Gulf Insider talks to Dr. Jeff Zabudsky, the new Provost at the American University of Bahrain, on joining AUBH, achieving eligibility to seek U.S. regional accreditation, plans for the rest of the academic year, and vision for the years to come.
You joined AUBH after a 4-and-a-half-year tenure as CEO of Bahrain Polytechnic and 35-years experience in higher education. How will your expertise benefit AUBH?
I am thrilled to join AUBH and the wide array of potentials I can see within the University. During my years of experience in higher education, I have worked with numerous practical institutions to better understand and analyze the need of the marketplace. Being connected to the industry is crucial to support AUBH in developing a caliber of graduates with world-class education who possess the essential skillsets required to thrive in the practical environment. This will in turn drive the growth of the Kingdom’s economy.
Being familiar with the local market for more than 4 years has helped me build a network of people across different sectors. I have developed relations with employers looking for fresh graduates who hold a unique value proposition. Employers now look for highly qualified graduates who are able to work independently as well as in a team, with critical thinking abilities and problem-solving skills, and an ability to thrive in a diverse cultural environment. Bringing all of this together, alongside the wide potentials that I can see in the AUBH environment, I can highlight the unique proposition AUBH can offer that will in turn help seek significant growth in the coming years.
I know Bahrain very well from my time here, I get the lay of the land from the higher education standpoint and I can see the unique value proposition that it can offer to bring the world-class American-style education both to Bahrain and the region. I have great hope and confidence that AUBH will grow significantly in student numbers in the years to come, and in the kinds of programs that we offer; again, to meet the needs of tomorrow’s marketplace. We will see the awareness of the value of AUBH grow year over year with the success of our students and alternatively our graduates.
How are you leading AUBH in seeking U.S. regional accreditation?
We have recently achieved the eligibility to proceed with an Application for Accreditation with the WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC). This is one of the highest levels of quality assurance, and once awarded, AUBH would become the first and only higher education institution to be accredited by WSCUC in the Kingdom. The University would also be among two other universities (both based in the UAE) to be accredited in the MENA and GCC regions, and the sole ten Universities accredited by WSCUC worldwide. U.S.-based universities accredited by the accreditor include Stanford University, University of California Berkeley, University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), and California State University, Northridge (CSUN).
Joining forces and working on the accreditation process, I recently appointed Dr. Wafa AlMansoori, AUBH Director of Institutional Research and Assessment, as AUBH’s Accreditation Liaison Officer (ALO) who will invest efforts in this thrilling journey.
Positioning Bahrain as a regional hub for quality higher education being a part of our goals, we couldn’t be prouder to see that this accreditation process is placing Bahrain’s Higher Education landscape on the map with U.S. Regional accreditors. We are honored to have been commended by the panel on our approach to student support and success and to the COVID-19 pandemic through our “culture of care” philosophy, and our well-developed learning outcomes as well as our strategic planning with the student as the center of those efforts.”
We are approaching U.S. regional accreditation from two standpoints; firstly, we are engaged and have achieved eligibility in seeking accreditation with the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC). We have moved formally to seek that accreditation going through the appropriate required process. Secondly, we are in the process of forming an academic partnership with the California State University, Northridge (CSUN) which is part of the largest four-year public university system in the United States, the California State University system. So, what we are establishing through this academic partnership is the opportunity for students at AUBH to begin their University journey here in Bahrain with access to a pathway option to continue their education with CSUN, which has a large portfolio of programs.
The advantage is that students at AUBH will be able to remain here with their families and avoid what can be extensive costs of living abroad for 4 years, but also take advantage of experiencing university abroad once they are ready to travel. This also demonstrates the caliber of our programs and the global educational passport we are working on creating for our students, which is an important asset in today’s rapidly evolving economies.
As new Provost, how do you ensure consistent quality standards and uphold academic integrity at AUBH?
We are proud to be a part of the Elm Fund, under the Mumtalakat Holding portfolio, the latter of which being international, tremendously successful companies, perceived as top employers. That in itself highlights the quality foundations the University has been established with.
