Friday, July 21, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Mideast is first stop on UW's overseas teaching program

Seattle Times staff reporter

The University of Washington is going global.

In a groundbreaking deal signed Thursday, UW educators will travel overseas to teach business, communication, hospitality and English language skills to students in Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates. Organizers will offer up to seven certificate courses beginning in October, mainly to female students. They hope to rapidly expand the program to reach several hundred students.

The deal marks the first time the UW has broadened its mission to teach foreigners in their home country. And it likely will mark the first in a variety of international forays to come. UW President Mark Emmert signaled the push last winter when he created a new position in his administration: vice provost of global affairs.

Emmert and Susan Jeffords, who filled the new post, have been exploring other ideas, including:

• A major move into China. The UW is in talks with university leaders and government officials in Beijing, Shanghai and Nanjing, capital of Jiangsu Province. For financial reasons, the UW recently rejected an ambitious approach from a Chinese delegation to build a 10,000-student campus in Nanjing. But the UW still hopes — and expects — to establish a substantial presence in China. One deal already in the works would create a UW environmental-research center at Sichuan University. Emmert has plans to open a full-time office in Shanghai, to serve as a hub for UW faculty and students as well as Washington businesses. The UW is even applying to trademark its name in China.

• Closer ties with India. Emmert said he hopes to soon form a partnership with the elite Indian Institutes of Technology. Emmert said a deal could involve UW faculty teaching in places such as Bombay and Bangalore and Indian students studying toward doctoral degrees in Seattle.

"A global world"

The moves raise questions about the scope of the UW's mission, which has traditionally focused on teaching state residents at home.

Anand Yang, director of the UW's Jackson School of International Studies, said he is a big supporter of increasing international ties and is excited about the potential partnerships. He added, though, that some caution is needed.

"I think we have to be concerned about not overextending ourselves and aware of how any overseas activities pay dividends to what we do here in Seattle," he said.

UW officials say the programs would be largely or entirely self-funding — eliminating the need for state tax dollars — and that the international ties would ultimately benefit students here by sparking new exchange programs and cross-cultural exposure.

"We've been thinking about what the great universities of the future are going to look like, and they're going to be global," Jeffords said. "Washington's economy is dependent on trade, international business and its ports. If our students are to be really successful in this economy, they have to understand how to operate in a global world."

Many private universities already have established their presence overseas. Both Harvard University and Johns Hopkins University help run medical facilities in the United Arab Emirates. The trend has been less common among public institutions.

Emmert said the UW has long nurtured international ties through its research and through student and faculty exchanges, but has never expanded overseas in this way or employed a strategic, universitywide approach to international endeavors.

"There will be many initiatives like Abu Dhabi, but we will make sure they are focused in areas that make academic and geographic sense for the UW," Emmert said. "We can't scurry around the planet and set up programs willy-nilly. They have to be very targeted and very efficient."

"Excellent reputation"

Abu Dhabi officials first approached the UW last December. Magdi Hafez, the chief executive of the United Arab Emirates Academy, said he was in town meeting with business leaders. Existing ties with Boeing and Microsoft made an educational partnership with Seattle a natural choice, he said.

"Our role is developing and training the work force with the highest-quality education. We want to provide them with the best, and this is why we thought the programs would be much appreciated by the business community," he said. "The University of Washington has a very excellent reputation."

In March, Jeffords traveled to Abu Dhabi and signed a memorandum of understanding. This week Hafez has been in Seattle negotiating final details.

The deal will send instructors from UW Educational Outreach to teach intensive courses for graduate students at the United Arab Emirates Academy. The first two programs likely to be offered in the fall are a UW certificate in business communication and another in tourism and hospitality. More will soon follow.

UW instructors also will train local teachers to help out. Other UW instructors will visit the programs for one-week periods to check on progress. The UW will start by sending adjunct faculty, although it may later send regular faculty.

Hafez is confident the program will grow quickly, partly because of an agreement his academy has with the country's largest employer, the Abu Dhabi National Oil Co. Within two years, the academy will enroll every new employee — and the oil company has been adding 1,000 workers per year.

The certificate programs will be taught in English and targeted at Arab women, giving them an educational opportunity most have previously lacked.

Although women in Abu Dhabi far outpace men in obtaining degrees, social pressures prevent most from traveling abroad, and they miss out on the Western-style and graduate-level programs many of their male counterparts enjoy.

Hafez said that giving the women internationally recognized training will make them more employable. The UW program would include more men should it become open to workers at the oil company.

Emmert said it's just the beginning.

"We want to form long-term collaborative relationships between ourselves and important regions of the world," Emmert said. "The Abu Dhabi case, we'll use it as a test case, and see what our options are from there."

Nick Perry: 206-515-5639 or

Information in this article, originally published July 21, 2006, was corrected August 3, 2006. A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that American University of Beirut, the American University in Cairo, and American University (Washington D.C.) had campuses in Cairo and Beirut. They are all separate, unaffiliated institutions.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company


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