UAE, RAS AL KHAIMAH - Health & Education
Director, Ras Al Khaimah Economic Zone’s (RAKEZ) Academic Zone
Taner Topcu holds a bachelor’s degree in Public Administration from Anadolu University in Turkey. He is an industry expert with more than 20 years of successful experience in education, hospitality, business development, and customer relations. Prior to joining RAKEZ in 2015, Taner worked at TECOM Investment’s Education Cluster in Dubai Knowledge Village and Dubai International Academic City, where he worked in operations, business development, and account management. He also worked at Aabar Investments in Abu Dhabi as a Business Development Manager and at Dubai’s Knowledge and Human Development Authority as a Director of Engagement Operations.
The universities in the free zone have established a branch of an existing foreign institution by obtaining a license and approval. We look at an institution’s status in its home country to ensure their quality is ensured by the respective authority. Educational institutions outside of the free zone are federally accredited; they seek accreditation and approval from the Commission for Academic Accreditation (CAA) from the Ministry of Education in Abu Dhabi. The main differentiator between the two is that setting up a branch is much faster than setting up a fully accredited university. Expats prioritize high-quality education when relocating to a different city or country; our branch campus model was created to cater to this demand. Moreover, companies operating in the free zone provide internships and scholarships to some of the 2,000 students who seek to position RAK as a destination for higher education.
The response we have received from our existing and potential partners has been extremely positive because they trust our authority to take certain measures to certify these institutions. After conducting a year-long comprehensive market research study with international agencies, we have been able to better understand what the higher education landscape looks like, how we can improve it, and how we can attract new institutions. A few years ago, none of these universities were established as a branch; they were all franchise models. We managed to get them onboard to go through the administration process and the branch licensing process. The main idea was to have a local partner remain as an investor or non-academic infrastructure provider—one that will take care of the logistics and requirements and bring the university onboard to ensure quality is of the highest level. Also, we signed a letter of cooperation with different qualification agencies in the UK, Australia, and other countries to ensure that an incoming institution’s quality is ensured.
There are no major challenges in attracting students; as a result of being in close proximity to other Emirates, institutions are able to attract students from Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Umm Al Quwain, and Fujairah. We already have a large group of graduates from high schools in RAK who are willing to pursue their studies here. It is a student-friendly Emirate; it is cost effective, both in terms of fees and living expenses. The next major step is to diversify the list of programs being offered. We are looking for more universities that have topnotch degrees in engineering, aviation, tourism, hospitality, logistics, and supply chain.
We are in contact with the Ministry of Education Dubai, the Ministry of Education Abu Dhabi, CAA, Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA), Dubai Knowledge Village, Academic City, and Department of Education and Knowledge (ADEK). During the initial stages, we benchmarked with the models in Singapore, Malaysia, Dubai, and Abu Dhabi, and we concluded that the Dubai model is the best fit for us. We are in the planning stage of creating a dedicated zone and location to help us attract more students and institutions; the key is to showcase the potential engagement with other stakeholders. In addition, we are planning to meet the zone’s need for retail facilities and student accommodation. Perhaps, we can have a mixed-use development that will combine commercial, residential, and educational facilities. Also, we are planning to bring the most required specializations offered by selective universities to expose students to different courses that will enrich their experience.
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