In February 2017 the government of Abu Dhabi announced the merger of three relatively young higher education institutions with emphases in engineering and the sciences: Masdar Institute (established in 2007), the Petroleum Institute (established in 2000), and Khalifa University of Science, Technology and Research (established in 2007).
The resulting institution, named Khalifa University of Science and Technology after the nation’s president, His Highness Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, is representative of the strong national push under way in the United Arab Emirates to advance its leading universities in the international arena.
Although it is early days for our new university (or indeed, even for its predecessors), we are pleased and honoured to show prominently already in international rankings, such as the 2018 Times Higher Education World University Rankings, where we feature in the 301-350 band. To make this mark so quickly speaks volumes about the hard work, dedication and capability of our faculty, staff and students, as well as the strong support and forward-thinking vision provided by the UAE and Abu Dhabi leadership through the years.
In executing this merger, we take advantage of a very strong basis established by all three institutions in their short histories. Both the former Khalifa University and Petroleum Institute had assured that all eligible programmes in engineering and applied sciences were accredited through ABET in the United States, and all three parent institutions had vibrant master’s and PhD offerings, attracting not only the finest Emirati and expatriate students from inside the UAE, but also increasingly from all over the world.
The three institutions also had remarkably similar approaches to high-impact international partnership, both of an academic and industrial nature. Masdar Institute was developed from its earliest days in a collaboration that continues with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, while both Khalifa University and Petroleum Institute partnered with such diverse institutions around the world, including the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, Georgia Institute of Technology, University of Bristol, Texas A&M University, Colorado School of Mines, the University of Minnesota, and the University of Maryland, to name but a few prominent examples.
The benefits of these interactions to us have been manifold, ranging from faculty development, to research collaboration, to student mobility programmes, to academic programme design and implementation. But I believe the most lasting impact will be the culture we have developed on our three campuses, reflecting a commitment to making research and educational connections with prestigious institutions and researchers around the world and adapting their best practices to our cultural environment here in Abu Dhabi.
Our leadership in Abu Dhabi, and the university’s board of trustees, have made clear that their aims for this university are high. There is indeed no reason why universities in emerging economies cannot drive change in the delivery of higher education in the future, and it is arguable that the best chances for true innovation will come from regions like ours. Recent UAE government initiatives display the country’s track record of modernisation, diversification and leadership in adoption of new technologies, with recent examples ranging from artificial intelligence and automation; to various smart and e-government initiatives; to ambitious national projects in nuclear energy, concentrated solar, and photovoltaics; to next generation autonomous travel solutions in both Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
Paraphrasing slightly, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, famously stated in 2015 that if the UAE invests its resources and efforts correctly today, then the shipment of the last barrel of oil some 50 years hence will be celebrated by its people, rather than mourned. The commitment here to a knowledge-based economy, and its proactive anticipation of a post-oil future, runs very deep and shows commitment in a multitude of ways, including in the establishment and support of universities such as ours.
For our faculty and international collaborators, working in this university provides an incredible opportunity to teach and work with bright, motivated young men and women who are deeply engaged in the transformation of their country. For readers who have not spent time in the UAE exploring its universities and surrounding innovation culture, it is well worth the visit.
Tod A. Laursen is interim president of Khalifa University of Science and Technology, United Arab Emirates.