Across the Middle East, the development of infrastructure is playing an important role in providing the foundations for socio-economic development. An equally important catalyst however, is the introduction of world-leading education facilities.
Within Kuwait, the creation of the country’s first private university, Gulf University for Science and Technology (GUST), has served to provide everyone in Kuwait not only with academic skills, but real-life job skills that mean graduates hit the ground running straight from their studies.
Professor Donald Bates, Ph.D, is the President of GUST and takes up the story:
“Prior to 2002, there weren’t any private universities in Kuwait and the only university available was Kuwait University, which is state-run.
“A total of 41 faculty members from Kuwait University joined forces to push for a private university system and in the year 2000, the Emir issued a decree permitting the formation of private universities.
“By 2002 a board of seven members with Ph.D.s was successful in forming GUST, and that same year the Emir issued a decree permitting the creation of GUST. “
The following year saw the first students arrive at GUST; around 400 in total; taught by 15 faculty members at a temporary facility in Hawally.
Today, GUST is located in the West Mishref area of Kuwait and occupies a land area of 100,000 square metres.
There are now close to 3,500 students and 177 faculty members based at a site that opened in 2007.
As Kuwait develops and looks to diversify its economy away from oil, the role of GUST becomes ever more influential in helping to provide the skills Kuwaitis will need to master new businesses, as Professor Bates explains:
“The Science and Technology at GUST is providing support areas for the two major colleges that we have: the College of Arts and Science; and the College of Business Administration.”
“As the economy has developed and diversified that need for science and technology has increased and our courses, particularly in areas such as computer science, provide the underpinning of those areas.”
“Kuwait is diversifying its economy through entrepreneurship. GUST does a lot to develop the entrepreneurial skills of its students. As an example at the recent 2016 Startup Kuwait National Innovation & Entrepreneurship Challenge, there were five awards and three of them were won by GUST students.”
As a part of this initiative, students were encouraged to work on innovative ideas that can be realistically and successfully turned into real businesses. More than 600 students forming over 100 teams, including 73 from GUST to present their ideas, and went through several competition rounds before getting to the final. Only 12 teams were able to make it to the final round, 5 of which were from GUST.
Professor Bates says that approximately 96 per centof students at GUST are Kuwaiti – and with the Kuwaitisation programme underway to provide skills and jobs for the local Kuwaiti population, that can only be a good thing.
He says that GUST has embarked on an ambitious initiative to gain world-class international accreditation for its studies, something which is beginning to reap rewards.
GUST received its Institutional Accreditation from the Private Universities Council (PUC) Ministry of Higher Education in the State of Kuwait in 2002 and has been re-accredited every four years.
In 2013, GUST attained international recognition for its English Foundation Program by the Commission on Intensive English Program Accreditation (CEA) based in the U.S.A. The CEA’s purpose is to provide a means for improving the quality of English language teaching and administration through accepted standards.
In 2014, the University powered through to achieve two more prestigious accreditations. The first is by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET), the worldwide leader in assuring quality and stimulating innovation in applied science, computing, and engineering since 1932. GUST joined the elite institutions of the world in August 2014 as the only university in Kuwait to attain the accreditation for its computer science degree, and one of only 25 accredited programs outside the United States.
The second accreditation achieved in 2014 was from AACSB-International, where GUST’s College of Business Administration joined less than five percent of the world’s business programs to achieve this accreditation. GUST is the only private university in Kuwait to receive this esteemed recognition by AACSB, an institution that has been devoted to the advancement of management education for over 95 years. AACSB represents the highest achievement for all business schools.
“We have really focussed hard on delivering programmes that provide our students with the knowledge and skill sets that one might expect to find for example in the equivalent of a UK or US university. That way, our graduates can compete for jobs in Kuwait after leaving the university.
“We are achieving this through a series of international accreditations for our programmes so that we can assure private employers that when they hire our graduates they have the same skills as graduates from other countries.
“Additionally, to help prepare students for life outside of university, all students have to pass a practicum after their graduation, which encompasses skills in areas such as project management, use of Microsoft tools and so on. That means they can join companies and hit the ground running.”
Whilst the number of students hailing from Kuwait is high, about 85% of the faculty comes from 37 different countries, typically alumni from the world’s highest profile and prestigious universities.
Professor Bates underlines the importance of global affiliations in helping to set and maintain the highest standards at GUST.
“Our partner university is the University of Missouri at St. Louis. They visit use twice-yearly and provide us with advice. We have also forged links with George Washington University in Washington D.C., and students visit there for training and internships, while we also have ties with Florida International University.
“We additionally have links with the National University of Singapore, where we have a Global Studies Center, and Boston University’s Zaman Lab to launch the International Center for Applied Mathematics and Computational Bioengineering. We have additional relationships with universities across Europe and China.”
Similarly, GUST works closely with all of the major corporations in Kuwait, including the likes of the National Bank of Kuwait, the Kuwait Finance House, government departments like the Ministry of Defence and quasi-public businesses like the Kuwait Oil Corporation and Kuwait Oil Transportation Company.
The progress made since 2002 is now gaining international recognition, and earlier this year GUST was celebrating after it ranked 73rd out of 971 universities in the Arab region according to data provided by one of the most influential international university rankings firms, Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) Limited.
“GUST is the only private university in Kuwait to make the list and this was the first time we did so, making it the top-ranked private educational institution in Kuwait. Only two universities from Kuwait were ranked among the top 100, with the other being Kuwait University coming in at 24th.
“This ranking attests to the quality of our faculty, the accreditations we have achieved and the work and places that our research has been carried out and published. These all influence the rating for a university as small and young as us.”
“Next year our goal is to make the top 50 in the Arab Region Rankings and that will put us into the world rankings,” he continues.
It promises to be a milestone 18 months for GUST in other ways too, as Professor Bates describes:
“We have just had a new Master Plan approved by our governing body, the Private Universities Council.
“This is for Phase II of GUST and concerns a KD22 million project to construct a new academic and w laboratory buildings and a multi-level parking structure.
“We have arranged and set aside a construction contingency fund and will borrow the remaining portion, which has already been arranged. We are awaiting one approval for the construction plans and as soon as we have that, the tender will go out for building.
“Our table of degrees has not expanded since 2007 and this project will enable us to not only add more degrees and students (up to 1,100 more students), but will also contribute to the human development needs of Kuwait.
“Whilst subject to approval, we are hoping to add an engineering programme; engineering is highly-prized in this culture. If successful, this project will create another 25 to 30 faculty posts and the same number of positions in administration. Alternatively, if we are not successful with the engineering programme, we will look to medical science and other fields, which would create 10 to 15 new faculty opportunities.
“Phase II will also enable us to add to our M.S. graduate programme in the area of Accounting, Finance, MIS, Computer Science and Education.
Subject to gaining the relevant approvals, Professor Bates is hoping that construction will begin on the site by the end of this year and that work will be completed for the fall term of 2017.
The evolution of GUST continues apace and there are two more areas that Professor Bate hopes to foster in the coming months and years:
“We need to add student housing and accompanying student life programs to support students living away from home so we can begin to recruit from other GCC countries outside of Kuwait. I think one other physical change we need to make on campus is the introduction of a student centre or student union. In other words a building focussed on student life and extra-curriculum activities.
“All learning is not just carried out in the classroom but in outside clubs and activities and we need to encourage this,” he concludes.