Abdullatif Alshamsi is an academic who continually pushes the boundaries of science. As President and CEO of the UAE Government’s Higher Colleges of Technology (HCT), he has re-engineered the way students study, shifting the focus from learning for its own sake to preparing students for the job market or startup of his own company.
“HCT is no longer just an academic institution,” he says. “It established a free zone — a zone for creative ideas that can be turned into business opportunities.”
One of the biggest changes in the seven years since Abdullatif joined HCT, which has around 23,000 students across 16 campuses, is that every academic degree now comes with a mandatory professional certification. For example, if you are studying to be an auditor, you have to complete part of the modules that include practical experience in industry. Engineers are required to complete resume-advancement health and safety courses, while finance students complete a course at the Project Management Institute.
“These certifications have given us quality assurance for each program offered, guaranteeing that it meets the skills and competencies required for that particular specialization in the corporate sector,” says Abdullatif.
We want to ensure that our graduates are the first choice for the job market.
“We want to ensure that our graduates are the first choice for the job market compared to other academic institutions. How do we guarantee that? By having an academic degree in addition to a professional qualification.”
Another major change at HCT in recent years has been the introduction of an incubator program for students to start their own businesses. So far, the program has supported 138 companies, 40 of which are already fully operational. This created around 600 jobs.
“Not only are we in the business of graduating students, we have also introduced the concept of degree companies,” says Abdullatif. For a company to graduate, it must have a trade license, board members, and revenue.
Not only do we deal with graduating students, we have also introduced the concept of graduating companies.
Abdullatif has been in academia for more than 25 years, has published dozens of research papers and is a regular speaker at conferences on his approach to education, change management and the use of technology in education.
The COVID-19 pandemic gave a huge boost to his ambitions to increase the number of virtual classrooms at HCT. He has introduced a “hybrid” education system that blends online and on-campus learning, and is building on that with a “hyper-hybrid” system that allows students to expand outside of a traditional lecture or seminar on the campus to meet and exchange ideas.
“With the hybrid model, you reduce the student footprint on campus, so you increase your capacity to onboard more students, but at a lower cost and yet not at the expense of learning outcomes,” says Abdullatif.
“Now we’re going beyond the hybrid,” he adds. “We need students to come to campus to network, to get involved, and that’s where all the ideas for innovation, entrepreneurship and so on come together.
“We may not need as many physical classrooms, but the campus should become an open laboratory space rather than a space with traditional classrooms or traditional laboratories.”
As a leader, Abdullatif follows three key rules. First, it is imperative to adopt a clear vision and ensure that everyone in your organization understands and shares it. “Your vision has to be transferred to each and every person,” he says.
The next rule is to constantly hire people who are smarter than you. “You need people who are smarter than you to help you realize that vision and make it happen and come up with all these creative ideas,” he explains.
Maybe we don’t need as many physical classrooms, but the campus should become more of an open laboratory.
“Number three, don’t work in an ivory tower office; be down,” he says. “As President and CEO, I also teach. I am a teacher and I am committed to teaching.”
The classes ensure that Abdullatif learns of issues and challenges that need to be addressed from the people who engage with them. Despite his strong belief in the value of online learning, Abdullatif, like any old-school academic, knows the importance of sharing ideas face-to-face.
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“The HCT is at the forefront of technological innovation and leading the way towards a learner-centred approach. We look forward to joining HCT’s mission and seeing where our partnership takes us.” — Anthony Lorin, President, International, McGraw Hill