Dr. Hassan Rashid Al-Derham, President of Qatar University – one of the participants in the Education Disrupted, Education Reimagined conference series organized by QF’s global education think-tank WISE – on how the institution he leads responded to the pandemic, and why educational necessity also creates educational opportunity
Across the world, university campuses have become ghost towns. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world as no other recent phenomenon has.
It is my belief, though, that the pandemic also offers universities the opportunity to put their dysfunctional strategies behind them as few phenomena have done across generations
University presidents, among others, understood that society would be changed in significant ways. Our sense of community is affected: students were kept away from campuses, losing their connection to one another and to faculty and staff. Faculty members struggled with the demands of teaching online, and a number of institutions did not or may not survive financially.
It is my belief, though, that the pandemic also offers universities the opportunity to put their dysfunctional strategies behind them as few phenomena have done across generations.
At Qatar University, the impact of the pandemic was equally important. The first semester of the 2019-2020 academic year had just been completed and students were preparing to go back to classes for their spring semester. As the pandemic struck, classes were stopped for a few days, until we were able to absorb the shock and revert to online teaching and learning.
As I discovered through the many virtual summits and conferences I participated in during the past months, especially the wide range of interventions we were exposed to during the Education Disrupted, Education Reimagined conference hosted by the World Innovation Summit for Education, the key issues we face might be different from those of some of our partners across the world. We are lucky to be in a country providing all the necessary platforms for technological needs as well as having a strong in-campus ITC infrastructure. We were also able to leverage on our international partners, who had gone through the hurdles of lockdown ahead of us and were more than ready to help.
Another point of strength for Qatar University lied in its 2017-2022 Strategy, which is geared towards campus digitization and was already being implemented. This pandemic provided us with the opportunity to be more ready for this shift, and to also assess our plans and adjust the theoretical performance indicators that were put in place where needed. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity to assess a major number of Key Performance Indicators s in a very short period of time.
New policies and budget allocations have to be made for a hybrid system of learning and teaching to take place. This will impact student and faculty mobility, and, of course, policies related to this mobility.
Not only do faculty members and students have to be provided with access to online teaching and learning tools, but they also have to be trained for them
Qatar is already engaged in many initiatives geared towards providing students all over the world with opportunities of online learning. Through the United Nations, this and many other initiatives we know of can be generalized to countries all over the world. Qatar University, as the national higher education institution, is committed to help in this effort and ensure accessibility to online learning is provided to all its stakeholders, in order to be able to enhance the quality of higher education.
Having said that, our pedagogies and evaluation methods have to accommodate this change. Not only do faculty members and students have to be provided with access to online teaching and learning tools, but they also have to be trained for them, as we came to discover during this crisis. Different levels of technological know-how were identified and had to be taken care of before being able to engage in wide-scale online program delivery.
COVID-19’s enduring impact, and the generational shift resulting from it, is a reality that we are adapting to
Finally, the question of tackling the challenges of the new normal are being addressed. In fact, in the absence of an operational vaccine, the whole set-up for physical program delivery is changing to ensure social distancing, sanitizing, temperature check and other preventive measures are available. This in itself of course presents a new challenge for universities, be it at the level of facilities management or budgets, and is added to the learning process that COVID-19 made universities go through.
Indeed, COVID-19‘s enduring impact, and the generational shift resulting from it, is a reality that we are adapting to.
Education has indeed been disrupted indeed, but here is our chance to reimagine it, along with higher education policymakers and decision makers: Changes to the delivery of teaching are irreversible. We must act accordingly.
Dr. Hassan Rashid Al-Derham, Qatar University’s (QU) sixth president, is recognized for playing a major role in advancing research activity at both university and national levels.
He assumed the position of President in June 2015, having previously been Vice-President for Research from 2007, during which he guided QU to its current position as leader of research excellence in the GCC region. He also served in several earlier roles at QU, including Associate Vice President for Research and Head of Civil Engineering at the College of Engineering.
He holds a Ph.D. and Post-Graduate Diploma in Construction Project Management from the University of Glamorgan (currently University of South Wales), UK which followed his obtaining a Master’s Degree in Civil Engineering from Georgia Tech, USA. His undergraduate is in Architectural Engineering from North Carolina Agriculture and Technical State University, USA.
During his term as VP for Research, Dr. Al-Derham successfully developed and implemented the organization’s research policies, procedures, and priorities, as well as an ambitious research roadmap fielding strategic national priorities. Additionally, under his leadership, several research centers were initiated, including the Gas Processing Center, Qatar Transportation and Traffic Safety Center, Qatar Mobility Innovations Center, KINDI Lab for Computing Research, Laboratory Animal Research Center, and the Biomedical Research Center. He also led the inauguration of the university’s Research Complex.
His research interests include construction productivity, project optimization, legal contracts and procurement. In 2009, along with his research team, he won Best Paper of the Year in the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Journal of Construction Engineering and Management. He is also a member of several professional international societies and organizations.