Al Rayyan International University College (ARIU), which is a successor of the first private university in the State of Qatar, was launched in September 2021 and has opened a new exciting chapter in its existence by entering into a strategic partnership with the University of Derby in the United Kingdom. Through this partnership, ARIU offers UK-accredited undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in international hospitality management, international tourism management and international business management.
In an exclusive interview with Qatar Tribune, ARIU Dean Dr Ivan Ninov said that ARIU in partnership with the University of Derby will continue its legacy as a higher education institution of excellence and a premier provider of university-level education in Qatar, the GCC region, and internationally.
The dean revealed that ARIU will soon shift to a new campus in West Bay to provide its students with great opportunities for learning and career development. Its new location in one of the business towers in the West Bay area will be vital to the institution’s identity and success as a higher education institution. Excerpts from the Interview:
It has been more than six months now since ARIU was launched in partnership with the University of Derby in September 2021. Why did you choose the University of Derby as a partner and how has the journey been so far?
Al Rayyan International University College (ARIU) officially started in partnership with the University of Derby in September last year, but as a university, we have been here for more than 20 years. We are a successor of the first private university in the State of Qatar which was founded by HE Sheikh Faisal bin Qassim Al Thani and opened its doors in September 2000 under the auspices of Al Rayyan International Education (ARIE) and NHL Stenden University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands. We are actually the oldest private higher education institution in Qatar.
We chose the University of Derby as a partner because the academic programmes offered by their business school were very highly ranked. In the Guardian 2020 University Guide, their business and management programmes were ranked ninth out of the 119 such programmes in the UK and their hospitality and tourism programmes were ranked number five out of 45 such programmes. Apart from the high ranking, the programmes are also internationally recognised and accreditated. The University of Derby works with many international collaborative partners and they are quite experienced with the internationalization of higher education. In addition to this, the UK higher education brand has very strong global reputation, and is very well perceived here in Qatar.
This has been very good journey so far, considering the challenges around the COVID-19 pandemic. For us this is a period of transition but we have a very positive outlook on the future.
How challenging was it to attract students to ARIU at a time when the country was facing the COVID-19 crisis?
The COVID-19 pandemic created some challenges of different nature for higher education in general. The teaching and learning processes were modified as we had to start delivering everything online. The overall learning experience was not affected but the overall social atmosphere on campus had changed and it became more challenging for us, and for other higher institutions, to provide students with the right atmosphere for social engagement. Naturally we tried to organise different events online, but the experience was not the same as nothing can substitute the face-to-face contact.
The process of attracting and recruiting new students was also modified, as before the pandemic we used to go to many high schools and present our programmes to potential students. Unfortunately, during the pandemic, the face-to-face contact with potential applicants became more challenging and all presentations, interviews, and meeting had to be shifted online. We tried to be more creative by using the full functionality of different social media channels to reach our audience, which was a good reality check for us.
It was announced earlier that ARIU is building a distinguished university equipped with the best facilities. How is the progress so far?
We will be shifting to a new facility very soon, most likely in the next few weeks. Our new home will be Al Jazi Tower in West Bay and we will have the privilege to be one of the very few universitites located in Doha’s main business district. This location will be ideal for attracting postgraduate students as 90 percent of our current Master’s students are working. Our new campus will be equipped with the latest technology and our facilities will be fully adapted to our needs as a university. Our goal is to create an environment which will be conducive to the development of a unique and memorable student experience. We want to create a place of belonging with a distinctive family-like atmosphere, which has always been one of our unique strengths as an institution. Apart from the teaching and the academic support facilities, we will It will also create different common areas for student engagement and participation in different in social and recreational activities.
How diverse is the student population in ARIU?
A: Our student population is quite diverse and multicultural. About 20-30 percent of our students are Qataris and the rest of our students come from more than 35 different nationalities. We have a good distribution between male and female students and the ratio is almost 50/50. It is a very international and dynamic environment, and we are also looking at expanding and increasing our presence in the GCC countries and to attract more students from the wider region.
