UAE Universities – Forging New Frontiers

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Distance learning is here to stay, but the in-person experience remains key, say educators in the UAE as the sector enters a new academic year.

As the effects of the coronavirus outbreak continue to reverberate for the third year in a row, organizations of all kinds must consider whether short-term fixes should now become a more permanent way of life.

Across the economy, the accelerating trends of the crisis were already looming on the horizon. In the education sector, for example, the rapid integration of digital technologies has meant that fully distance learning has quickly become the norm. There is now greater accessibility to higher education – almost everywhere – and to better instructors. And internships and virtual jobs are now commonplace.

But how many of these changes are here to stay? As economies begin to shape a new normal, supported by vaccination infrastructure and the return of in-person activities, it is time for universities to assess which of these trends should remain and design future-proof strategies. time.

Larp focus asked educators in the UAE what this means for the sector in the future.

“The pandemic, while unfortunate, has accelerated the adoption of a digital learning ecosystem in the higher education sector, which has helped break down barriers. The migration from physical classrooms to digital spaces and later to hybrid and blended learning environments has led to new approaches to teaching and learning,” says Vinu Chakravarthy, Business Operations and Business Manager female students, Manipal Academy of Higher Education (MAHE), Dubai Campus. “With increased flexibility in terms of space, time, access and pace, this has transformed the education sector forever.”

Vinu Chakravarthy

He says MAHE Dubai has been developing and delivering a blended learning experience centered on the use of technology even before the pandemic. The pandemic has only prompted us to accelerate our processes and implement them in our regular courses and course modules. “Our programs are designed with the right mix of theory and practice, grounded in traditional knowledge as well as futuristic technological innovations.”

Technology-based components don’t just substitute for real-world experience, they transform classrooms into hybrid and interactive spaces, he says, through the use of e-learning platforms, virtual labs, game-based learning and international virtual exchange programs.

Similar changes are visible in the education landscape in the UAE and elsewhere, whether in terms of increased curricula with experiences that use virtual reality and artificial intelligence, or in the use of tactical approaches such as learning modules.

Beyond the health and safety aspects of the pandemic, student demand and a favorable regulatory environment have also played their part.

Favorable regulation

Many students are now actively seeking flexible, distance learning courses, and institutions are also seeing the benefits, says Daniel Adkins, Group CEO of Curtin University Dubai’s education management service provider.

“In the future, academic courses and even case study tutorials may be offered online at many universities, with face-to-face courses reserved for courses with a practical component such as engineering or medicine. This is more convenient for students, allows for easier integration of certain learning technologies, allows top teachers to teach from anywhere, allows students to be anywhere, and allows students to several campuses to study together,” he says.

Daniel Adkins

“The pandemic has brought about much-needed changes in the legal and regulatory environment to recognize that online learning can be of the same quality as face-to-face classes. This has now enabled educational institutions to develop programs and delivery methods that best meet student and industry needs.

He says the university used the Black Swan event to demonstrate the unpredictability of business and the workplace, and how professionals can plan ahead for them.

“The biggest change the pandemic has enabled has been being able to show students using something that has personally impacted them, the value of risk planning and resilience. These concepts have been incorporated into all relevant courses at Curtin Dubai so that students understand how to prepare for the next unexpected event the world will face,” says Adkins.

At the same time, the past two years have highlighted the need for human interaction. A January study of 1,173 students at a university in the north of England found that more than 50% suffered from high levels of clinical anxiety and depression, with women scoring significantly higher. higher than men. The survey also suggested relatively low levels of resilience which researchers at the University of Huddersfield in Yorkshire attribute to restrictions, isolation and fewer opportunities to engage in coping strategies and activities. helpful adaptations.

In-person pedagogy

The group events and extracurricular activities commonly associated with college life are therefore perhaps more essential than ever in times of widespread social anxiety and in a world where digital solutions have become the norm.

“Counterintuitively, the pandemic has actually revealed the importance of face-to-face engagement in all spheres of human endeavour,” says Dr. Srinivasan Madapusi, Principal, BITS Pilani, Dubai Campus.

“While the online mode has enabled greater access to education and learning across the globe, the effective application of knowledge in social contexts relies on traditional modes of engagement,” he adds. he.

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He says that BITS Pilani, Dubai transformed its classroom environment virtually overnight to deliver classes with virtually no reduction in the number of classes at the onset of the pandemic. “We continue to advance in the effective use of virtual space in conjunction with face-to-face learning in a smart classroom to provide a hybrid environment optimized for effective learning.”

He says the experience offers lessons for other aspects of the sector, including the need for lifelong learning given the relentless advancement of ever-changing new technologies. “We have effectively converted the challenges of the pandemic into opportunities to prepare for the future of education which includes distance learning, face-to-face interaction and, most importantly, learning outside of the classroom environment.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization has studied the impact of coronavirus-related disruptions on university teaching and student learning, research, finance and mobility in different regions. In a June report titled Resume or Reform, the body called on education authorities to reflect on the impact of Covid-19 on the sector 20 years down the road, to create a more equitable post-pandemic educational environment, to enrich blended learning and access to technology and mental health and building student-centered models.

“The massive disruption of the pandemic has forced key stakeholders to engage in an intense process of learning to cope and reinvent themselves. As vaccination processes progress around the world and restrictions become more flexible, questions about the long-term effects of the pandemic arise,” the report said. “It remains to be seen whether a real transformation of leadership, teaching and learning, research and internationalization is taking place, or whether higher education institutions will slowly return to their traditional practices.

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