In terms of quality, seeking the U.S. regional accreditation is part of that process, WASC accredits universities like Stanford, UCLA, and Berkeley – this is the kind of quality we are aiming towards. As mentioned earlier, we have achieved the eligibility to proceed with an Application for Accreditation with WSCUC, yet the accreditation process ahead is very rigorous, you have to demonstrate that you have the capacity and all of the processes in place, policies, and procedures to be able to ensure that the high quality is maintained.
We also want to meet the expectations of our local bodies and that includes adhering to the expectations of the Higher Education Council. Within that context, we are seeking accreditation with the Quality Assurance in Bahrain through the Bahrain Quality Assurance (BQA). In addition, we are in the process of getting our institution listed on the National Quality framework and ultimately will ensure that all of our programs and our institution have met all of the expectations of BQA.
The other really important aspect of quality is to stay connected to the environment and by that, I mean the environment into which our students will graduate and that’s through having strong connections and dialogues with employers. The connection to the world of work, industry, and our employers is critical, and we work very hard to build and maintain that strong network to assure quality at that level as well.
Do you have any big plans that students and faculty can look forward to this year?
Indeed, we do! We are excited at the prospect of being able to offer new programs in our Colleges of Engineering, Business & Management, and Architecture & Design.
Subject to HEC approval, we are introducing new programs including Bachelor of Business Administration in Human Resources, Bachelor of Business Administration in Digital Marketing & Social Media, and Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering. We are also introducing our first graduate programs with the launch of the Master of Science in Engineering Management, Master of Arts in Multimedia Management, and Master of Business Administration.
It is going to be a busy year for us, but we have plans to grow the institution from where we are today. We have a magnificent facility with all the amenities of a truly American-style education, we have the capacity for about 4,000 students, and we know the only way to get there is to be able to offer an array of programs that are going to be exciting for students and relevant to the needs of the Kingdom of Bahrain and the region.
As part of our culture, we are expanding our efforts and making sure that we have as many scholarships as possible ensuring that AUBH is accessible to more students. For that purpose, we are working with our industry partners to secure business-sponsored scholarships so that many more students will be able to come in a financially supported way to AUBH. This is of course in addition to concluding the agreement with CSUN and creating those wonderful pathways for current students as well as students for the years to come.
What is your academic vision for the overall development of AUBH in the next 5 years?
I think what is important and is tied to the Mission of the organization and its plan at its inception is the true delivery of an authentic American-style education. This consists of recognition as I have already talked about by accrediting bodies in the U.S.
It includes a holistic campus experience for our students, which unfortunately, was momentarily paused with the COVID-19 pandemic. As COVID-19 concludes, we will be able to get back to that focus on being able to offer that holistic American-style experience which is high-quality education, amazing facilities and amenities in the form of our gym, student common areas, a world-class library as well as ensuring that we introduce into our curriculum opportunities for practical learning in the workplace. This is why it is important for us in this coming year to focus on working with our industry partners to establish more internships, so that every student who comes to AUBH has the opportunity to go through their academic program and also land in a workplace environment to understand what the world is going to look like when they graduate.
My vision over the next 5 years is to raise awareness of the value of an American-style education and that includes a well-rounded education that introduces a breadth of courses that creates a critical thinking graduate who understands the world around them, can deal with issues of diversity, as well as focused education in various disciplinary areas in their specific disciplines. This is of great value since employers are looking for graduates that are thinkers, have hard skills, but also know how to connect those skills to the world. The graduates need to be creative problem-solvers, as well and that’s how the general education requirements and that holistic education brings that forward. All of this can be tremendously valuable for the Kingdom of Bahrain and its people when you have that kind of graduate who is driving forward the businesses and the industries of the future. My goal is to have our University stand out and demonstrate that value.
A lot of that will come in the course of the next 5 years when people start to see the results, and the results are our graduates. We are just about to take our third intake which is the junior year and then we will have our seniors. So, within 2 years within that 5 years horizon, the local community and employers will be able to get a taste of the value of AUBH and the value of American-style education.