Driven by quality

H E Dr Ali al Bemani, vice-chancellor, Sultan Qaboos University, talks to Joseph Benny about academic excellence and future challenges

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How has SQU redefined higher education in Oman since its inception in 1986?
Since the inauguration of Sultan Qaboos University (SQU), a relatively varied higher education and research schemes have been established by housing nine different colleges (science, engineering, medicine and health sciences, nursing, law, agriculture and marine sciences, commerce and economics, arts and social sciences and education) and nine research centres, namely, Oman Study Centre, Centre of Environmental Study and Research, Oil and Gas Research Centre, Communication and Information Research Centre, Earthquake Research Centre, Water Research Centre, Remote Sensing Research Centre, Humanities and Social Sciences Research Centre, Geological Studies and Research Centre and three scientific chairs, in the areas of geosciences, nanotechnology in water desalination and marine biotechnology.

Besides, SQU has been efficiently working on developing and strengthening international ties with foreign universities, hence generating an overwhelming amount of internal/external research projects and student exchange to further broaden and develop higher education in Oman which has, with no doubt, elaborated during the past few years.

What are the steps needed to improve higher education in Oman?
Research is a major step in any educational institution; hence by providing this factor a huge section of this enhancement would be dispersed innovatively, especially if relevant funding and technical supports were provided to obtain further scholarly activities, studies and findings.

Another step towards the improvement of higher education would be advancing active learning by increasing student engagement in the learning process and integrating teaching and technology to benefit students and assist them with long-term relations and information.

Also, student retention would be a huge step towards maintaining communication during the first few months, thus, reducing the amount of havoc during the demanding and eventful eras.

How many colleges are currently functioning under SQU?

Sultan Qaboos University is composed of the following nine colleges; Agricultural and Marine Sciences, Arts and Social Sciences, Commerce and Economics, Education, Engineering, Law, Medicine and Health Sciences, Nursing and Science.

We are sure that all SQU colleges graduate quality students. Hence, we are trying our best to provide a high standard education both at undergraduate and postgraduate level.

SQU invites external examiners to almost all of its programmes and lately we had an international team evaluating the entire university.

We have advisory boards in some colleges which are composed of experts from private and public sectors. These advisory boards help us get feedback from companies and government agencies. Some of our colleges seek International Accreditation Recognition, where international teams come and assess the performance of the programmes housed under these colleges.

What was the reason to go for world ranking?
Universities don't apply for ranking; the ranking organisations simply consider all universities without asking whether the universities want to be ranked or not. SQU therefore has no choice but to be considered for ranking. However, being successful in getting into the ranks is another thing.

There are several benefits of ranking systems: (i) enabling universities to see where they stand internationally, (ii) guiding Omani and international students in selecting where to study, (iii) directing academics in selecting universities to visit or work at, (iv) improving academic presence on the web and (v) promoting open access to scientific results. By being included in at least one of the ranking systems SQU has established its presence as a recognised university internationally.

When will the proposed scientific academy for GCC countries with Muscat as HQ take off?
The proposed academy is still under wishful deliberation and studies are undertaken by the relevant sectors dealing with this issue.

How is the admission process conducted?
SQU admits around 3,000 students annually, and presently, it houses around 16,000 students at different levels from diploma, undergraduate, and postgraduate. Enrolment at Sultan Qaboos University is dependent on fulfilling the criteria set by each college.

In fact, there are number of seats allocated for each college and the competitions between students are fierce. Our mission is not only to reach certain quarter but quality is our drive. We admit the cream of the cream to assure the society that after spending a dedicated period at SQU, we inject tomorrow's very effective citizen, leaders and entrepreneurs to the society.

How do you rate the facilities for higher education in professional streams in Oman?

Higher education has reached a level of dynamic global production, where strategic management of facilities has been increasingly complex. Students have high expectations and changing needs which have a major impact on planning, designing and managing these facilities at a preeminent level. Furthermore, facility management officials are facing challenges around the world in terms of learning environments.

Hence, it is factual that during the past, the facilities accessible for higher education at SQU were vastly complex and unobtainable, but over the years the university gradually strived to acquire the necessary requirements to elevate this issue, thus initiating many divisions to expand the development of these facilities. One of these major facilitating divisions which will be launched shortly is the University Cultural Centre.

As we all know, and as we speak, the focus in higher education has shifted toward research and innovation and development of an entrepreneurial society. Therefore, one of the key issues that Oman higher education today has to focus and to act swiftly is the challenge of globalisation and its effectiveness as the main driver of the change into the an entrepreneurial society.

Driven by quality
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