Gulf universities are successfully implementing sustainable education policies in a bid to reduce inequalities among their staff and student bodies. Aligning their strategies with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), several higher education institutions in the region have achieved noteworthy rankings.
Among these are Ahlia University in Bahrain, Qatar University in Doha, and the American University of the Middle East in Kuwait.
According to the Times Higher Education Impact Rankings, which measure universities against the SDGs, all three institutions rank high in the category of reduced inequalities.
In 2023, out of more than 900 universities globally, these Gulf universities placed within the top 50 in promoting policies against discrimination, conducting research on social inequalities, and recruiting students and staff from under-represented groups.
Ahlia University scored the highest at number seven. Qatar University and the American University of the Middle East ranked 11 and 45, respectively.
A private institution founded in 2001, Ahlia University has been particularly focused on ensuring equal opportunities and accessibility for students of underprivileged backgrounds. It offers financial aid and scholarship packages for orphaned and disabled students.
According to the university’s SDG commitment report, students with special needs are guaranteed a 50% scholarship for their tuition fees. It also revised its admission policy so that students are no longer required to submit a medical report unless they would like to declare specific needs.
“Ahlia’s mission since its inception was basically to ensure quality education, as well as reduce inequality. This was one of our key successes and objectives from day one, not only in line with the UN SDGs, but it was one of our major goals since the establishment of the university,” said Dr Esra Al Dhaen, the executive director for strategy, quality, and sustainability.
Ahlia is home to approximately 2,500 students. Over the past five years, 44 special needs students have attended the university, Al Dhaen said, about half of whom are currently enrolled.
Other steps the university has taken to provide an inclusive and welcoming environment include ensuring that the campus is accessible to people of all physical abilities, as approved by Bahrain’s Ministry of Defense, and the establishment of a special needs committee, which oversees support offerings for both students and staff.
“The committee looks at whether cases require additional need or additional support, whether it is emotional support or assistive technology, such as wheelchairs, and so on. In addition, we do have somebody who can accommodate all the time students in the classroom if they require support for their learning needs,” Al Dhaen explained.
This is further exhibited in the university’s courses, such as a sign language elective open to all students, as well as an initiative launched with the Bahrain Association for Parents and Friends of the Disabled Society to donate plastics in exchange for mobility devices.
According to its SDG commitment report, the university has donated more than 1,600 kilograms of plastic, equivalent to two custom-designed wheelchairs.
The support the university provides to its students extends beyond the classroom, Al Dhaen added. For example, when disabled students participate in internships, Ahlia officials make sure the intaking company understands the student’s needs and accommodations. Afterwards, the university surveys students about their experiences and whether anything can be improved upon.
“It’s actually beautiful because what we do, one of our key successes, is that we treat everybody equally. [Special needs students] are blended with everybody, so they do not feel that there is special care given to them – it’s more of support to them where needed,” she emphasised.
“They are treated exactly the same. They are assessed exactly the same. The learning outcomes are exactly the same. Their graduate attributes are exactly the same. The competency level that they are acquiring is the same.”
The end result is that special needs students graduate confident to enter the workforce.
Source: University World News