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Academic Excellence – An Interview with Dr. Susan E. Saxton, American University of Bahrain

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Gulf Insiders talks to Dr. Susan E. Saxton, Founding President of the American University of Bahrain.

How is your organization contributing to the development of the Kingdom of Bahrain?

In general, the AUBH quality of American-style education mirrors that of the best universities in the United States, and we are the first of our kind in the Kingdom. Through our unique academic philosophy, students will be equipped to identify their interests and passion and focus their attention on following the path they find personally suitable. This approach runs through everything we do, and so creates a unique caliber of graduate which AUBH will become synonymous with in Bahrain.

What makes your University special?

Many things! True to our Americanstyle curriculum, with AUBH, students can change their mind with regards to their major. They have two years of general education courses common across all colleges, giving them the skills to be productive, to find their own resources, to self-assess. We discovered that this way we can enable students to find their real passions rather than being forced to choose a path too early – they ‘learn to learn.’ We envision a new league of graduates, empowered with the ability to think critically and add real strategic value to the field they choose to enter.

What are your main takeaways from the past year?

Overall – with creativity and innovation, as educators we can adapt to the most challenging conditions and still maintain the quality of our student experience. Also, that AUBH’s Class of 2023 are an amazing group of young people whose resilience will help them on the road to a lifetime of success. During our campus closure we had to innovate at all levels, not only in teaching and learning but in ways of staying together as an AUBH community, maintaining connectivity in times of physical separation.

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More than ever, in the past year we had a responsibility to help our students through this period, and with this in mind we developed AUBH’s “Culture of Care” philosophy. This philosophy lays out the foundation for the creation of a positive University environment, which underscores respect; professionalism; mental and physical well-being; engagement and collaboration; work-life balance, and social responsibility.

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Any achievements in 2020 that you want to highlight?

We are extremely proud of how seamlessly students moved to an online modality, achieving great results in the face of adversity. A big part of our success in virtual learning was having tech-savvy tools already in place before the pandemic, which allowed for a quick transition without missing a day of teaching.

We have recently announced a major milestone – we are officially seeking U.S. regional accreditation through the WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC), which invited us to apply after reviewing our Expression of Interest (EoI). AUBH is the only institution approved to seek eligibility for accreditation by WSCUC in Bahrain.

If accredited by WSCUC, AUBH would be among a handful of universities that are accredited in the MENA and GCC regions. Other U.S. based universities accredited by the WSCUC include Stanford University, University of California Berkeley, University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), and California State University, Northridge (CSUN), AUBH’s proposed academic partner.

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U.S. regional accreditation, recognized by the U.S. Secretary of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), holds the highest level of quality assurance at the institutional level for higher education.

The accreditation process usually takes five years and is guided by rigorous eligibility criteria, including an inspection visit from WSCUC Commission members.

Looking forward, what are your plans for the next year?

The plans are endless. The CSUN partnership is progressing, and we are exploring accreditations with a number of field specific accreditors. We are also expanding and diversifying our STEMoriented academic portfolio.

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We are thrilled to announce that we have submitted six new degree programs to the Higher Education Council for approval, which we hope to offer in September 2021. These degree programs will be aligned with CSUN, hence presenting our students with mobility, and “an international passport” to other institutions on a global level.

In terms of enrollment, we are looking for students with exceptional academic performance and who are motivated to succeed in an Americanstyle environment that includes a focus on social and employment skills.

Growing our student body is not a numbers exercise but a long-term strategy to nurture and complement the most valuable human resources in the Kingdom.

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