With a new, purpose-built, state-of-the-art campus under construction and a burgeoning international student population, Ahlia University in Bahrain is taking bold steps to enhance its position as one of the Gulf region’s pre-eminent private universities.
Ahlia has been named as the number-one fastest-rising university out of 1,000 universities in the Arab region by QS World University Rankings, putting it in the top 3.5 per cent of the region’s further-education institutions. “It is very good for us as it demonstrates that we have fulfilled all the quality criteria for such a ranking,” says Managing Director Professor Abdulla Y Al-Hawaj.
The new campus on the Al Shamaliya Islands development in northern Bahrain will allow the university to expand from its current 2,500 students, of whom 54 per cent are female, 46 per cent male, to around 10,000. “We will start with 5,000 and expand from there,” says Professor Al-Hawaj. “It is important for our influence to have a physical campus.” New classrooms, laboratories, libraries and leisure facilities will enhance the attraction of studying in a campus that overlooks the Persian Gulf in year-round sunshine.
Expansion will also offer a new teaching hospital and allow for an extended programme of graduate courses. “These will include a diverse master’s offering, from security, to game theory, to physiotherapy,” explains Professor Al-Hawaj.
BRIDGING THE GULF
Until the new premises are completed in 2020, students continue to study in premises in the diplomatic quarter of Bahrain’s capital, Manama. The range of undergraduate and PhD courses offered reflects the university’s determination to equip its graduates for an ever-changing job market and to give them skills that feed back into society. “The job market today is very different to what it was 10 years ago,” says Professor Al-Hawaj. “We are looking to the future. We have to keep up to date with what is going on around the world.”
Ahlia’s six colleges offer 17 degree programmes between them, covering areas such as mass communication, banking and finance, information technology, medical and health sciences, and engineering. An example of the university’s forward-thinking curriculum, the engineering degree involves undergraduates in areas such as wireless and mobile communications, robotics, embedded systems, computer security, networking, and applied signal/image processing.
Simply producing job-ready graduates is not enough, however, says Professor Al-Hawaj. “We are very much involved in innovation, educating graduates who don’t simply look for work, but who have the entrepreneurial skills to create jobs as well.”
To this end, Ahlia operates a respected internship programme to help direct students in their career choices. It also works with the King Hamad University Hospital to give physiotherapy students practical experience during their courses. “We have a very good rate of employment among our alumni,” says Professor Al-Hawaj, “many of whom achieve senior roles and important careers all over the region.”
To complement the degree programme, Ahlia offers 450 elective courses that give students the chance to broaden their interests and knowledge base, covering areas including European languages, the arts and sport.
Central to Ahlia University’s success has been the long-term collaborations it has established with overseas institutions. Since 2004, it has worked with Brunel University London, setting up exchanges for its engineering students who are able to study in London for up to a year. The three-year Brunel PhD Without Residence Programme allows students to graduate with the equivalent to a PhD from Br unel’s campus. “We are strengthening relations with Brunel with the aim of enlarging our collaborative programme for engineering students.”
Ahlia also collaborates with the George Washington University (GWU) in Washington DC on its Master of Science in Engineering Management (MSEM) programme, which prepares graduates to work in fast-changing, technically oriented organisations, with the final degree issued by GWU.
“We also want to expand undergraduate opportunities,” says Professor Al-Hawaj, “and we are doing very well with our French universities.” Connections with the Institut Superieur de Gestion (ISG) in Paris and Epitech, the Paris Graduate School of Digital Innovation, offer Ahlia’s students project work and hands-on IT experience in the most up-to-date learning environments.
The benefits of the international exchange programme work in two ways. French students attending Ahlia gain a new perspective on their course, and also return with a deeper knowledge of the local culture. “It is very important that visiting students do not simply study their degree,” says Professor Al- Hawaj. “One of the requirements of their coming is that they take two courses, in Arabic language and culture.” The bespoke, certified courses for visiting students have been created in collaboration with the Bahrain Institute of Technology.
A RESEARCH SCHOOL
Research, by faculty and students, is another area in which international collaboration has benefitted Ahlia’s academic standing. “One of the factors that QS looked at was the volume and quality of our published research. It was a key reason for our high ranking,” says Professor Al-Hawaj. The move to the new campus will allow the university to update its online resources, as well as improving research facilities, all of which will enrich the curriculum.
Faculty staff at Ahlia are highly qualified and interact closely with their students. The word “ahlia” means “family” in Arabic and the emphasis at the university is on forging an open and collaborative relationship between professors and students. Teaching is regularly monitored and examined by the Bahraini government’s Quality Assurance Agency to ensure the highest standards in the classroom and laboratory.
Ahlia University has grown in size and reputation since it welcomed its first undergraduates in 2003. It is a young, outward-looking institution with strong international connections that benefit its students, as well as those visiting the Kingdom. The new campus will consolidate its high standing in the Gulf region and open a new chapter in its drive for excellence and innovation.