Can you please give us details about the current programmes being offered at ARIU?
Currently, we are offering three undergraduate and two postgraduate programmes. The undergraduate programmes are BA (Hons) in International Hospitality Management, BA (Hons) in International Tourism Management and BSc (Hons) in International Business Management. The two postgraduate programmes are MSc In Tourism Management and MBA in Global Hospitality Management.
Apart from the academic programmes, we also offer professional training programmes to various industry stakeholders and working professionals. These programmes can vary in duration from one, two, three days up to three or four weeks, depending on the course and the needs of the client. For example, for the past few years, we have been training all hotel concierges in Doha. The length of this course is 3 days and we deliver it in collaboration with Qatar Tourism. We offer more that 25 training programmes grouped in different areas such as general management, customer service, hospitality management, tourism management skills, and languages.
What are your plans for expanding the academic portfolio?
For many years, we have been a university of applied sciences and this will continue to be one of our main distinctive competencies in the future. Everything we do here is linked to the needs of the industry and we are very focused on the employability of our students. Therefore, our aim is to offer academic and professional training programmes, which are in demand. Ideally, we should be developing the programmes together with our industry stakeholders. But we do listen to the industry, we do listen to their needs and demands and based on their feedback, we offer our programmes in Qatar. In the future we would like to expand our academic portfolio and to bring new programmes, which are not offered in Qatar, but are in great demand.
When ARIU was launched in partnership with the University of Derby, it was announced that other similar partnerships will be made with reputable educational institutions in the near future. What is the update on that front?
The University of Derby is our main strategic partner, but we are always exploring avenues for additional collaboration with other well-reputed academic institutions. We hope we will soon be able to announce some new partnerships for the delivery of academic and professional development programmes.
What initiatives are you taking to bring world-class academic talents to ARIU’s faculty?
If you look at the qualifications of our staff members, we have always had a very good ratio of PhD and non-PhD faculty members. Almost 50% of our faculty members are PhD qualified, which is a very good ratio compared to the ratios of some other higher education institutions in the country. Many of our faculty members have been with us for many years, and we do work very closely with different organisations, accreditation agencies, and professional bodies. Through our excellent networking, we have gained access to highly qualified world-class faculty members. In addition to this, we adopt a very targeted approach when hiring new faculty members.
Do you also rely on local talents to strengthen the faculty?
Of course, we do have a good number of staff members who have been recruited locally and many of them are excellent professionals. Qatar in general has an excellent pool of teaching professionals and there are many highly qualified people living in Qatar.
Are you offering scholarships to students and what criteria has ARIU adopted to select beneficiaries?
We offer different scholarships to our students. From next September we will offer a good number of scholarships to new students who have been accepted to our programmes. We also have an academic merit scholarship, which is very competitive and scholarships for students who want to work in the university. In addition to this, we are one of the institutional partners in the Education Above All scholarship programme which supports high-perofming non-Qatari students who do not have the means to afford high quality education. And most importantly Qatari students, who want to study hospitality and tourism management, can receive a government scholarship to study at our university.
What sets ARIU apart from other institutions in enriching the educational landscape of Qatar?
If you look at our history over the years, we have a very good number of graduates. Many of these graduates work in very key positions at the moment. We have a strong alumni network, and they really support our university. We also have very strong relations with various industry partners here in Qatar. Besides all this, what is unique about us is the family-like atmosphere which we offer as a university. Students in our university are not just numbers, we know all of our student by name, we know each student personally and we are always willing to support them and make sure that they succeed in the future. We are very supportive when it comes to ensuring their future with different companies. We are one of the very few institutions in the country in which all programmes have international accreditation. We are one of the very few higher education institutions in the country which publish their own academic research journal (we recently launched a research journal in collaboration with Katara Publishing House). And of course, we are very international. We are the only provider of hospitality and tourism management education in the country. Our faculty members are highly qualified. We make a very positive contribution to the overall development of the higher education sector in Qatar.