Prof. (Dr.) Dawood A. Al-Hidabi to Yemen Times”An uncompromising adherence to quality in education hasbeen our benchmark.” [Archives:2004/705/Education]
With a view to getting glimpses of the vision and versatility of the institution that Dr. Dawood genuinely is, Dr. Ramakanta Sahu, presenter of Education Page and Dr. Muhsen A. Bin Shamian of the English department, Faculty of Education, University of Science and Technology, met Dr. Dawood.
YT: Please give us a brief history of the university.
Dr. Dawood: The origin of the university dates back to 1993 when it began as a community college, the first of its kind in Yemen. It was then called the National College of Science and Technology whose primary objective was to contribute towards human resource development. It eventually grew up into its present form as the University of Science and Technology, the third university in Yemen after Sana'a University and Aden university, and the first ever university in the private sector.
YT: Please throw some light on the current status of the university?
Dr. Dawood: As I said, we have steadily grown and developed since 1993. At present we have more than 6 thousand students, 300 strong faculty, and around 300 non-teaching staff. We have not only diversified our activities, but branched out to establish ourselves as a broad-based institution. Now we have set-up branches in Hodeida and Taiz. Beside we have set-up contact offices in Mukalla, Aden, and Ibb as well.
YT: Could you tell us about the academic programs offered at the university?
Dr. Dawood: We offer a wide range of courses at this university. In fact there are 30 courses available here at the diploma, graduate and post-graduate levels. They are grouped under 4 major blocks:
a. Health Sciences that includes School of Medicine, School of Pharmacy, School of Dentistry.
b. Management Stream has as its constituents Schools of Banking, Finance, Accounting, Business Administration, and Marketing.
c. Science and Engineering which takes into account areas like Computer Science, Computer Engineering, Telecommunications, Architecture, and Civil Engineering. We have plans to further increase and expand the Science and Engineering stream because of the increasing demand.
d. Social Sciences which includes the Faculty of Education.
However, some of the most distinctive courses are Dentistry, Information Technology (IT), Marketing, English and Translation, all of which we regard as our flagship. Some of our programs and course offering may have been offered elsewhere, but we have restructured our courses to make them suitable to the demands of the present context.
YT: What would you consider as your major academic focus?
Dr. Dawood: Our mainstay is Information Technology and the English Language modules.
YT: What special course modules or remedial courses are available for improving the proficiency in English of your students?
Dr. Dawood: I must admit that our high school leavers have a poor knowledge in English. Most of them lack communicative competence in English. In order to give them an optimal opportunity to improve their command of English, we have set up an English Language Unit. We have made it obligatory for all our students to attend a proficiency course in English of 300 contact hours and get a basic and advanced level exposure in communication skills, with the result that, by the end of the course, most of them are able to express themselves in English.
YT: When was this program launched and has there been any evaluation of the efficacy of the program?
Dr. Dawood: We started the program 2 years ago although it has not been subjected to any formal evaluation. Yet we mark a perceptible improvement in the terminal behavior of our students in English after completion of the course.
YT: Keeping in view your unequivocal accent on English what steps do you propose to reorganize the English department?
Dr. Dawood: We're strengthening the English department in terms of recruiting excellent faculty and equipping them with facilities such as a good library, multimedia labs, free internet access to update their knowledge and skill. We offer them an open budget to buy the latest books and subscribe to professional journals so as to enable them to sharpen their professional equipment. Last year our faculty members restructured and improvised the whole curriculum. I hope you too participated in the whole exercise. Moreover, we're visited from time to time by external bodies who give us feedback on and insight into the ways of bringing about further refinement of our existing curricula.
YT: Is there a placement service available at the university to provide a link between the university graduates and the employment market?
Dr. Dawood: We have a Graduates' Club. It is on the web with the names qualifications and grades of the graduates. We have established a link with some companies to facilitate a direct interaction between the prospective employers and the potential employees.
YT: Could you elaborate a little on the distance learning center at the university? Is it active?
Dr. Dawood: Well, our distance learning center is both active and popular. We have a well-prepared plan to have a full-fledged program in open and distance learning. We are recruiting excellent staff in IT, Management which is the first step towards achieving this goal. Hopefully, in years to come this center will register substantial growth as a center of excellence on its own.
YT: Most students enrolled at the university hail from affluent families. Does it not seem to give to the university an elitist halo?
Dr. Dawood: Not really. As I said, students are attracted to this university for its strict adherence to the quality of education. They are obviously capable of paying the university fees which, I believe, are one of the lowest as compared to the universities in the Arab world or elsewhere. We also encourage the poor and meritorious students by offering free studentship to the toppers at the secondary level.
