Interview with Dr. Joseph G. Jabbra, President of LAU
How would you characterize of the state of higher education in Lebanon these days?
Lebanon has always been known for its first-class educational institutions. The country’s leading universities are accredited in accordance with international standards. LAU’s accreditation by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) was recently renewed for ten years — the maximum such extension. Our professional schools are also individually accredited. The Accreditation Bureau for Engineering and Technology (ABET) accredits our school of engineering. Our school of pharmacy is a full member of the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP) and its Doctor of Pharmacy program is the only one outside the United States of America that is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE). The Bachelor of Science in Nursing at our school of nursing is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate nursing Education. Meanwhile, our school of business belongs to an elite group of only five percent worldwide that are accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB). As an American institution we not only maintain international standards but also strengthen them by internalizing that country’s higher education standards and values.
As an institution of higher education we consider ourselves to be part and parcel of society. And in this complex and complicated world, we really need to make sure that we help society address its global challenges from an educational standpoint, as well as from technical and financial points of view. It is our duty to establish collaboration between our institution, the education sector and the private sector. We work a lot with civil society organizations at LAU and, personally, I feel that no institution can afford to be an ivory tower anymore. We're in the thick of it and we must respond to the needs of our students and of society in general.
This year, the torch of leading the Global Classrooms International High School Model UN Conference and the Global Classrooms International Middle School Model UN Conference at the United Nations in New York was passed to LAU. All of the teaching was done by our LAU students, who have been trained in the ways of the United Nations, in diplomacy, negotiation, public speaking, etc.
Which of LAU’s schools seem to be most in demand by students seeking higher education?
LAU is committed not only to academic excellence, but also to student centeredness, civic engagement, the advancement of scholarship, the education of the whole person and the formation of leaders in a diverse world. We have two major campuses, Byblos and Beirut. We have a hospital where our medical, nursing and pharmacy students can train. We also have a headquarters and an academic center in New York. We are strong overall and will continue to grow stronger in terms of academic excellence across our major professional programs.
Our school of engineering, for example, has a diverse number of programs and a large student body. Its civil, mechanical, electrical, industrial, computer, petroleum and environmental engineering programs are absolutely terrific. It is an excellent school. The school of pharmacy is one of the jewels in the crown of the university. Not only do we have high standards, but we are also the only accredited school of pharmacy outside of the United States. And as one of the oldest autonomous American business schools in the Middle East, our school of business maintains the highest of standards as seen by the praise received from the AACSB, which is the most prestigious accrediting agency in the world.
What is the percentage of foreign students versus the Lebanese students at LAU?
We wanted 20 percent of our student to be from outside of Lebanon and had actually achieved this goal. However, the recent fluid situation in the area and the reluctance of parents in the Gulf countries to send their kids to Lebanon, have resulted in the ratio dropping to 15 percent.
What are some of the most significant recent developments at LAU?
Being part of society demands that we respond to its needs. For example, in engineering we now have a program called mechatronics, which we implemented in response to the demand for a modern, multi-disciplined professional engineering major that combines essential aspects from the fields of mechanical, electrical and computer engineering.
By bringing mathematics and business together in our Executive M.A. in Actuarial Science, we established a program for those who want to specialize in the area of insurance. Why? Because insurance companies really need people who can predict the likelihood of events and create innovative solutions to minimize risk and its impact.
Also in response to society’s needs, we have recently established a whole range of diploma, certificate and degree-granting continuing education programs. We wanted, in particular, to respond to the needs of middle management. So we established an L.L.M. that is a master’s in international law. Lawyers graduating from local law institutions mainly focus on the civil code, but in today’s globalized world, it is American or British laws that really drive transactions. We felt that we needed to provide an opportunity for these lawyers to be able learn more about the relevant laws in this field. We found that many of students in this program want to go into the diplomatic corps. In which case we need to provide them with a program that will really prepare them for their chosen career.
We add new programs every year, based on surveys through which we seek to find out what people need and what they are interested in. We try to provide them with real and relevant options.
At the same time we also work with young children. At our summer camps we provide children with what they need in terms of education, encouraging them to pursue higher education as they grow up. Educational activity is an on-going process and we must nurture it
You mentioned that you are pursuing collaboration with the private sector. How important is the civil society for LAU?
I feel very strongly about civil society. Given the current political situation, NGOs are doing a lot in the region. We have established an annual program whereby we invite all local NGOs to our campus so that our students may familiarize themselves with them. Often the organizations invite students to work with them to help them achieve their goals. It is an extremely successful program.
At LAU we have a component that we call outreach and civic engagement, in which our students take on activities to help society. Throughout, they are trained in diplomacy, conflict resolution, conflict transformation, etc., and take part in the Model UN. Last year, we had over 3,000 students from all over Lebanon enrolled in this program.
Can you mention some recent successes and awards won by LAU?
There is so much I would like to mention. But I will concentrate on the Model UN Global Classroom project, which is a major component of the Model UN that we have successfully been part of for quite a while now. This year, the torch of leading the Global Classrooms International High School Model UN Conference and the Global Classrooms International Middle School Model UN Conference at the United Nations in New York was passed to LAU. All of the teaching was done by our LAU students, who have been trained in the ways of the United Nations, in diplomacy, negotiation, public speaking, etc.
This success is, in part, a result of our commitment to society and to young people. We need to provide young people, who are our hope for the future, with the opportunity to have an excellent education, to get jobs, to work, to be enthusiastic about their pursuits and not to lose hope. That’s the spirit of LAU. That’s the spirit that animates all of us both individually and collectively. We respond to the needs of our young people and work with them to provide them with the ability to have a bright outlook on life and to not be disappointed or become pessimistic because of what is going on in the region and even globally. I personally believe that education is the only answer to addressing all the ills that afflict the world.
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