MIT and UAE foundation to roll out online courses for Arab students

The qualifications are targeted at young Arabs who lack the time, money or even passport to travel for education

Paul Crompton
Paul Crompton - Al Arabiya English
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Arabs from all backgrounds across the region will soon be able to gain qualifications online from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The courses, funded by a UAE charitable foundation, will allow Arab students – including those without a degree – the chance to take the equivalent of part of a master’s degree from the elite US college.

According to the sponsors, the qualifications are targeted at young Arabs who lack the time, money or even passport to travel for education. And they see it as sorely needed in a region high in conflict and low in learning.

Over half of the Middle East’s population of around 370 million are under 25, yet unemployment and lack of access to education runs rife.

“The Arab youth have lost a lot of time,” said Abdul Aziz al-Ghurair, a businessman who is also chairman the Abdulla al-Ghurair Foundation for Education, the UAE conglomerate's charitable arm.

Last month, the Ghurair family pledged $1.14 billion - which they said was a third of their wealth - to the foundation. The scale of the funding puts it at a similar level as the commitment to education pledged by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, established by the former Microsoft chief and his wife.

The foundation says that its program is the first of its kind. It aims to enroll 15,000 students online over the next decade.

Two programs, called “MicroMasters” will be offered in the upcoming months: data science and management, and a yet-to-be announced series of courses related to science, technology, engineering, maths and systems.

Students who complete five online courses will earn a credential from MIT, with top students obtaining scholarships from the foundation. Some students will then be able to apply for a master’s degree at MIT or another elite university.

“How many will make it, we don’t know. Hopefully just enough to cover our budget,” said Ghurair, who declined to give details on how much had been spent to launch the programs.

With online programs, budding students can balance learning with work and family obligations.

“Students can do it [the courses] from Morocco, Egypt, and Syrian refugee camps,” said Ghurair. The foundation aims to work with other groups to assist in internet connections and other facilities that participants will need.

The foundation hopes to enroll Arab applicants aged 15 to 30, although it says people of any age or nationality could potentially gain access to the courses.

The partnership with MIT, ranked as one of the top universities in the world, is also aimed to help overcome a common regional stigma – that online courses are worth less that those earned at bricks-and-mortar colleges.

“Nobody will challenge an MIT [course],” said Ghurair. “This program will force every institution and government in the region to change their acceptance of online courses.”

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