YT: What is the rationale behind having separate campuses for male and female students?
Dr. Dawood: My answer to this question is two-fold: one academic and the other cultural. Researches all over the world have suggested that when the boys and girls study in a mixed setting, there is a marked slump in their achievement levels. Secondly, as you know, in Yemen most of the parents wouldn't encourage their girls to pursue their education in a mixed setting. By providing a separate unit for girls we are encouraging the girls to pursue their education without any inhibition and contribute to the development of Yemen.
YT: How do you ensure the social accountability of your academic edifice?
Dr. Dawood: I would label our university a market-driven university. Our focus has ever been linking our university to the needs and aspirations of the community and the society. So we try to reach out to the community to the public and private sectors as well. We unleash efforts to involve groups of people in mainstream of our academic activities including training programs, conferences, seminars, symposia, fairs, exhibitions. Besides, our research activities are directed at ensuring the sustainable development of the society at large. Consistent with this policy, during the past decade we have been striving relentlessly to address ourselves to the needs of the society so that the social accountability is adequately taken care of.
YT: So you have crossed many glorious milestones and have succeeded in promoting the university as one of the most well-resourced centers by any reckoning. How do you envision its future expansion?
Dr. Dawood: My highest concern has been and still is maintenance of quality. To put it differently, an uncompromising adherence to quality in education has been our bench mark – quality of training being imparted, of the professional competence of the faculty, of the employees, of diagnostic activities aimed at rectifying the short-comings and achieving greater heights of professionalism and so forth. We strive to make continual evaluation of our academic programs through introspection which is the key to ensure uninterrupted pace of improvement – whether in academic sector, management sector or financial sector. Yet we have miles to go.
Keeping in mind the needs and aspirations of Yemeni expatriates abroad, we are actively formulating plans to open a really good and efficient distance learning unit to cater to them, especially in Social Sciences stream to begin with.
Next year we hope to have impressive dimensions of improvement in terms of infrastructure. We're planning to launch our state-of-the-art teaching hospital of 250 beds which hopefully would be ranked as the best in Yemen. Our objective is to offer excellent health services to our countrymen. We would also provide good training to our medial graduates. Along side, we would like to offer a residency post-graduate program in Health Sciences. Furthermore, we are in the process of starting a Nursing college in order to provide efficient support staff to our physicians. We have contracted a Jordanian company to manage the hospital for us. It may take around 6 months to open the hospital. We are going ahead with opening the main building of the College of Health Sciences. By next year we hope to open a full-fledged College of Management as well. Along with these three main buildings, we are going to have a building for coordinating and linking all these campuses through a computer network. Now we have a network in every building but we are going to link all of them at a macro level to enable our students make a maximal utilization of all the resources we have.
I would like to tell you that we're going to organize an International Conference in January on the use of IT in improving teaching and learning. This will be the first of its kind in Yemen that would throw a flood of light on the potential of technology for the qualitative improvement of teaching and learning. We have invited distinguished speakers from Malaysia, Britain, Jordan and other countries advanced in this field. This congregation of specialists would advise us not only on what should be done, but present case studies to give us practical and concrete instances of how technology has been used to galvanize teaching learning programs. This would augment our efforts to explore how internet, video conferencing and such other tools that can profitably be exploited to improve the quality of the teaching technology at the university.
We're very ambitious, to tell you the truth, despite constraints on our resources. We leave no stones unturned to reach out. And you'll find something spectacular next year which may come as a surprise. I don't want to talk about it now.
YT: We're very eagerly awaiting that surprise: not only us but the entire country and the academic community which has been appreciatively observing the impressive growth of the university from strength to strength during the past decade. All of us do expect something glorious in tune with its brilliant track record. In fact, we wish you godspeed in your endeavor Insha Allah.
Dr. Dawood: Thank you
YT: How do you assess the impact of the Education column in creating an awareness among the student community?
Dr. Dawood: This indeed is an innovative measure on the part of Yemen Times and they deserve to be congratulated. In fact, the founder of Yemen Times, Professor Abdulaziz Al-Saqqaf was my close friend and neighbor. I'm happy to learn that his son and the present Editor-in-Chief Walid Al-Saqqaf is also greatly concerned about Education. Earmarking one or two pages in the newspaper devoted exclusively to education and educational issues would certainly contribute to enhancing the level of educational awareness in our country. This is a kind of effort that should be appreciated and we do really appreciate it.
YT: We would like to thank you for your very candid views on a wide spectrum of issues.
Dr. Dawood: I'm thankful to Yemen Times for giving me this opportunity to share some of our ideas with the readers through your esteemed column. We also feel honored by your presence. Thank you once again.