Upgraded Programmes, Expansions To Drive QU-CAS Transformation

(MENAFN- The Peninsula) irfan bukhari & sanaullah ataullah | The Peninsula

In a detailed interview, characterised by transparency and team spirit, Dean of the CAS and associate deans of the college, share their vision, future aims, strategies and achievements of the college with The Peninsula.

As the largest college at Qatar University (QU), the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) graduates the largest number of enrolled and graduate students from the prestigious university. This puts CAS in a strategic position to prepare budding minds to meet the requirements of the job market and align its curriculum with the Qatar National Vision (2030) as well as the university's objectives to be a beacon of knowledge and research in the region and globally.

CAS is the largest college at QU, with students population of more than 40 percent of the university's students. Also, it is the largest college, in terms of number of programmes and faculty. CAS offers courses to College of Education, College of Medicine, College of Pharmacy, College of Dentistry and College of Nursing. CAS also provides around 60% of the core curriculum. With plans to introduce new academic programmes, it has become apparent that CAS is expanding its facilities to accommodate the growing number of students. It boasts around 7,000 registered students under perhaps a unique education model in the Gulf region, which combines arts and sciences under one college.

In an exclusive interview with The Peninsula, Professor Dr. Ahmed ElZatahry, Dean, College of Arts and Sciences at QU discussed CAS's achievements, future plans and strategies to revolutionize the college.

Also present at the interaction were Prof. Ahmed Ibrahim Abushouk, Associate Dean for Social Sciences and Humanities; Dr. AbdulAziz Al-Mutawa, Associate Dean for Languages, Communication and Translation; Dr. Khalifa Abdulla Alhazaa, Associate Dean for Sciences and Applied Sciences; Muneera Al-Subaiey, Assistant Dean for Students' Affairs; Dr. Dana A. Abdulmalik, Associate Professor and Program Coordinator of Physics who shared their vision, strategies and achievements of CAS with The Peninsula.

CAS is currently in the second phase of reform and is focusing primarily on the identity of academic departments, strength of academic programmes and introducing a new academic planning vision that fosters ideas related to designing a novel structure for the academic programmes.

In this regard there are several factors to consider, such as the subject area, learning objectives and outcomes, skills and market needs, employability and available resources. While there is no one-size-fits-all approach, some examples such as 'Double Majors', 'Dual Degree' and 'Four-Plus-One' (4+1 B.SC/Master) can be adapted and implemented based on the country's needs. Such programmes that serve interdisciplinary, practical experience, entrepreneurial skills and innovation are essential for success in a rapidly evolving world.

Responding to a question about management style adopted during current reform phase, Dr. ElZatahry said that the CAS's management philosophy illustrates how the College has become a dynamic organization based on consultation and shared governance in the decision making and streamlining of its operations.

Professor Dr. Ahmed ElZatahry, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences

However, and more importantly, CAS has recently established a strategic advisory committee to function as a think-tank council for the Dean's office and all Clusters, Departments, and Programmes alike in the College. As such, this committee played a vital and crucial role in CAS by providing guidance, deliberations, and strategic direction to help achieve the Colleges' goals, objectives and short- as well as long-term priorities. The philosophical and organizational approach for this committee employed an initial top-down strategic management, a process that involved setting priority objectives for the College and its three clusters, determining the actions and resources (academic, intellectual, and material) needed to achieve those goals, and allocating resources effectively to different and various areas of operation.

This approach was implemented in, for example, areas related to new degree structured proposals and initiatives that are grounded in skills-based study plans, degree frameworks that introduce double-majors, 4+1 degrees, or joint degrees. However, this top-down approach was complemented by a bottom-up management philosophy where all programmes, departments and their faculty were empowered and encouraged to be active participants in shaping, framing, and deciding the visions, goals, and outcomes of all these types of projects and initiatives.

Another example, Dr. ElZatahry said, is“going parallel with academic planning, we developed a new appraisal guidelines and a new promotion policy which is a unique among other colleges at Qatar University.”

He added,“The new promotion policy is based on a combination of weighted qualitative factors, including quality of publications, research achievements and impact, students mentoring, and scholarly services in addition to teaching effectiveness, contribution to the scientific community and service to the institution or community. Additionally, this new policy differentiates between academic disciplines and fields, and more specifically, between natural sciences as one field and social sciences and humanities as another field.”

Moreover, he said,“research quality is a significant factor in the new promotion system. The weight given to each output may vary depending on the rank of the journal, author contribution and impact and level of research grants...I would like to see our faculty in Tier 1 Journals (Top journals in their field)...Building a top-tier academic institute is a clear goal for me,” Prof. ElZatahry emphasized.

