Tall palm trees give way to a large domed building accentuated with Arabic motifs. As you step into this building — the premises of the American University of Sharjah (AUS) — you will be impressed by the beautiful blend of Islamic architecture and modern building techniques. Here domes and arches intermingle with state-of-the-art facilities.
Like its mixed architecture, the university too represents a healthy confluence of American education with a generous touch of Middle Eastern culture. So, while the medium of education is English it is not uncommon to find students in abayas (Islamic dress) rubbing shoulders with those in the latest Western attires.
Although AUS, founded in 1997, is based on American style universities, it is not a branch of the American University in Washington DC. “We are an independent, not-for-profit institution. We constantly strive to provide quality education to our students and have got several accreditations from bodies in the US and in the Emirates,” says Peter Heath, chancellor, AUS.
At AUS, the standard of instruction and curriculum is according to the American pattern of semesters and courses. The university offers 26 majors and 42 minors at the undergraduate level, and 13 masters programmes through its four schools — College of Arts and Sciences, College of Engineering, School of Architecture and Design and School of Business and Management.
Engineering and business management courses are the most popular programmes at AUS, followed by mass communication. In the spring 2010 student enrollment, 2,020 out of 5,000 students are in the college of engineering and 1,453 in the college of business management.
Students have a variety of courses to choose from. While there are majors in arts, languages, architecture, engineering and economics, there are minors in actuarial mathematics, womens’ studies, petroleum engineering, landscape architecture and international business, among many other subjects. “We follow the American model of education where emphasis in the initial years of the course is on providing a broad outlook of the subject and in the subsequent years the focus is on specialisation,” adds Heath.
One of the flagship institutions in the 1,600-acre university city in Sharjah, the United Arab Emirates, AUS is an attractive study destination for students in the Middle East and Asia. From Somalis to Lebanese to Indians and Pakistanis, the university has students from around 80 countries. “We provide the best of American education in a truly multicultural environment where students are encouraged to retain their ethnic identity,” Heath says.
Agrees Preeti Mogali, a fifth-year undergraduate student of architecture, “I enjoy the multicultural classrooms where I am exposed to different kinds of ideas and influences from various cultures.” As part of her final-year project, Preeti, a non-resident Indian who grew up in the UAE, plans to design a place to perform the last rights for Hindus before cremation in the only temple in the Emirates. She also recalls actively participating in the many student clubs and fairs in the last four years of her course.
With over 65 student clubs and several sporting and cultural events every day, campus life for students is rich. There are 34 ethnic clubs and 38 non-cultural clubs here, including a math club, a literary club, a comedy club and innovators’ club.
If the students boast of a multicultural background, the faculty too is equally diverse. Teachers from around 50 countries teach at AUS. George Katodrytis, an associate professor at the school of architecture, is from Cyprus and has been teaching at AUS for the last nine years.
According to Katodrytis, it is the stress on practical learning and round-the-year evaluation that gives AUS students an edge over their peers. “For instance, in architecture the core of our course takes place in the digital studios where each student gets a hi-tech Macintosh computer. Here the students do projects, attend classes and discuss with teachers,” adds Katodrytis.
All students are evaluated throughout the year on the basis of projects, assignments and class participation. “There are lot of quizzes and projects throughout the year and all these aspects contribute to our final grades,” says Fatima Asma Ahmad, a second-year undergraduate student of business management. Though Fatima is happy about her course evaluation methods, she yearns for more outside classroom learning in the form of field trips and interaction with other institutes. Anybody listening!
WHAT IS IT? A co-educational university offering undergraduate and postgraduate programmes
WHO’S THE BOSS? Peter Heath is the chancellor
WHERE IS IT? American University of
Sharjah, P.O. Box 26666
An American style of education closer home, multicultural classrooms and international faculty
Expensive fee and relatively new institution still trying to make its mark