In the past couple of decades, Dubai has seen sizable growth in the number of international universities and colleges establishing their branches in its soil. One of the early entrants is The British University in Dubai (BUiD), established in 2003 by government law #5/2003 by HH Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, Ruler of Dubai. The university grew out of the collaboration between British and Dubai academic, government, and commercial organisations to make a unique contribution to the UAE and Gulf region. Hugh Martin, Registrar and Chief Administrative Officer, The British University in Dubai, says, “The University was established to be the region’s leading research-based university, facilitating excellent education, training and research. It provides an important and growing community and resources for young professionals, leading academics, corporate managers and aspiring leaders of all description.”
BUiD is allied with three world-class UK universities – the University of Edinburgh, the University of Glasgow, and the University of Manchester – within an agreement that provides a comprehensive framework for the strategic direction and research collaborations between these institutions. The university was established as a research-based university with a focus on promoting research-based activities in different fields of knowledge through its innovative academic research. All its programmes are research-based. “Students are assessed by original research elements. This is benchmarked to international standards by the aid of competent external examiners; the focus of these standards, our quality assurance, and our external examiners is on world-class UK universities,” shares Hugh Martin.
At BUiD, students are required to apply skills and knowledge to develop research questions and then conduct studies that accord with the rigour of scientific principles. BUiD also has several specialised research centres established to support students and the community through their research journey. Hugh Martin adds, “Recently, we organised our 5th Doctoral Research Conference. More than 70 research papers were presented by our postgraduate students in areas of education, management, finance, Blockchain, sustainability, computer science, AI and cybersecurity.”
As a smaller, research-intensive university, BUiD focuses on small-group teaching and one-to-one supervision with its postgraduate students. The university hires faculty members who are experts in their areas to develop regionally tailored programmes, in which they extend and challenge the boundaries of knowledge, understanding and research. BUiD’s faculty members are active in research and publish in internationally recognised research journals. “With the building of our new campus will come an open learning commons which will act as a hub and centre for all research, library, IT, and student affairs. The new campus will feature state-of-the-art AV-equipped teaching spaces and technology-enhanced facilities for all our programmes, including business. We aim to encourage a multidisciplinary approach which gives students a wide range of skills beyond their immediate programme specialism,” explains Hugh Martin.
A Perfect Place for Global Education
International student mobility – like most travel – has been greatly affected by COVID-19. On the other hand, as restrictions start to ease around the world, the UAE is in a prime position to capitalise, both on its swift and effective response to the pandemic, which has kept infections and deaths low, and also on its location as a central hub for air travel. BUiD’s ability to offer world-class education in Dubai, a city renowned for its high standards of living, safety, recreation, and opportunity, makes it well placed for international students who are looking for a top-quality degree but may be wary of travelling to places further from home or where the pandemic has been dealt with less well.
Hugh Martin states, “BUiD is unique as a university in the region – we are a not-for-profit Dubai government institution which teaches and researches entirely in English, using the highly-acclaimed British model of higher education. That means we are research-intensive, and our programmes demand high entry and ongoing academic standards, maintained by adhering to UK quality assurance.” BUiD students are expected to be independent learners, both at undergraduate as well as postgraduate levels, as the university places significant importance on students as researchers in their own right. “All Masters and doctoral students are expected to publish in top-ranked journals. Because of our British heritage, our students are exposed to leading UK universities and academics, both in the programmes they study at BUiD as well as in collaborations with and visits to UK institutions,” explains Hugh Martin.
BUiD model, therefore, attracts international students. As Hugh Martin points out, BUiD’s focus is on quality and research, and it marks them as unique in this region, and its student body reflects this – a third of BUiD’s students are Emirati, and two-thirds are international. The university also offers a variety of scholarships to high achievers along with discounted rates through collaboration agreements with government and private entities and with schools as well.
The BUiD Experience
BUiD fosters a campus that provides a safe and comfortable learning experience. The university encourages extracurricular activities that support students’ development and prepare them to reach their goals – these include competitions, tournaments, societies, and public engagements. “Prior to COVID-19 restrictions, academic trips to our partner UK universities were arranged for our students to give them the opportunity to interact and learn from their peers – these and other international opportunities will resume once travel restrictions are eased,” shares Hugh Martin. At present, BUiD offers a range of management programmes at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels.
The BUiD MBA (Master of Business Administration) is a business-oriented degree that aims to equip students for an enhanced middle and higher-level professional role in business or public sector management. The university’s teaching-learning process is research-led and all students undertake a consultancy project, which helps businesses overcome specific problems or enhance their overall performance. The BUiD MBA can be taken as a general business management programme or with a concentration in Finance, Marketing or Sustainability. Its feature includes the British model of higher education, accredited by the UAE’s Ministry of Education, broad-based, giving a wide range of career options, interactive, student-centred style of learning, research-based education, and opportunities to visit or study in the UK.
