Come September, data on all higher education institutions in the UAE will be released to the public by the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research.
Speaking at a Dubai International Academic City (DIAC) education forum, Prof M. Badr Abu Al Ela, Director of the ministry's Commission for Academic Accreditation (CAA), said institutions are currently compiling their data to be submitted by April 19. The data will be collected twice a year and will include information about all aspects of a higher educational institution for the benefit of government decision makers, the public and the institutions themselves.
"It is very in-depth data and very in-depth analysis that will really present the institutions in the right way to the public," Abu Al Ela said.
He also spoke about the soon-to-be-released stipulation number 11 law, which will allow the recognition of prior learning at universities in the country.
This means colleges and universities can take into account the learning acquired outside the classroom and assign academic credit to it. Depending on their work experience, university and college applicants no longer have to start at the very bottom to get a diploma or degree.
University heads present at the DIAC education forum were keen on the ministry recognising prior learning, especially for vocational courses, which Abu Al Ela said the ministry was working towards.
He said the data report, which is collected by a new centre for higher education data and statistics, was an initiative directed by Shaikh Nahyan Bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research.
"He felt the need to have this data from all higher education institutions in the country. The data would help decision makers contracting general policy for the country, it will help higher education institutions to know where they stand in terms of their peers and it would help students and parents because students need to know where to go," Abu Al Ela said.
He added that as much information as possible about students will be given — nationality, age, courses they register for, number of credits taken, grade point averages, completion and attrition rate.
"We will also know the attrition rate compared to other countries and because it is quite an important indicator," he said.
In terms of faculty, diversity, qualifications, teaching load, professional development and research outputs will be included in the data.
The CAA director said research output will be an important indicator but not just in terms of research papers and the number of books but also the quality of research and cited research.
Institutions' resources and expenditure of budgets will also be made public.
Despite the 61 criteria that the report has, Abu Al Ela was emphatic that it was not a rankings exercise but a benchmarking one.
"You cannot compare a two-year college with a fully-fledged university or a research-based university like Masdar with a teaching only institution. Each institution has its purpose — you compare universities against its peers of the same size and the same purpose."
Ahead of the data submission, the ministry formed a focus group of university representatives, those from the industry and the community, and external experts, Abu Al Ela said.
"We defined the indicators and agreed on them — we have 61 indicators — and we formed the template for defining the data and the programme that will be used for the institutions to submit the data."
"We used to get data from private institutions in the past but it was not as comprehensive as this one."
When the data is submitted, the ministry's officials will validate it to ensure it is accurate and also assist those institutions that are unclear about the information needed. During the summer, experts will analyse the data. In late August or early September, the data will be released.