Setting Up Shop in the Middle East: New VP for Ras al Khaimah Campus Named

Posted: July 17, 2006 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

new vp at RAK site
The new vice president for the Ras al Khaimah campus, David Wilsford, tours the site where new buildings will soon go up.

By Daniel Walsch

David Wilsford, visiting senior fellow at the London School of Economics for the past year and president of the Institute for American Universities in France, 1995-2005, has been named George Mason’s new vice president for the Ras al Khaimah campus in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

“I am honored and excited to be part of George Mason – a distinguished university – and to be part of what is no doubt one of the most important international initiatives now under way in higher education,” says Wilsford, whose career in higher education has been highlighted by a range of international assignments and appointments.

Mason has generated a national and even international reputation for its diversity and efforts to create programs and academic opportunities for faculty and students that extend beyond America’s borders. The UAE initiative represents the largest and potentially most significant of Mason’s international efforts.

According to Provost Peter Stearns, the UAE campus “is a major undertaking in the evolution for George Mason and one that fits in perfectly with our mission to expand the university’s international profile.”

Funding the UAE Campus

Wilsford says Mason and its partners are moving forward with plans to open the doors to its new UAE campus by the 2008 fall semester.

Wilsford with foundation stone sign
The Middle Eastern sun is reflected off a plaque marking the spot where the foundation stone for the new campus was set last spring.

“One primary challenge over the next two years will be to ensure that the funding sources for our campus remain fully involved,” he says. “They will.”

The primary funding source for the Mason campus in Ras-Al-Khaimah is ED-RAK, the emirate’s education development agency. The Ruler and Crown Prince of Ras al Khaimah, Sheikh Saud, and his principal economic and education advisors are personally involved in the project. They see the campus becoming a major actor in the whole region’s economic and social development, much as George Mason in Fairfax and its other campuses have done for the whole of Northern Virginia and beyond, Wilsford says.

Prior to the projected fall 2008 opening, however, Mason’s UAE offerings will be at a temporary location, not unlike what the university is doing at its Loudoun County, Va., site.

Fall classes begin in mid-September. Initially, Mason is planning to offer classes in nursing and health sciences, conflict resolution, management, biology and information technology/engineering. Mason’s English Language Institute began its Foundation Program in UAE last year.

How many students enroll this coming fall remains an open question, according to Wilsford, in part due to the radically different time-lines of high school seniors graduating in the whole of the Gulf region and throughout the eastern Mediterranean and South Asia.

Nevertheless, while anticipating low numbers in the first entering class, he notes, “No significant higher educational program has opened in this part of the world with more than 70 students in the first year.”

The Long View

Wilsford says all the long-term variables will lead George Mason to establish a strong presence in the Middle East. Ultimately, Mason is projecting much more than 2,000 students to enroll within the next 10 years.

“Traditionally, few, if any, universities experience high or impressive enrollment numbers at the beginning of their international ventures. This is why our initial challenges are to set down roots there, establish viable partnerships, continue to develop a more comprehensive understanding of the academic needs of the private and public sectors there and then organize programs that help us make a lasting contribution in teaching and research,” says Wilsford.

“Once that kind of framework is in place, along with the terrific infrastructure represented by the new campus as put forth in the master plan, enrollment will climb rapidly. You can’t put the cart before the horse. But in the long run, we can make a tremendous difference. ”

The UAE is situated along the western coast of the Persian Gulf (known across its southern coast as the Gulf of Arabia.) Its native population has its roots in the nomadic, tribal Bedouin culture of Arabia; family, tribal and clan relations remain important in the country’s politics.

Wilsford, who is a dual national of France and the United States, earned a PhD in political economy and a MA in political science at the University of California, San Diego, and a BA in French and history at the University of South Carolina. He also has a graduate degree in history (DEA) from the Ecole des Hautes Etudes in Paris.

Earlier positions have included serving as a distinguished faculty fellow with the school of management at Yale University (2004), associate professor at the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs at Georgia Institute of Technology (1990-1995) and founding director of the Brussels program of the Regents’ Global Center of the State University System of Georgia in Belgium (1992-1995).

Wilsford is the author of several books, including “Democracy and Institutions,” “Doctors and the State: The Politics of Health Care in France and the United States” and “Political Leaders of Contemporary Western Europe.” He has also written “a lot of articles that my mother doesn’t read. None of my research can be bought in a major airport anywhere,” he jokes.

Wilsford with master plan
Plans are on the drawing boards for an extensive campus complex.

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