Online Learning in the Middle East: One Chancellor Speaks

Photo of Dubai

by Daniel Fusch, Academic Impressions

Recently I had the opportunity to attend several speeches by Dr. Mansoor al Awar, the chancellor of Hamdan Bin Mohammed Smart University (HBMSU) in Dubai, the Middle East's first online university, founded in 2002. Dubai's higher education model is very different from that of the U.S., yet there are lessons to be learned from the success of the region's first e-university. Educators in Dubai feel the pressure of time keenly, and faced with a geographically disparate population and significant challenges to access, institutions like HBMSU are intentional in innovating with modes of instructional delivery and alternative credentialing. Dr. Mansoor explains the situation:

"My dream is to offer education to all 450 million people in the Middle East. That is the HBMSU vision. There is 40% illiteracy in the Middle East. But even the illiterate know how to use this smartphone. Using this mobile device, I can get them access to the knowledge they need. But we need to accelerate the pace. There are 17.5 million children in the Arab world who are out of school; 3 million of them are Syrian refugees. If we rely on the traditional model of education to get them caught up, it will take us a century. The Arab world cannot wait for that. Time is not on our side. We need to accelerate."

A guest at the Ellucian Live 2016 conference, Dr. Mansoor shared his institution's approach to delivering online curricula. I also asked him what advice he would offer his peers in North America, presidents and chancellors of institutions in the US and Canada who are also considering how to serve the needs of nontraditional students.


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