“As we discussed in the last interview [an interview that The Peninsula conducted around two years ago], we must have a new philosophy on hiring faculty members, and supporting new Qatari faculty members ... An important milestone was to establish guidelines to hire high-quality faculty members as an important step to build strong departments. Again, our dynamic think-tank platform developed a recruitment strategy, defined the needed qualifications, and discussed the tactics and strategies to attract and headhunt high-quality faculty members. We have succeeded to attract extraordinary scholars who have graduated from world-class institutes,” said Prof. ElZatahry.

“As for new Qatari faculty members, we aimed,” Prof. ElZatahry confirmed,“to create a welcoming, positive and supportive work environment, provide resources, funding opportunities and lowering teaching load if needed. I personally met with many of the new Qatari faculty members several times and I always try my best to follow up on their research plans and career progress. In addition to that, CAS has a clear plan to prepare future Qatari leadership and arranged for shadowing programme with current management on the programme coordinators and head of departments levels.”

Dean ElZatahry said that Attract and Build National Academic Capacities is another initiative prepared in collaboration with the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL) at Qatar University. Much appreciation to Dr. Tamer Khatab, Director of CETL, and his team for this collaboration and for formulating and supporting the programme that crucially aims to sponsor CAS's undergraduate students who have been selected as future prospective faculty under QU Scholarship & Capacity Building Office.

He added,“In essence, this programme sought to attract and prepare talented Qatari students from CAS to become outstanding academic leaders, educators and scholars. The programme should ultimately merge undergraduate mentoring and research exposure. The mentoring programme proposes maintaining contact and support with the CAS graduates during their graduate education (M.Sc. and PhD) as well as post-doctoral training. The mentoring programme will accomplish this goal through a modular programme with different phases and entry/exit points. Implementation of the programme will run in collaboration with QU Scholarship & Capacity Building Office.”

On the possibility of splitting CAS into two colleges of arts and sciences, he said that CAS as a model started in the US to promote the concept of liberal arts education.

Muneera Al-Subaiey, Assistant Dean for Students' Affairs

“This is a well-known model, and I think we are the only CAS in the Gulf region. The second potential model is a standalone College of Science, and College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, which is also a successful model and depends on what the target is for having such a model. At the end, the ultimate success of any model depends on providing the necessary pillars in addition to a combination of several factors ... most importantly the adaptivity to the culture,” said Professor ElZatahry.

Responding to a question about the achievements of CAS's plan to incorporate soft skills in its curriculum, he said almost 60% of all the“Excellence Themes” framework have been implemented in response to Qatar University's current strategic plan and to complete all the remaining themes by next academic year.

Giving more details about CAS's endeavor to incorporate soft skills in curriculum, Muneera Al-Subaiey, Assistant Dean for Student Affairs, said:“We are running a programme for students at risk in any course, called the Academic Oasis, to provide them with extra support in delivering the subject via outside-of-the-class tutoring.”

For further insight into the support programme, Muneera Al-Subaiey said that the Oasis provides extra teaching hours to students and this is being implemented in collaboration with student affairs and the departments.

“We are following students step-by-step to monitor their progress in order to take them out of the risk zone,” said Al-Subaiey.

Meanwhile, Prof. Ahmed Ibrahim Abushouk, Associate Dean for Social Sciences and Humanities, said the third component of the College's strategy is to give special attention to community service.

“I think, during the last two years, we have paid special attention to establishing collaboration with government entities like the Ministry of Education and Higher Education and Hamad Hospital.

“Besides, we collaborate with other academic institutions in the country like the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies, the University of Doha for Science and Technology and Lusail University in term of teaching and joint research,” said Prof. Abushouk.

Prof. Ahmed Ibrahim Abushouk, Associate Dean for Social Sciences and Humanities

He added that the College also partnered with Katara to hold several international conferences that are more aligned with both QU's and Qatar's research priorities.

To a question about honing students' skills to increase their employability chances in the job market, Dr. AbdulAziz Al-Mutawa, Associate Dean for Languages, Communication and Translation, said:“This step also started not only on the clusters levels but maybe in the majority of the departments.”

For example, he said, these ideas are in place in the Arabic Department and the Department of English Literature and Linguistics whose graduates were earlier going only to schools to join the teaching profession.

“But now a new element has been introduced, and this concerns the practical side of the profession. Those who graduate from the Department of English Literature have more opportunities in the market and are not only confined to teaching in schools. They have opportunities to work in fields such as museums, media etc..,” said Dr. Abdulaziz.

He said, for instance, Arabic Department graduates can find careers in television, radio or theatre where they can be editors, proof readers or writers.“I think the practical side is very important that will make these departments revive once again and come to life,” he said.

