Creating new technical universities in emerging countries

Russel C. Jones

President, World Expertise LLC

Falls Church, VA, USA





The leadership in many emerging and developing countries has come to understand that a base of technically competent residents is a necessary component to developing economies that can compete effectively in the international marketplace. This has led to the initiation of major new technical education institutions within such countries, often in partnership with existing universities in developed countries.


This paper describes the recent development of several new technical universities in emerging countries, citing common elements and issues. The author has been deeply involved in the founding and growth of the three new institutions covered.


The role of collaborations with institutions in developed countries is discussed, as is the rationale of the leadership of each of the countries currently involved in this trend.



Key words


New universities, engineering education, sustainable economic development, capacity building




Economic development for developing countries can be effectively stimulated by building the technical capacity of their workforce, through quality engineering education programs. A competent technical workforce base can then provide effective paths to economic development.

Two of the institutions featured in this paper have been developed in Abu Dhabi, in response to a strategic plan, "Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030". The primary thrust of the plan is diversification of the economy of the Emirate away from its current heavy emphasis on its oil resource development. The plan formally lists the following objectives:

"The Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030 establishes a long-term strategy for achieving the primary goals of a safe and secure society and a dynamic open economy. Within the strategy, the Government has identified nine pillars that underpin the envisioned social, political and economic future:

· A large, empowered private sector.

· A sustainable knowledge-based economy.

· An optimal, transparent regulatory environment.

· A combination of strong and diverse international relationships.

· The optimization of the Emirate’s resources.

· Premium education, healthcare and infrastructure assets.

· Complete international and domestic security.

· Maintaining Abu Dhabi’s values, culture and heritage.

· A significant and on-going contribution to the federation of the UAE."

Key to achieving these goals is the creation of world-class higher education institutions to build the local knowledge base and technical workforce necessary to compete effectively in the global economy. The author has been involved in the leadership of two of the institutions developed to meet this need: the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, and the Khalifa University of Science, Technology and Research.

The third new university discussed below is being developed in Kazan, Russia. With a 2020 strategic concept plan, the government of Russia has committed to more than doubling annual productivity growth, with technology playing a major role in achieving this goal. In parallel, the Republic of Tatarstan is looking to double the Information and Communication Technology sector’s contribution to its own GDP from 3.5 percent to 7 percent. To support both goals, a new satellite city is being built outside of Kazan, accompanied by a new world-class institution, Innopolis University. Innopolis University will provide the "human capital" that the IT industry needs to grow by serving as a center of excellence for learning, teaching and research

Masdar Institute (MIST)

The strategic leadership of Abu Dhabi noted that the Emirate was well versed in the production and export of energy for the global marketplace in one product line – oil [1]. It was then concluded that a logical target for diversification of the economy would be to develop expertise in a related area, alternative energy. Thus the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology [2] has been established to focus on two primary alternative energies most relevant to the climate of the UAE – solar energy and wind energy.

MIST is being developed in partnership with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. MIT has assisted in hiring and training of faculty members, tailoring of graduate level coursework from MIT and transferring it to Abu Dhabi, initiation of appropriate research programs, and initial academic leadership. Many MIST faculty members spend their first year in residence at MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts, developing expertise in the courses they will teach in Abu Dhabi and collaborating in research projects in the alternative energy area with MIT faculty members.

Starting in temporary quarters in Abu Dhabi in 2007, MIST is now housed in spectacular new teaching and research facilities in the center of what is to become a major futuristic alternative energy city. Masdar City is intended to both demonstrate new technologies and to serve as the home for corporate research laboratories.

As of September 2013, the total number of students enrolled stood at 417, including 162 UAE nationals. Women students represented 55% of all Emirati students. The number of students at the Institute is expected to grow to 600-800 over the next five years.

Currently 81 faculty members from 30 countries are employed at the Institute, with PhDs from the world’s leading universities. This results in a low student to faculty ratio of approximately 5:1.

Eight MSc programs and a PhD in Interdisciplinary Engineering are currently offered. Current Masters programs are: Chemical Engineering, Computer and Information Science, Engineering Systems and Management, Electrical Power Engineering, Materials Science and Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Microsystems Engineering, Water and Environmental Engineering, and Sustainable Critical Infrastructure.

