Board of Visitors Votes to Withdraw from RAK Partnership at Semester’s End

Posted: March 3, 2009 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Robin Herron and Tara Laskowski

Provost at press conference
Provost Peter Stearns
Photo by Evan Cantwell

Last week, Mason’s Board of Visitors (BOV) voted to rescind the university’s participation in the campus in Ras Al Khaimah (RAK) in the United Arab Emirates at the conclusion of the current spring semester.

The students presently enrolled in classes at RAK will be allowed to complete their semester, which ends May 25. The university will provide support to help students either continue their studies at Mason’s campuses in Northern Virginia or transfer to another institution of higher learning in the region.

The BOV’s decision is the result of procedural and budgetary changes made in the campus’ operations by the partner foundation in RAK.

At a forum held on Feb. 27, Mason Provost Peter Stearns said that “the collaboration worked fairly smoothly until about two months ago.” At that time, the partner indicated that financial support for the operation would be reduced while at the same time expecting enrollment to increase. In addition, the academic reporting structure was to change, with the academic director no longer reporting to Mason.

At that point, Stearns said, the university realized that the effort would no longer meet accreditation standards and that Mason would have to withdraw from the partnership.

“We do this with great regret,” Stearns said at the forum. However, he said, the goals of the project “remain valid.”

He stressed that Mason remains committed to its international endeavors. Most recently Mason has been in discussions with Moscow State University regarding an exchange of faculty and students next year.

Stearns said he had had a videoconference with students at the RAK Campus, assuring them that Mason would do everything possible to ensure that their education would continue.

Students who can secure visas to attend Mason in the United States will be offered the same tuition terms they had in RAK. “We would welcome them and make special provisions for them,” he said.

He added that he had been in discussions with other American universities with campuses abroad to see if they could accept students.

In addition, Stearns said the university would offer assistance to the faculty and staff in the UAE in finding new jobs. “They are not our employees, but we will help as best we can.”

In response to a question about the budget impact of the project, Stearns replied that it was “budget neutral,” although there might be some “modest clean-up costs” to close out the arrangement. He explained that the university had been paid a management fee but that will be discontinued.

Stearns also extended thanks to the faculty and staff at Mason who had been involved in the project.

Mason offered its first English language classes in RAK four years ago and began degree programs three years ago. Currently, about 180 students from 26 different countries are enrolled in the degree programs and English language classes.

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