Dr. Dawood Al-Hidabi to the Yemen Times:”In addition to possessing mental abilities people have to have commitment of heart and soul for them to succeed” [Archives:2005/893/Reportage]

November 10 2005
S c i e n c e   a n d   T e c h n o l o g y   U n i v e r s i t y   -   c o l l e g e   o f   e n g i n e e r i n g .
S c i e n c e a n d T e c h n o l o g y U n i v e r s i t y – c o l l e g e o f e n g i n e e r i n g .
Dr. Dawood Abdulmalik Al-Hidabi rector of the Science and Technology University in Sana'a started his academic career in 1982 after attaining his PhD from the University of Stirling, UK in Teachers' Education. Since then he has been continuously leaving his fingerprints on the higher education sector in Yemen. Today Dr. Al-Hidabi is one of the prominent academics of the country and has been successful in establishing a distinguished institution: the Science and Technology University. Nadia al-Sakkaf, editor in Chief of the Yemen Times, met with Dr. Dawood Abdulmalik Al-Hidabi and filed this interesting interview.

Yemen Times: Could you give us a brief introduction about yourself?

Dr. D. A. Al-Hidabi: Firstly, I would like you thank you for inviting me to do this interview with the Yemen Times. To introduce myself academically I would like to start from my university graduation. After I finished my Bachelor Degree from the Faculty of Education in Sana'a in Physics and Chemistry, and graduating top of my class in 1977, I got married and now I have 4 boys and 4 girls. I worked as a science inspector with the Ministry of Education then continued to higher studies in 1979 at University of Colchester in teaching physics. Then I moved to the University of Stirling where I finished my Masters Degree and PhD in Educational Research Methodology. I returned as a professor of education at Sana'a University for two years. I worked for one or two years as director of curricular education, then I did some teaching and administration as head of the Science Department and Postgraduate Department and ended up as deputy dean for Academic Affairs until 1993.

At that time I started working part time creating the first community college in Yemen at the national level. It was called the National College for Science and Technology, and we started with innovative programs like IT programming tc. Then in 1994 we launched the Science and Technology University project, which embraced this college and more as we provided diplomas and degrees.

YT: Why start a private university, and what is special about the Science and Technology University?

DAH: When I was a deputy dean at Sana'a University, I suffered a lot from the red tape routine wasted much time to get little tiny things done. I was dissatisfied because of the decision-making process regarding improving teaching and learning and also the level of education itself. On the other hand, I got an invitation from those people who care for the education system in Yemen to establish an educational project. We started as a nursery and grade one school in 1992 through charity work, then we established the community college in 1993 and the University 1994. Now the school instructs all levels and five years ago we started an English section at the school.

We started with a very small investment, which indicates that our experience is a success story supported by well-wishers who care for human resource development in the country. I believe donors should devote more money towards human resource development because Yemen needs highly-qualified people. Yemen needs tens of institutions. Currently we are just contributing to fulfilling the need; now our project has became a fully-fledged university with established operating mechanisms and well established rules that were developed throughout the years.

Not only do we have the general colleges at the University but we also have established the International College where the medium of education is in English and it includes specializations such as business, IT, Art & design. We also offer master degrees in MBA/MIT and postgraduate part-time degrees in coordination with the Malaysian Open University. On another front we have established on-campus accommodation for 600 male and female students and provided shuttle buses to and from the University.

What is special about the S&T University is that we started marketing, dental technicians, translation, and MIS courses and now we are offering high technical degrees in digital media, graphic design and interior architecture, all taught in English. In fact, even in the other general courses we emphasize Technology and English as every student should take 12 credit hours of English as well as an IT course in the basics of computers. We believe that we cater more effectively to the demand of the labour market than most of the other institutions. Another aspect of our university, which we pride ourselves on, is that we focus on small classes so that we ensure close and direct learning. Moreover, the IT technology used in the labs and in practical sessions aids in this as well. Last year with the help of a Malaysian firm, we installed an advanced bilingual (Arabic and English) LMS system for the students and teachers records and it is my contention that we are the first to do so in the region. The third thing that sets us apart is that we have team spirit and a decision-making process that is flexible and easy. For example, when I was working at Sana'a University I tried for two years to install a phone line and still did not get it, but here at the S&T University such a process takes place in less a week. We have given authority to the deans, and every unit whether academic or administrative has its own strategic plan or action plan, which we follow through a monthly progress report.

YT: You have recently opened a training hospital for the students, could you tell us about this project and future plans for the university as a whole?

DAH: One of our recent expansions is the University's hospital, which we established six months earlier to offer quality health service. The health services in Yemen are of very poor quality and this is why we put in a lot of effort to establish our own hospital. The University's staff works in the hospital, and we also use it for medical student training. In addition to the hospital we have a lot of priority projects. We are enhancing our distance learning programs, improving the university automation system, developing the efficiency of teaching and learning, and developing human resources of staff and faculty members. We are also concerned with developing performance indicators and new tools for evaluating our progress as well as our own performance. On the other hand we are working on expanding the infrastructure of the University: in the coming five months we will have 50 new dental chairs to be placed at the dental hospital. We are now embarking on a joint venture with the British Council to establish an English school. The British Council has also funded a program for a postgraduate diploma in Management for women.

We are very ambitious; we are trying to progress quickly and aspire to leave an impressive benchmark in the Yemeni education system. We aim to learn more and develop the institutions better. To that end we provide continuous training for our staff and have increased the number of PhD degree holders. So far we sponsored more than 120 faculty members to attain their Masters or PhD degrees. We believe that our greatest investment should be in human resources. Moreover we have a strategy of providing our educational services to a wider geographical span and start new branches outside Sana'a. We already have branches in Ibb, Hudaidah, Taiz, Mukala, and Aden and we hope to expand even more.