Over 300 research projects are currently underway, including Solar Beam Down, Innovation Ecosystems, Smart Grids, Aviation Biofuels, Carbon Capture and Storage, micro-grid system, Process Design Kits, etc. Research partnerships have been set up with Boeing, Honeywell UOP, the Advanced Technology Investment Company, ADCO, Siemens, Toyota Motor Corporation, GlobalFoundries, ADWEA, Emirates Wildlife, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, ParisTech, Ducab, Etihad, IRENA, Emirates Aluminum, etc.

Khalifa University (KUSTAR)

This institution has a similar set of goals as MIST, but is focused on other parts of the education and technology spectrum. It has opened with primary emphasis on undergraduate education, particularly aimed at Emirati students. And it is aimed at serving a broader range of industries in the Abu Dhabi diversification effort, including microelectronics, communications, and aerospace [3]. KUSTAR has been built on the base of an earlier corporate institution owned by the local telecommunications agency, and has profited from that jump-start. International collaboration has been built with the Georgia Institute of Technology, which has provided key faculty leaders to develop the curricula.

Programs of instruction currently include Electrical and Computer Engineering, Aerospace Engineering, and Nuclear Engineering [4]. Incoming students typically spend a year in a Preparatory Program, focused on increased readiness in English and Mathematics. Curricula include components of Humanities and Social Sciences to provide breadth of education.

Relationships have been developed with over 20 national and international partners, with research and other activities focused in the following areas: Aerospace, Biomedical, Healthcare, National Security, Telecommunications, Information Technology, and Nuclear Energy.

As it grows in education and research activity, Khalifa University is expanding its physical plant in Abu Dhabi. The campus will quadruple in size by the end of 2015.



Innopolis University

The third new institution with which the author has been involved is Innopolis University in Kazan, Russia. This new venture initiated by the Tatarstan government is focused on Information Technologies. Its aim is to provide world class IT education to Russian students who will lead enhanced IT development for Tatarstan, and for the full country beyond [5]. Similar to MIST, Innopolis University will be the physical and intellectual centerpiece for a new high-tech city, Innopolis Kazan, being built near Kazan. Primary international collaboration has been with Carnegie Mellon University – initially in the fields of software engineering and robotics.

Innopolis University [6] will initially have four undergraduate programs: Database Engineering, Graphics and Game Development, Information Security Systems, and Computer Science. These four programs are being developed with the assistance of Carnegie-Mellon University and other universities in developed countries, and will be fully offered on the Kazan campus of Innopolis University when it opens in Innopolis Kazan in September 2015.


Innopolis University will also initially offer one master’s degree program in Software Engineering, with a dual degree being awarded by Innopolis University and by Carnegie-Mellon University. An initial class of 15 master’s degree students has studied on the Carnegie-Mellon-University campus in Pittsburgh during the 2013-14 academic year. In the following years the program will be transferred gradually for full operation in Kazan. Additional master’s degree programs will follow.


The location of Innopolis University in Innopolis Kazan will create a magnet for IT companies wanting to benefit from the flow of graduates at both undergraduate and graduate levels, and from the flow of research results that will lead to new products and services. It is expected that both Russian and international IT companies will locate operations in Innopolis Kazan to take advantage of the synergy of a major university focused on Information Technology.


In addition to its major education and research programs, Innopolis University is creating two unique initiatives in partnership with Carnegie-Mellon University. A middle school/high school program will introduce Russian students to the excitement of the IT field through an innovative robotics program – delivered by teachers trained by the two universities. And a training program on the improvement of higher education teaching through the focus on pedagogy and the science of learning will be implemented for the new faculty members of Innopolis University, and offered to faculty members at other Russian universities.

Discussion of common elements

Partnerships – In-depth collaboration with a well-developed university, generally in a developed country, is often a key ingredient to successful initiation of a new university in an emerging country. As noted below, assistance in faculty recruitment and training, curriculum development, organizational structure, and other necessary elements can be substantial benefits of such partnerships.

