Nabil El Kadhi, a Tunisian academic who is now president of Khawarizmi International College, in Abu Dhabi, is leading the private university through a period of renewal as it designs new programmes to keep pace with current needs.
Programme design and academic leadership are areas of expertise for El Kadhi, who holds a Ph.D. in computer and information sciences from the Faculty of Mathematical, Physical and Natural Sciences of Tunis. He has worked for about 13 years in a number of Gulf universities. He was vice president of academic affairs at Khawarizmi International College before becoming its president in June.
In a recent interview with Al-Fanar Media, El Kadhi talked about his work at Khawarizmi. He also discussed his ideas about how to design education programmes that meet Arab countries’ needs, and his concerns about a “remarkable deterioration” that he says has left Tunisia’s education system in urgent need of revival.
‘Unemployment Factories’ in Tunisia
Tunisia was “a major centre for education in the Arab world” under its first president, Habib Bourguiba (1956-1987), El Kadhi said. But policy changes in the 1990s turned many universities into “unemployment factories,” he said.
“Academic programmes must be updated or replaced at least every five years, to keep pace with current requirements. They should also prepare a graduate for the next ten years, not just one year.”Nabil El Kadhi
President of Khawarizmi International College, in Abu Dhabi
The changes expanded university access by abolishing entrance exams and lowering standards, El Kadhi said, but they failed to consider the consequences for the labour market. At the same time, funding declined, especially in vocational education for those who did not attend traditional secondary schools, he said.
“These policies caused the labour market to be flooded with graduates, and unemployment rates to rise,” he said.
To revive this educational system, El Kadhi calls for merging public and private universities. “This plan relies on handing over the administration of public universities to a non-governmental team. … Existing study programmes must be linked to the labour market, provide work placements, and establish partnerships between private companies and universities.”
New Programmes at Khawarizmi
In his current post at Khawarizmi International College, El Khadi is overseeing the private university’s work to update programmes and renew its institutional license in the Emirates.
The university offers associate’s and bachelor’s degree programmes in business, computer science, information technology, health management and medical laboratory analysis.
When the Covid-19 pandemic struck about two years ago, Khawarizmi International College designed new ways for medical students to continue laboratory tests by creating simulation tools and integrating software systems.
The university has also designed new study programmes for the next academic year to help the college keep pace with scientific advances that Covid-19 has brought.
The college intends to submit these new programmes to the UAE’s accreditation bodies. They include a diploma in respiratory sciences and ambulance medicine, and bachelor’s degrees in digital business and cyber security
Education systems that are imported without reference to local culture or economic needs are “destined for failure,” El Kadhi says. While governments have to be involved in establishing such systems, “it is better if control then passes to independent bodies free of government interference.”
The university will also make artificial intelligence a mandatory subject in all specialised programmes, El Khadi said.
The new programmes’ designs are based on a British company’s data about the labour market in the Emirates and other Gulf countries. They also reflect the labour market’s digital shift, with an increasing number of jobs offered via the Internet.
The Need for Updating Programmes
El Kadhi has designed study programmes in France, Oman, Bahrain and the Emirates.
Academic programmes must be updated or replaced at least every five years, he said, to keep pace with current requirements. They should also prepare a graduate “for the next ten years, not just one year,” he said.
However, he warns against turning new programmes into a “fashion” without there being “reasons based on information and studies that warrant their launch.”
“The development of a study programme must be subject to an internal and external audit process, and there must be a need for it in the labor market,” he said.
El Kadhi said |education systems that are imported without reference to local culture or economic needs are “destined for failure.” While governments have to be involved in establishing such systems, he said, “it is better if control then passes to independent bodies free of government interference.”
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He also noted that Arab governments and employers have started to use accreditation as a measure of quality, “as one of the criteria for providing support to one university over another—as the Sultanate of Oman did by preferring to provide grants to students of accredited universities.”
El Kadhi said the Commission for Academic Accreditation in the United Arab Emirates already publishes reports that affected the labour markets’ attitudes to students of the listed institutions. Such quality judgements will only become more important to students and employers, he said.
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