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  • Competing in Qatar's higher education

    - He graduated in Bulgaria as well as the United States, but for years now Ivan Ninov is working in the Middle East. After Dubai, Ninov is now in Doha where he leads Stenden University University Qatar. “The educational environment in Qatar is very competitive.”

    “It happened by chance actually,” Ninov says when asked about his first experience in the Middle East by the end of 2005. Ninov was not planning to go to Dubai, instead he was offered a job in the United States where he graduated from Texas Tech University, but then he got an offer from the Emirates Academy of Hospitality Management.

    A great opportunity

    “They offered me a position as an assistant professor. It was a very good offer and I was told what the school was all about. I thought “let’s explore” as this could be a fantastic experience for me.” The Emirates Academy was a new school – only four years old – back in 2005. Next to his professorship, Ninov was also responsible for the creation of the Academy’s new quality assurance system. “For me this was a great opportunity to learn and develop my skills and knowledge further. The new system was very well received by the local ministry as well as by our international accreditation partners.”

    Working in a small and relatively new organization was very instructive for Ninov. “Next to my professorship and directing the quality assurance system, I was also responsible for the day to day academic operations - developing the curriculum, hiring and mentoring faculty, directing and managing the MBA program and a few other things which landed on my plate. I think this experience prepared me very well for my current job.”

    At Stenden University Qatar, Ninov’s task will be more related to business development and organization rather than research. “Yes, my work will be more focused on the delivery of and the supervision of the curriculum. When I came here for the first time, I was happy to see that the education at Stenden is at a good level. That makes life easier for me. We have a very professional team in place with people from 21 different nationalities and many of them have a PhD qualification which gives us with a lot of advantage.”

    Target new students

    Although happy with what he saw, Ivan Ninov is not about to lean back comfortably. He plans to make Stenden University Qatar more visible in the region to future students as well as international business partners. “The educational environment in Qatar is very competitive. There are many American universities with sites in Doha, such as Carnegie Mellon, Georgetown, Texas A&M, and Cornell.”

    Within this market, Stenden stands out as the only university with a focus on the hospitality business. According to Ninov this can be made more visible. “We need to improve both our online and offline presence. We want to be more active on social media, but we also want to target new students via direct marketing.”

    With large and well known hotel businesses in place, such as Four Seasons and Ritz Carlton, the Middle East is the place to be for people pursuing a career in hospitality. Ninov thinks that this makes Stenden University Qatar a very unique university since it is the only provider of hospitality management education in Qatar. “If you are pursuing a career in the hospitality industry then in Dubai or Doha you can climb the ladder very quickly as the opportunities for progression are endless compared to other regions of the world.”

    To become the primary target of future students and researchers, Ninov aims to develop close links with various businesses in Doha. “We want to get in touch with the local community. The environment here is good,  and we want to collaborate with our business partners here.” In order to establish that, the newly appointed dean plans to invite key business people to give guest lectures and wants to organize monthly seminars to get the industry and academia acquainted.

    “I think this can be very beneficial. It is a logistical effort, but it might lead to new research collaborations.” One of the problems with academic research, according to Ninov, is the dissemination of the new knowledge to the public. “When I ask people in the hospitality business if they use any of the findings from academic research, the answer is usually no.”

    What is the value of the academy?

    Most of the research is published in journals and electronic databases, which means it is only read by other academics, Ninov argues. “I think we should ask ourselves what is the value of the academy? We have to reach out to the industry and show them the results of our research. One of the few universities which really succeed in that is Cornell. They publish their results in their own research magazine, the Cornell Quarterly. It is highly ranked and used in academia as well as in the industry.”

    Strengthening the ties between academia and industry is one of the main goals for Ivan Ninov in the coming years. “I also want to establish a high-level Industry Advisory Board with leaders of some key companies. They can validate what we do as a university and tell us where to head and what the local needs are.”

    Stenden University Qatar also wants to focus on small and medium sized enterprises or people aiming to start a business. “We have collaboration with the Qatar Development Bank. We provide people with a three weeks course in which they learn how to run their own restaurants. We hope to have an impact on the community in Doha and we see that these people like to visit our campus, to be in an academic environment.”

    For Ivan Ninov this academic environment does not hold too many surprises anymore as he found his way from Bulgaria, via the United States to the Middle East. In Doha however, he sees a very different Middle East compared to what he experienced in Dubai. “In Dubai everyone speaks English, and therefore the UAE government is really promoting the learning of Arabic language in schools in order to preserve the local identity. Compared to Dubai, Doha has a far more Arabic culture. Here you can fully experience the Arabic way of life and traditions, which makes it more interesting for me and my family.”