Faculty – The recruitment and training of high quality faculty members is essential in the startup of a new university. A preferable model is to have a well-established partner university advertise for candidates, screen the responses, and recommend which to hire. Then the new university should have the recommended faculty candidates visit the location of the startup, with spouses, to assure that their interest is appropriate and that they would be comfortable in the new surroundings. Finally, hired faculty should be trained at the partner university for a significant period prior to arriving at the new university, including sitting in on courses that they will be offering at the new university.

Curriculum – The new university should seek support from well-established partner universities in developing curricula and courses, perhaps even to the extent initially of importing entire programs and courses. The imported materials can then be adapted over time to be appropriately more responsive to the needs of the constituency of the new university. This approach can assure high quality courses, and readily available courseware. Alternatively, newly hired faculty with prior teaching experience can be charged with course development, using the extensive resources currently available on the web, such as open courseware postings by major, high quality universities.

Facilities – Ideally, new facilities will be built for any new university, tailored to its needs. A master plan with sufficient initial space - including classrooms, laboratories and offices – should also provide guidance for expansion as the new university grows. Experienced architectural firms and space designers should be employed if possible. Classrooms should reflect current trends, such as active learning and small group project work. Laboratories should be designed to either separately or in combined space accommodate learning exercises, group projects, and research.

Structure – Partner universities can provide guidance to a new university on how to structure the administration and academic operations. Structures should accommodate the startup needs, and be arranged so that they can morph to larger size as the new university grows. In addition to organizational structures, partner universities can also provide guidance and models on policies and procedures, faculty and student handbooks, and similar documents.

Students – In many parts of the world, secondary school graduates are not well prepared to successfully enter a university. One beneficial approach is for the new university to work with secondary schools to introduce courses or programs that will better prepare – and perhaps excite – their students to prepare for university study. Another approach, typical in developing countries, is to require a preparatory period, often a year in length, where students coming from secondary schools take intensive remedial work in mathematics and language.

Funding – Universities are expensive to build and operate, and substantial funds must be available both initially and over time. Typically, a government agency will provide at least the startup funds, and hopefully some ongoing funds as tuition and research funding income are developed.


This paper has described the development of three new higher education institutions in emerging countries, detailing strategies and collaborations. It is hoped that review of their development will be instructive for other startup universities in emerging countries.

It has also detailed the several areas most critical for successful initiation of new universities – partnerships with developed universities, faculty recruitment and training, curriculum development, facility design and construction, university leadership structure, incoming student preparation, and funding.



[1] "Transforming Middle East Economies Through Education, Research And Innovation", Russel C. Jones, ASEE 2010 Annual Conference, Proceedings, paper #41, Washington DC

[2] Masdar Institute web site: (Last accessed June 2014)

[3] "Transforming an Economy through Research and Innovation", Arif S. Al-Hamadi, Mohammed E. Al-Muella, and Russel C. Jones, University Research for Innovation, Luc E. Weber and James J. Duderstadt editors, Economica, Geneva, 2010, p.185-197.

[4] Khalifa University web site: (Last accessed June 2014)

[5] "Innopolis University - A New IT Resource for Russia", D. Kondratyev, A. Tormasov, T. Stanko, R.C. Jones, and G. Taran, 2013 International Conference on Interactive Collaborative Learning, IEEE Conference Publications, IEEE Xplore Digital Library, 2013, p. 841-848.

[6] Innopolis University web site: (Last accessed June 2014)


Russel C. Jones is a private consultant, working through World Expertise LLC to offer services in education and quality assurance in the international arena. He is currently assisting Innopolis University in Kazan, Russia, in its startup. Prior to this activity, he had a long career in education: faculty member at MIT, department chair in civil engineering at Ohio State University, dean of engineering at University of Massachusetts, academic vice president at Boston University, President at University of Delaware, Founding President at Masdar Institute of Science and Technology (Abu Dhabi), and Senior Advisor at Khalifa University of Science and Technology (Abu Dhabi). Dr. Jones earned bachelors, masters, and doctoral degrees at Carnegie Institute of Technology.