George Mason University to close RAK branch
Anna Zacharias and Daniel Bardsley
Virginia-based George Mason University’s Ras Al Khaimah branch is being shut down, leaving many students in the lurch.
The National, February 26, 2009
Students at the local branch of a US university have been told it will close at the end of this term because of budgetary issues between the university and the RAK Government. It means George Mason University’s RAK campus may shut just three years after it launched undergraduate degrees.
In an e-mail to students, Dr Peter Stearns, the George Mason provost, said he was “truly sorry” for the planned closure.
“We have not been able to reach agreement with our RAK partner on a budget and administrative structure that, in our judgement, assures our ability to provide an education that meets Mason standards,” Dr Stearns wrote in the e-mail.
Students now fear they will be unable to transfer credits for work done to other universities in the country.
George Mason opened under an agreement in which the RAK Government would provide the infrastructure and finances through the RAK Education Company (Edrak), and George Mason would oversee academic programmes. In his e-mail, Dr Stearns said he believed Edrak would set up its own university to replace the George Mason operation.
George Mason’s RAK branch, which maintains the same requirements on admission and English as its home campus in Virginia, opened with fewer than 40 undergraduates. It is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, a US body, and has a licence approved by the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research. But its courses are not accredited by the ministry, so students cannot transfer credits to universities with accredited programmes.
Ebrahim Hasan, a 26-year-old Emirati, gave up a full scholarship from the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research to study at George Mason in RAK. The fourth-year student said he was not keen to study at the replacement university, which students believe will be called the American University of Ras al Khaimah (Aurak).
“We told them if Aurak came here we are going to make a petition, signed by every student on campus, that we are not going to join,” Mr Hasan said.
He said some students had bought houses or signed 12-month apartment contracts, while others were likely to struggle to get visas if they wanted to transfer to George Mason in the US.
“We need Edrak and George Mason University to co-operate for our benefit,” Mr Hasan said. “We want them to use their sense of compassion. We want them to at least agree that we can stay for four years.”
He said a transition to Aurak needed to be gradual. Mohamed Iskandar, from Brazil, had applied four times for a visa to study at George Mason in Virginia, where his family runs a restaurant.
Mr Iskandar moved to RAK to study business administration. “I was shocked when I got the news,” he said. “I came all the way from Brazil and I came specifically for the George Mason name so I can get an American degree, so I can work any place around the world. “If I want to transfer to another university they are going to remove credits. It will put me about one year back.”
Ahmed Aleesa, a 23-year-old Syrian on a scholarship in his third year, said he could be left without options. “We are all stuck,” Mr Aleesa said.
“For the senior students we have very limited choices. Either we try to go to the main campus in the US, and all of the visa issues are subject to the ministry, or we start from the beginning.
“To go to any other university and start as a freshman is unacceptable. I don’t have anywhere to go.” Zubair Hanslot, the academic director of the RAK branch of the University of Bolton, a British institution, said he might accept some George Mason students and let them transfer credits.
“We’re ready to help George Mason and its students in any way we can,” Mr Hanslot said.
“We will try to mitigate any situation. We see education as a partnership and building bridges.
“We are not in commercial competition.”
Source: The National