UAE is rapidly transforming into a powerful and engaging knowledge-based economy. The number of educational institutions imparting various programs at all levels till tertiary has grown manifolds. “We are witnessing more and more participation from local regulators, government agencies, communities, parents, and students alike. Every second can inspire a spark in the young minds of the students and nourish a dream of incalculable value and a deep fondness for education and its manifests. Thus far and to that farthest, the education sector is the change agent in shaping students’ lives. Education is a sentiment and runs deep in people, and they are proud of it. Everybody is,” opines Dr Richa Arora, Head of Institution and COO, University of Stirling, Ras Al Khaimah, UAE.
A seasoned business leader and a passionate educationist with 18 years of experience in the education sector, Dr Richa brings with her a rare combination of extensive business, leadership skills, academic and insight across various business segments. She adds, “In UAE, what we see today is a sublimely matured educational ecosystem. And this is going to advance further, probably making UAE the hub of higher education in this region. Moreover, with this current pandemic, what we have witnessed is that this has opened doors for us to connect globally and to attract students from various parts of the world viz India, Africa, and Southeast Asia.”
Founded in 1967 by the Royal Charter, the University of Stirling is evolving into UAE’s leading institution of learning, discovery and knowledge creation. The university houses the state of the art facilities for the courses that they offer and offers programs for students in various fields like Accounting and Finance, Computing Science, Business Computing, Software Engineering, Big Data, Financial Technology, and Finance, along with excellent computer lab and classroom facilities. They also have a good library for those who wish to for additional knowledge and interests and e a large auditorium, Cafeteria and game courts for Basket Ball and Volley Ball. “Since the quality of our programs is of paramount importance to us, we keep upgrading our facilities to align our quality objectives,” shares Dr Richa Arora.
The University of Stirling is a public University in Scotland, UK, and has taken pride in its various achievements and laurels. It is ranked by the Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) consistently five stars in Teaching, Employability, Internationalization, Facilities, and Inclusiveness. An extended campus in the emirate of Ras Al Khaimah, UAE, the university campus was launched in 2018 to provide a world-class education for the students in UAE. Their Ras Al Khaimah Campus enables their students to study the courses developed by expert academics and deliver internationally. The institute’s programs are in demand in the industry for undergraduate and postgraduate levels, providing affordable education programs while keeping it sustainable and quality-assured. Dr Richa explains, “We offer a bouquet of courses for students who pursue study in Accounting and Finance, Business Management, Software Engineering, or Computer Science at the undergraduate level or a study in analytical areas like Big Data, Fintech, or Finance at the Masters level. Most of our programs are becoming quite popular given their significance and future requirements for finance and computing professionals.”
Fostering research and sustaining research interest is one of the key objectives of the University of Stirling, RAK Campus. They discuss recent research papers, the latest advancements in various domains, the research our faculties are currently into and their publications, intended publications and partnering with each other or with academics outside the university and to discuss and define various research initiatives. The main purpose of this initiative is to encourage a research bend of mind among the teaching faculties. The University of Stirling has given importance to research and an andragogic teaching and learning environment.
With an active Research and Innovation Cell, the institute explores new frontiers of knowledge and their applications. They have regular conferences on various contemporary topics to encourage students and faculty participation and provide a forum to showcase their aptitude toward research and to analyze a problem or a situation from a different perspective. These initiatives include internal workshops, encouraging faculties to publish their research papers in indexed research journals, International conferences, seminars, faculty development programs to achieve the best practices in both: teaching and their subject domains. The committee also encourages industrial and management consultancies, and most recently, getting into research initiatives and partnerships with various reputed Universities. “We take pride in our academics who have published extensively in Scopus indexed Journal, incited as Research session Chair and even some senior academics who are peer-reviewers of recognized Journal publications,” remarks Dr Richa.
Pillars of Support – Students and Faculty of University of Stirling
Present-day teaching has to be student-centric, for this gives them a sense of pride as owners of the learning process in a level playing field environment. This also provides an erudite habitat- both in critical thoughts and applications of the learnings. It empowers the students and finds in them eager participants in all teaching-related activities. Students come from different backgrounds and cultures and have different prior knowledge and abilities, and my objective is to give every student credence to what they have and what they can identify within the context of the learnings at hand. This then becomes the fulcrum for onward learning delivery. The focus has thus shifted from traditional teacher-centric to student-centric. Now there is a complete union between the learner, the imparter, and the environment.
Coming from various domains, the faculty at the University of Stirling, RAK Campus, have received their doctorates, and some of them are progressing towards their Post-Doctoral research. To enhance a world-class education system, the university has set up a Centre of Academic Excellence at our Campus (CAE). “CAE is a think-tank for all the activities we pursue as teachers. This centre is to bring in the latest in all the areas of research pertinent to the taught curriculum at our campus. Another significant objective of the CAE is to enhance and encourage self, peer and guided mentoring and to bring their results to the classrooms. Research and Excellence in everything we do became the core thought driver of CAE,” adds Dr Richa.
The students at the University of Stirling, RAK Campus, have an all-rounded academic pursuit as a result of a purposeful design of the academic calendar year. While they accord with a lot of weightage to the program curricula, the institute also ensures that other personality development activities and competitive scholastic inclinations are given significant consideration. Adopting a learners-centric approach and giving students ownership of their learning process, they spend a considerable time of their day designing their approach to the curriculum with the help of their teachers to guide them. “This approach cultivates a research orientation in our students. For the successive years at our campus, their progressions in their studies become more meaningful and rewarding. From a classroom perspective, possibly this could be a memorable experience for the students,” opines Dr Richa.
