All federal universities will be regulated by the same authority that oversees private institutions, starting this academic year.
Educators say this will bring consistency across the system and be especially helpful for students who move between federal and private systems for undergraduate and post-graduate studies.
Until now, the Commission for Academic Accreditation, which comes under the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, was responsible only for the more than 70 private universities.
Zayed University, UAE University and the Higher Colleges of Technology were self-regulating and sought accreditation for degree courses through international bodies.
Prof Abdullah Al Shamsi, head of the private British University in Dubai and a veteran of the nation’s education system, welcomed the change.
“From a legal point of view, the federal institutions are separate from the ministry,” said Prof Al Shamsi, who was with UAE University for 26 years before moving to the British University.
“There should be some kind of change in the mandate of the ministry to change this. The by-laws don’t force it on the federal institutions to go through the CAA.
“There should be some kind of supervision federally on institutions in the country, not only for the sake of enforcing certain laws but for the sake of the country. When we have everyone under one umbrella, it brings consistency.
“We have a lot of students who go between federal and private institutions and if there is a lack of co-ordination or systemic by-laws of equivalency, there will be issues there. The fact that the CAA is trying to do that now is a good thing.”
He said he hoped a byproduct of the action would be greater cooperation between universities.
“Right now, the federals have put themselves in a certain corner away from private universities,” Prof Al Shamsi said.
“We never see the federals coming to the CAA workshops and that’s not good for the UAE, so this is not good for the students. It’s quite important.”
CAA has international standards that he said could be used to benefit all universities.
Dr Mark Drummond, provost of the Higher Colleges of Technology until this summer, said all higher educational institutions were better off with institutional accreditation.
“Programme accreditations such as those done by international bodies in engineering or business are good peer-to-peer tools to ensure strong programmes but they don’t look much at the big picture – funding, governance, processes, structures,” Dr Drummond said.
“All of the ingredients that go to make up a quality institution should be measured and watched, and institutions and leaders held accountable. Whether or not the CAA is capable of doing this is another question.
“The accreditor acts as a guide and auditor, and if done correctly this does not require a large staff.
“But it does require a staff that has depth and expertise so they don’t get duped, and a staff that is free of potential political influence.”
One problem the CAA faces now is that it requires all teachers to have a terminal degree, the highest academic degree in a field of study, which the Higher Colleges of Technology does not require.
“HCT best fits the technical institution category, which does not expect that all faculty hold a terminal degree,” Dr Drummond said.