Free-zone education plans await council
Melanie Swan, The National
February 29, 2012
Plans for an education centre in Ras Al Khaimah are on hold as an expert council to licence, oversee and regulate new institutions has not yet been formed.
The council was announced last summer but nothing has since been done.
Dozens of educational institutions have applied to open in the RAK Free Zone, says its chief executive Oussama El Omari.
But Mr El Omari does not want to take things forward until the council sets out clearer regulations for standards and quality assurance.
"They are calling for experts to set this up," he said.
In recent years, institutions have relocated from Dubai after failing to meet that emirate's standards, leading to claims that RAK is an easy escape.
In Dubai, the Knowledge and Human Development Authority now licences and regulates all universities, with the power to close those that are failing.
Mr El Omari said that as well as quality control, the council must stipulate guidelines as to what skills and institutions were needed in the emirate, and which industries most needed to be served.
Quality and standards will be based on those set by the Ministry of Higher Education's Commission for Academic Accreditation, he said.
The plan is to build an education park similar in concept to Knowledge Village in Dubai or University City in Sharjah, where a cluster of institutions are based in the same area and can share facilities.
But Mr El Omari admits this is some way off yet.
There are about 20 schools and higher education institutions in the free zone and another three universities with accreditatiom from the Ministry of Higher Education.
"I'm glad the schools and institutions want to come to RAK," said Mr El Omari. "They enjoy the affordability of RAK, the lower rents, which mean fees for students are lower than other areas. It also means the locals are getting more choices, as well as making it attractive internationally.
"We want all kinds of institutions so everyone has a choice, even the high school drop-outs, with vocational institutions to help get them into work."
Dr Natasha Ridge, the head of research at the Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research in RAK, said the council was eagerly awaited by the emirate's institutions.
"There's a great local need in terms of moving forward with the higher education sector here," Dr Ridge said. "People are looking forward to improving the quality of the sector."
This week the Birla Institute of Technology (Bit) from India inaugurated its campus in the free zone. It will offer classes in September with degrees in architecture, engineering and a master's of business administration.
The education provider Core has partnered with the Birla Institute's home campuses in India, which will issue the degrees, on the new campus.
Dr NM Kondap, the head of higher education at Core, said he was not worried about the reputation RAK had as an area where low-end institutions can work unregulated.
The institution has the support of the RAK Government as a public-private partnership.
"We are offering something which will be recognised internationally and our courses, the input of industry and academic content will be our differentiators," Dr Kondap said.
Anshul Sonak, the president of Core Education, said the public-private partnership was the way forward in developing higher education.
Mr Sonak said competitive fees would keep the university popular, and Birla Institute of Technology was one of India's leading institutions.
"We have to make it competitive but we think we have a position that's different," he said, knowing that nearby Sharjah and Dubai offer many viable alternatives to an education in RAK.
The degrees are accredited by the Indian government through the university grants commission, which will inspect Birla in five years and regulate it throughout, guaranteeing students a level of quality assurance otherwise absent in RAK.
The institution's feasibility study has shown a need for several industries to be supported.
"In time, we will open schools of hospitality and tourism management as that is really growing in the area," Dr Kondap said.
"There will also be infrastructure management and retail, but all in time. We want to start this slowly."