Dr. AbdulAziz Al-Mutawa, Associate Dean for Languages, Communication and Translation

Dean ElZatahry mentioned that, Qatar University has initiated an Academic Development Committee dedicated to the academic development and improvement of Media, Mass Communications as well as the International Affairs programmes. This committee concerns with programme assessment and evaluation, curriculum development as well as to define schools of thoughts connected to these programmes.

He also supported the idea of setting up a standalone college of media studies as a future plan.“There has always been a demand that we should opt for a standalone College for Media Studies. I personally believe that we may think about having a college that holds Media, Mass Communications as well as International Affairs. Again this is my personal opinion,” said Prof. ElZatahry.

He said that media is one of the softest and strongest arms of international relations.“I believe that Qatar, as a country, holds one of the strongest media outlets in the world.”

“My point of view is that media and international affairs look like two different subjects but are interconnected fields that have significant influence and impact on each other. Interdisciplinary programmes focusing on the dynamics of media and international affairs may equip students with extraordinary skills that benefit Qatar, so why, as an outside the box idea, we don't think about having a college which will have the Media as well as International Affairs as programmes under the same umbrella,” said Prof. ElZatahry.

Meanwhile Dr. Khalfia Alhazaa, Associate Dean for Sciences and Applied Sciences, said that CAS has been an incubator for many successful programmes that historically emerged from CAS like Sports Science, Pharmacy and Health Sciences and other many research centers such as the Environmental Science Center and the Ibn Khaldun Centre for Humanities and Social Sciences.

In term of development of the programmes of International Affairs and Policy, Planning and Development, Prof. Abushouk said:“These two programmes are under revision to be improved to meet the expectation of the College and to increase the employability of our graduates and meet the needs of the society as well.”

In terms of research, he said:“We put special emphasis on the priority of the country as a whole and the university in particular. In order to establish this, we orientate our research to serve the needs of the society and, at the same time, to advise our faculty to publish in high impact journals, because this would contribute to the improvement of the ranking of Qatar University and serve the image of the university at the international level.”

Dr. Khalifa Abdulla Alhazaa, Associate Dean for Sciences and Applied Sciences

Speaking about the new academic plans and reforming the Sciences and Applied Sciences Cluster, Dr. Alhazaa said:“We have done a whole academic plan for the next five years. One part of the plan is the separation of the Physics programme from the Department of Mathematics, Statistics and Physics.”

Moreover, Dr. Alhazaa said:“We will introduce different programmes called the four-plus-one, which mixes between Bachelor's and Master's degrees.

Without the four-plus-one, it would be usually four years for undergraduate course and two years for the graduate, adding to six years. With the four-plus-one, on the other hand, the total would be reduced to five years for both.”

He added:“We have been thinking about all these flexible ideas to entice students to come to the STEM majors, and you understand students shy away from these majors, especially the Qatari males.”

“So we have been thinking about double majors, for instance, between science and other colleges like education, engineering and business,” he added.

Dean ElZatahry said that the five years plan for the Sciences and Applied Sciences Cluster will have a new programme structure to support the initiation of a common year, a general year of science education, for newly admitted students to strengthen their knowledge across various scientific disciplines like Math, Biology, Chemistry, Statistics and Physics.“Later on, students will be much comfortable if they decide to graduate with a double major as an example,” said Dean ElZatahry.

Dr. Dana A. Abdulmalik, Associate Professor and Program Coordinator of the Physics Program, in the Department of Mathematics, Statistics and Physics, said:“The Physics Program was frozen for nearly twenty years. Then it was approved by the Board to reactivate this programme two years ago. So we are facing a challenge in enrolling the students. Despite that I think it was an excellent idea to reactivate the Physics Program.”

She said that the Physics Program will collaborate with other departments within the college, as well as other colleges.“Now we are designing a new minor in Applied Physics geared towards Biophysics, Geophysics and Quantum Computing in collaboration with the College of Engineering.”

Dr. Al-Mutawa said that there's also another path which is also related to strategic planning. For example, he said:“In our cluster, we are fully restructuring the Mass Communications Department in order to serve the market needs. We're changing this into two main tracks to cope with the current global needs; for example, the social media and the digital media. I'm talking about a Bachelor's degree programme in the digital media.”

Dr. Dana A. Abdulmalik, Associate Professor and Program Coordinator of Physics

To a question about CAS's follow up system for its alumni, Dr. Alhazaa said:“Our many distinguished alumni keep coming to Qatar University every year to honor the place from where they received their degrees.”

Regarding the follow-up system, he said:“We need to consider in setting up such a system to constantly keep them in touch with their university in a better way.”

Speaking about the challenges being faced by CAS, Dean ElZatahry said that the growing number of students in some departments is one of the biggest challenges for the College.