Focusing on industry-relevant programs since the beginning, the University of Stirling’s undergraduate program delivers a good platform for its students to assess and understand the graduate program they are looking for based on their aptitude, likes, and interest. Their dedicated Placement and Education (PEW) Wing is a student-led body in consultation and collaboration with experienced and trained academics from various faculty who know both the academics and industry. “The objective of PEW is to be a catalyst with the responsibility of liaising with industries and inviting them to the campus for campus placement, and the students go through a rigorous selection process for which they will be groomed by PEW to face the interview panel. Through our Campus to Corporate Skills and Work-readiness workshops, we provide industry-based skills and competence for our students to make them employable. We have a good track record of providing students with summer internships and final placements with various organizations. Most of them have even been offered final placements with the same organizations,” shares Dr Richa.
The university also has an industry-academia interface that will aid in not just in building their network but as an avenue to meet industry experts to understand the best practices from various sectors and the expectations of the industry and assessing their hiring goals. PEW organizes various sectoral HR Forums that aids in enhancing student’s awareness regarding the available career options and matching their career objectives most optimally. Also, PEW believes in reaching out to other learning communities, enterprises, entities, and people locally and in different parts of the world who may benefit from the propagation of the knowledge and create success in life for themselves, and this essentially is done as part of our Education Wing offering short online courses.
Making the Best out of the ‘New Normal’
COVID – 19 has impacted almost all the sectors, and the education sector was no exception. The UAE community is very resilient and had already figured out how to deal with this catastrophe. Almost everybody is connected here to the internet and has their own connecting devices like a laptop or a tablet. Also, every school, college, university, and institution have their technology platforms. Before the COVID -19 scenario, the University of Stirling had already had enabled an IT learning platform and, therefore, the migration to the online learning model was almost a seamless integration. “Our current system is as effective as a physical classroom except that what we miss is ‘teaching in a formal and controlled classroom environment’. Using these platforms, we have managed to deliver the curriculum as best as to replicate our classroom experiences for the students. Our academic staff is already well trained to deliver the curriculum online since even with the classroom scenarios, there were always some components that had to be done online like assignment submissions and other doubt clearing sessions,” states Dr. Richa.
The University of Stirling also engaged students in international and inter-university competitions and events (online) besides the regular rigours of the prescribed pedagogy. Startup Weekend, an entrepreneurial or business idea platform for the students, personality, employability, and skills development programs are some of these. They also have slated the inter-collegiate subject domain competition. “Our intention to provide this holistic development is to enhance and increase the engagement of students with our faculties so that the classroom privy factor and sociopsychological influence of teachers and peers are mimicked through these activities,” adds Dr Richa.
Mankind is battling COVID 19 on an unprecedented scale ever witnessed, and this scourge has withered communities forcing them to recede from day-to-day life to their homes in solitude. This pandemic has caused the hardest hit to the basic services to our communities, and the educational sector is one of them. University of Stirling, UAE has wisely and proactively approached this menace with the most prudent and effective ways possible through their PEW, and empower their students to take on various responsibilities and learn on-the-job working in multiple roles and be ready to face the real world of work.
Through their Campus to Corporate Skills and Work-readiness workshops, the university is providing industry-based skills and competence for its students to make them employable. To this end, the university conducts extensive Employability Skills Workshop (ESW) for its graduates to be job-ready through its Campus to Corporate intensive workshops. These highly stimulating workshops are made completely interactive with ‘Experiential Learning Methodologies’, which provides a platform where students explore new dimensions to their personalities. The competencies that are trained as part of this include Winning Attitudes, Stress Management, Leadership Skills, CV writing, Interview preparation, Personality and EI, Team building, etc., to name a few.
As the student enrollments increase year after year, the University of Stirling is benchmarking each of its successes and well-fared initiatives to become even grander in scale, intellectually deeper and wider in scope, and higher in achievements. The students round the year have a busy calendar of events, academic festivals, inter-university competitions, cultural events, town halls, webinars, and public speaking workshops. This provides them with a unique edge over their peers. Academic rigours of the curriculum combined with these events acquaint them with the required nuances and hues of the real-life world. It helps them to know that a realm exists and equips them to harness it effectively toward a good citizenry – whether corporate or for the community at large.
About Dr Richa Arora, Head of Institution and COO, University of Stirling, Ras Al Khaimah, UAE
Dr Richa holds extensive leadership experience in propelling academic growth across the campuses of the University of Stirling. Her vision of nurturing future leaders to make them globally competent and socially committed has proved to be a turning point in the arena of the University of Stirling’s growth internationally. She holds leadership accountability for continuous improvement and implementation of the mission, vision, goals, values and policies of the University of Stirling, UAE campus and its subsidiaries.
Earlier, Dr Richa was the Group CEO and Director of South African based university with having campuses in India, South Africa and Nigeria. Dr Richa had been instrumental in bringing pedagogical innovations and its mission of influencing practice and promoting value-based growth. She has been instrumental in devising several innovative strategies to increase the students’ admission for different business management programs offered by Regenesys and had also ensured 100 per cent placements for all the programs.