that characterise and detect outbreaks through ambient tracking and by monitoring Facebook and Twitter feeds‭.‬‭ ‬“The idea is to advance research on food-borne illnesses from non-traditional sources and improve decision-makers’‭ ‬ability to‮ ‬address the cause of outbreaks‭,‬”‭ ‬Dr‮ ‬Al-Obeidat says‭.‬

Another project targets small and medium-sized enterprises by scanning and collecting customers’‭ ‬comments about a company’s products and services‭. ‬“This project aims to use data analytics to improve buyer-seller relationships‭,‬”‭ ‬Dr Al-Obeidat says‭. ‬Using this data‭, ‬companies can understand where they are succeeding and where they are falling short‭.‬

Recently‭, ‬a group of CTI faculty led more than 30‭ ‬local and international interdisciplinary collaborators in responding to a proposal from the Virtual Research Institute at the Abu Dhabi Department of Education and Knowledge to develop‭ ‬“smart and optimised indoor farming as an ecosystem for holistic and sustainable food security in Abu Dhabi and the UAE”‭.‬

Prior to his time at Zayed University‭, ‬Dr Al-Obeidat held research positions at the National Research Council of Canada‭, ‬the University of New Brunswick and IBM Canada‭. ‬He was drawn to Zayed University because of its multicultural approach‭, ‬where English and Arabic are used side by side‭.‬‭ ‬In fact‭, ‬one of the university’s data science projects is embracing this diversity‭, ‬investigating how to mine Arabic text‭.‬

The study of data science and analytics at Zayed University has advanced significantly since Dr Al-Obeidat joined the university‭. ‬He‮ ‬will now coordinate its new master’s programme while working alongside CTI faculty as the department strives to meet the country’s demand for data science and artificial intelligence‭.‬

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