The BUiD DBA (Doctor of Business Administration) gives students a deep knowledge in their chosen area of research and position them for new opportunities in academia or higher management. Hugh Martin explains, “The students learn a broad spectrum of competencies in conducting rigorous and worthwhile research and how to apply the results of their endeavours in a myriad of contexts within the UAE, the Gulf region and more broadly at the international level. Our academic supervisors come with a wide range of experience and specialisms –students can focus their research on a particular industry or sector and in areas as diverse as innovation management, strategy, finance, governance, sustainability, human resource management, marketing, leadership and global business management.”
On the other side, BUiD students pursuing Project Management Masters and doctoral degrees enjoy a strong industry-linked educational experience through a variety of online sessions, briefings, workshops and mentoring. Students can work on real case projects. “Our MSc degrees equip students with skills of critical thinking, innovation, communication, planning and control of resources, as well as business awareness and problem-solving ability, all of which are highly valued by employers globally. Both our MSc and PhD Project Management programmes are underpinned by experiential learning and research,” says Hugh Martin.
BUiD’s BSc in Business Management is designed to enable students to develop their critical thinking, innovation, competencies, and effective skills for life. The programme provides a thorough grounding in a range of business and management subjects, including operations management, finance, marketing, and human resource management. The university emphasises innovation and entrepreneurship throughout the programme.
Making Ready for the Future
“Our programmes are practical. We use UAE-based case studies, and we have guest speakers who hold senior management roles in UAE organisations,” pinpoints Hugh Martin. The BUiD MBA is suitable for those currently employed in a wide range of job roles or for individuals seeking to move into roles and professions that range from operations manager, banker, and retail manager to public sector management, economist, entrepreneur and business analyst. On the other side, The BUiD DBA is for individuals seeking to develop themselves as middle or senior managers in business or public sector organisations. Candidates will develop high-level research and data analysis skills suitable for careers in a wide variety of sectors and roles. DBA graduates may also seek to pursue specialist research or consultancy careers.
“The BUiD PhD in Business Management is primarily a qualification for those seeking to become researchers, academics and teachers. The BUiD MSc degrees in Project Management give our graduates a good opportunity to assume a variety of positions in public and private organisations or go on to further postgraduate education,” explains Hugh Martin. To ensure that its postgraduate students are well prepared for the challenging global workforce, BUiD provide students with specialised professional practice knowledge and higher-order skills to facilitate access to high-level careers in project management and cognate disciplines. The university also develops transferable skills to prepare students for managing highly complex projects and ethical and behavioural professional issues. “We integrate experiential learning and teach our students the right values and soft skills so that they become responsible and ethical leaders of tomorrow. We also equip our students with advanced knowledge in project management practice and procedure,” adds Hugh Martin. The BUiD BSc in Business Management gives its graduates a wide range of opportunities in the business world. They can work in government entities, companies, financial markets, and banks.
Preparing for a Post-Pandemic World of Education
No story is complete without mentioning the disruptions due to the pandemic. Hugh Martin remembers, “Our students and staff were mainly used to face-to-face interaction. So, we needed everyone to be comfortable with moving our operations online. Within two weeks of the first lockdown starting, we made sure that all our students, academic and administrative staff were connected virtually with the ability to work remotely as well as on campus.” The university has spared no effort in order to facilitate the online learning process and has provided all necessary technical support for its students and staff. Furthermore, in the years leading up to the pandemic, BUiD’s Library had already been making the necessary investment in international e-resources to expand its considerable electronic databases and to guarantee the smooth running of the teaching process as well as ongoing research. “The early adoption of e-library resources has stood us in good stead during COVID-19 as our students and researchers are already familiar with working online,” pinpoints Hugh Martin.
BUiD has scheduled viva voce exams to be conducted virtually so all its doctoral students can complete their PhD requirements, with its external examiners joining online from their universities across the world. “To enhance our students’ learning experience as well as their campus life, we are in the process of building a new campus, which will be our first independent purpose-built home. As for learning and teaching, as a result of the pandemic, we have adopted a more flexible approach to the needs of our students by offering blended learning to complement our existing models,” concludes Hugh Martin.
About Hugh Martin, Registrar and Chief Administrative Officer, The British University in Dubai
Hugh graduated from the University of Oxford with a BA (Hons) and an MA (Hons) in English Language and Literature. This was followed by an MLitt in Creative Writing (with Distinction) from the University of St Andrews. His PhD research is in rhetoric and writing.
Hugh has worked in Higher Education senior management for over 20 years, including as the University Secretary at the University of Bedfordshire, the Chief of Staff at the London School of Economics, the Head of Governance at the University of Bristol, and the Executive Officer at the University of St Andrews. His most recent post is Registrar and Chief Administrative Officer at The British University in Dubai. As an academic, Hugh held the post of Associate Lecturer at The Open University for 15 years.
Before returning to work in universities, he worked in various management positions for the retailer W H Smith Ltd, becoming their Head of Customer Relations in 1996.