“We can't neglect the fact that we are receiving a huge number of students. And it is a big challenge to accommodate all the students. Some of the CAS programmes see a huge demand.”

Explaining further, Al-Subaiey said that the most desired academic programmes include Mass Communications and International Affairs among others.

Prof. Abushouk said:“We are facing two major challenges: the increasing number of the students who apply to join certain programmes like International Affairs and social sciences and then the issue of these students' employability according to the needs of the market.”

Dean ElZatahry said that the move is under the second strategic initiative of CAS which is focusing on integrity and strength of the academic departments.

He said that CAS gives faculty members this kind of freedom and also encourages them to rearrange the structure of faculty members within the department.

“We wanted to develop a pyramid structure to have more assistant professors and less associate professors and then going to the top of the pyramid by the professors,” said Dean ElZatahry.

“So in that manner, you will be able to create the school of thoughts, which is something important for us because that will reflect the strengths of the departments.

“We needed to focus, not on the ranking from the definition of university ranking, but we wanted to focus on the ranking of the discipline, which is very important,” said Dean ElZatahry.

The Dean of CAS added:“For the first time in the past two years, some of our programmes entered the QS ranking, namely the social sciences and material sciences, to name a few. We are focusing now on the ranking from the discipline point of view, which is very important because I believe that if you succeed to push your programmes to be ranked internationally, then on a whole, the ranking of the university will further go up.”

To a question about the outcome of the CAS strategies and performance evaluation system, Dean ElZatahry said:“We have clear key performance indicators for that of course.”

Responding to this question, Professor Abushouk said:“In Humanities and Social Sciences, for example, in the field of research, we depend on the publication in high impact journals. This factor is at number one, and we also give priority to the research that is consistent with the research priorities of the university and the government,” said Prof. Abushouk.

Dr. Al-Mutawa said that the strategies, on the college side, do not just rely on the current staff CAS has, but are actually looking further.

For example, he said,“We brought someone from Oxford University, even though he is a newly graduate, a fresh Ph.D. but he has tremendous work in research. So we managed to get the service of this person and he is currently working very well in research.”

Prof Abushouk said:“We have three focus areas – teaching, research and community service in line with the vision of the Dean of CAS which was introduced two years back in term of education and development of academic programme.

“We focus on three areas. Number one is to introduce new programmes that will meet with the needs of the industry and the society. Number two is to improve our current programmes that would increase the employability of our graduates in the market. And thirdly, to establish links with different colleges that would create interdisciplinarity in research for the first two objectives.”

In this respect, Prof. Abushouk said:“At the Department of Humanities, we established two programmes, one is Applied Geography, Geographical Information System and Fine Arts.”

Professor Dr. Ahmed ElZatahry has been indexed as #1 in the field of Metallurgical & Materials Engineering on the level of Qatar University and in the State of Qatar and #2 and #5 in the field of Engineering & Technology on the level of Qatar University and the State of Qatar.

CAS is positioning itself among world-class new research trends

Professor Dr. Ahmed ElZatahry, Dean of CAS at Qatar University told The Peninsula that the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) has ambitious research plan to match recent world trends and to meet the need of Qatar development goals.

“We succeeded to headhunt and hire high profile scholars as example: Recently, a dedicated research group focused on intelligence systems has been established in response to the current surge in AI (artificial intelligence). Led by Dr. Mohamed Mabrok, an associate professor of applied mathematics who recently joined the Department of Mathematics and Statistics at CAS, this group is at the forefront of cutting-edge research,” he added.

“Their remarkable achievement includes securing the prestigious“Qatar Japan Research Collaboration (QJRC2)” grant, which Marubeni funds in collaboration with the University of Hyogo in Japan and the College of Engineering at QU.”

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The primary objective of this project, Dr. ElZatahry said, is to develop an AI computer model capable of diagnosing ischemic stroke, a specific type of stroke.

“By addressing critical health challenges, the project aims to enhance the quality of stroke diagnosis and ultimately improve patient outcomes. Furthermore, this project presents a unique opportunity to foster the growth of Qatari students interested in artificial intelligence research. Through their involvement, these students will gain invaluable skills and experience, contributing to human capacity development in this important area of study.”

Another research group, he said, is utilizing automated experimentation (robotics) to accelerate the discovery of advanced nano-materials with intelligent and functional properties.“The group is led by Dr. Yasser Hassan who has recently joined Qatar University, bringing a wealth of experience from his research experience at Oxford University and the University of Toronto. The group focuses on developing efficient synthetic approaches utilizing automated experimentation (robotics) to accelerate the discovery of advanced nano-materials with intelligent and functional properties.”


The Peninsula

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