YT: Do you have any partnership with international academic institutions?

We have expanded our academic and professional cooperation and established many partnerships with esteemed academic institutions around the world. Our aim is becoming a well-known international university and this is a learning opportunity for us. So far we have learnt a lot from others' experiences. We have established partnerships with many Arab universities. We have a joint research program with Liverpool University and Leicester University where we train our staff in IT and Engineering. We also have cooperation with two state universities in the United States, and a number of Malaysian Universities. We are still developing our international reach and are planning exchange programs where international universities send their students, especially those interested in studying Arabic or Middle Eastern studies, to us for a term or two.

YT: How do you ensure that the lecturers of the university are able to provide high quality education?

DAH: We have devised many evaluation mechanisms through which the management is provided with feedback. The students, heads of departments, deans and the lecturers themselves regularly evaluate the university's academic performance. Moreover we use the students' achievements as a measuring gauge. We evaluate the performance of everyone and develop a total score for every staff member. This score is linked with financial benefits in an attempt to relate reward to performance. To assist us in developing this we have established a unique performance system with sixteen different levels. This strategy has proved to be effective in motivating the staff members. Additionally, we have established a culture that promotes communication within the staff. We have a staff union where employees gather and discuss various issues of concern-we try to create a friendly culture where there is harmony among the staff.

On the management front, after attending a quality assurance seminar in the UK supported by the British Council, I established a Quality System Model for the University. Later I learned that we are one of the pioneers in the Arab world who have established such a system in an academic institution. Every year there is a special criterion that we announce for evaluating the performance of the staff. This year we explained that the criteria is personal development, and it is the staff themselves who do the evaluation.

The student portal information system helps in monitoring the progress of students and their academic performance. You can get the results of the students through the Internet, and guardians receive regular reports through the Internet every term through the Student Affairs and Services Department. In December this year I will present a paper to the Arab ministers of higher educations about our model of quality assurance.

YT: Do you dedicate resources for student extracurricular activities? And do you encourage creation of student unions and associations? How do you ensure the university has a healthy non-political environment?

DAH: We have a department called the Students Affairs Directorate, which caters for social, sports, cultural and recreational activities. They supervise organizing tournaments with other universities out with our university, which we sponsor every year. We have similar activities at the girl's college, which has a gym for their sports and recreation activities. We have annual elections at the student unions for boys and girls. The students launch their own election campaigns and the supervising community is formed from the Student's Affairs Department who also allocate budgets for such events. As for politics, we emphasize that the University is a non-political environment and that we allow competition based on merit and what services the candidates could offer. If they want to be involved in politics, they can do that outside the university.

YT:How do you evaluate the higher education scene in Yemen? What are the challenges this sector faces and how do you recommend that they are solved?

DAH: I attended three workshops in Sana'a in the last three months and in one of them I presented a paper about private investors. There are many common problems shared between state and private academic institutions-one of the most prominent issues is the quality of education. The tragedy is that this issue wasn't even a topic for discussion at concerned authorities such as the Ministry of Higher Education until very recently. It was not until this year that the MHE authority considered the accreditations of academic institutions. Only recently did the prime minister sign an act to evaluate the accreditation of private universities. This is a start, but there is clear discrimination because this act does not include state universities.

The issue of quality of education is not only limited to higher education, it also includes the school educational system. School graduates have a bigger problem because as they get closer to the working life, they are not armed in the least for the highly competitive life of today. The standard of education in schools is not very good and this is why we push our first year students very hard to try and make up for this deficiency. I guess this explains the high drop out rate in the first year fortunately this rate is much less in the second year.

YT: Some of the problems with university graduates is that they do not study according to market demand, what are you doing in this regard?

DAH: We know that the market demands specialized professions, professional English, IT and communication skills. Therefore we make sure that such subjects are compulsory for all students. First, we establish programs on the basis of the market demand in an attempt to equip them with skills to get good jobs. We don't know the general employability indicator of our graduates but we started last year with our computer science students and we found out that most of them get employed within 6 months of graduating. We have a database on the web of all our graduates, and I suppose we can try to track their career progress. And this year we will activate the graduate club alumni and create an electronic newsletter to trace the students' progress. In fact I realized that a lot of our graduates are employed in the Gulf countries, mainly in KSA and UAE. I travel extensively now and it really is a pleasure to meet graduates of our university working everywhere. So far we have graduated 9 classes of around 800-1000 students every year. Currently we have over 10 thousand students at the university. Some of those are enrolled in distance learning programs, of which 35% are females. This is a higher percentage than state universities whose percentages are 25% female in all disciplines, 20% foreigners, and almost the same percentage are non-resident Yemenis.

YT: What would you advise the college student of today?

DAH: From my own experience students should know more in order to make sound decisions; the more info one has about future professions the more capable one is of selecting the right program. One should think about what they would like to be in ten years, get more information, and ask people who know. Consultation, seeking advice and even surfing the Internet is a very helpful means of gathering information. The other thing is that one has to have is motivation and commitment to learn. They must then make an effort to make their dreams come true. Dedication and patience are very important in fact. Today this is a science called emotional intelligence because in addition to possessing the mental abilities to succeed, people have to have commitment of heart and soul too. My father was a farmer and my family worked day and night to afford standard of living. We used to study at night by candlelight, during my intermediate and high school years and we even used to go out on the street in Taiz in order to study under streetlight. But here I am today.