Thursday, July 31, 2008

RAK allots $1bn for education campus

RAS AL KHAIMAH // A billion dollars is to be invested in creating an education park to equip Emiratis and others with the skills necessary to service the emirate’s rapidly emerging new industries.

Schools, colleges and universities will be built in the free zone on the border with Umm al Qaiwain, with the first institutions expected to move in by 2010.

Oussama el Omari, the director general of the RAK Free Trade Zone, said the emirate needed skilled workers for industries such as aviation, tourism and hospitality, three of the areas it was planning to develop.

“In addition, we’re interested in promoting the skills of nationals and putting them in the industries we’re attracting.”

If the park was filled tomorrow, it would increase the UAE’s private higher education capacity by more than 50 per cent.

The news comes less than a week after the head of Tanmia, the agency responsible for reducing unemployment among Emiratis, said some in the northern emirates were “refusing to embrace modernity” and were “far behind other emirates in terms of education, employment and liberalism”.

The National reported on Sunday that Feddah Lootah, the agency’s general manager, had said that out-of-date academic qualifications were failing to equip the region’s students with the skills they needed in the modern world and urged that “tailor-made degrees should be made available in those areas”.

This once sleepy stretch of coastline is undergoing a huge transformation, with US$5 billion (Dh18.3bn) worth of projects, such as hotels and a new airport, under way. Building work has already begun at the park, which is 40km from RAK city, and is expected to be completed within five to 10 years.

The RAK Free Zone Authority attracted its first foreign education provider – Royal College, a science and technology college run by Birla Institute of Technology International Centre, based in Ranchi, India – just three years ago.

Since then, several other international academies and colleges have been set up in the emirate’s free-trade zone, which now has a student population of about 2,500 using temporary campus buildings in a business park within RAK city.

These are due to move to the five million cubic metres of buildings to be built at the education park, which will be financed by a combination of government and private-sector investment.

Other universities, from India, the US, the UK and Switzerland, are also moving to the free-trade zone.

The education park is being created two years after the launch by the RAK Government of the Ras al Khaimah Education Company (Edrak), to promote education projects in the emirate.

It aims to put RAK’s education facilities on a par with those in other emirates, such as Sharjah’s University City, Dubai’s Knowledge Village and Dubai International Academic City, and Abu Dhabi’s campuses for New York University and the Paris Sorbonne.

It is not just universities that are being encouraged to open. Global Education Management Systems recently reached an agreement to build two schools that will be based in temporary sites before moving to premises in the education park.

Mr Omari said that as well as teaching undergraduates, the institutions based in RAK would also carry out research, a factor some senior figures in higher education felt had been lacking in the country so far.

“There will be research and development and interchange between universities overseas,” he said. “There will be a focus on research on a business level. We are attracting international institutions and they will bring their expertise.”

It was not, he said about “investment volume. It’s about quality of education. We are trying to adopt proper and real education.”

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