Prof. Silvia Serrano, Vice-Chancellor of Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi
Established in 2006 by an agreement between Sorbonne University* in Paris and the Government of Abu Dhabi, Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi represents the very best in international higher education. With an incredibly diverse student body, a trilingual approach to learning and a state-of-the-art campus on Al Reem Island, Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi is a truly modern university backed by centuries of academic excellence.
Professor Silvia Serrano is the Vice Chancellor of Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi. Here, she reflects on the University’s establishment, current highlights and promising future.
Could you tell us about Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi’s motto: “A bridge between civilizations”?
Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi brings the education provided in Paris to the United Arab Emirates. In this way, the University is able to share its own academic culture in this region of the world, a culture that is shaped by a humanist foundation, mutual propagation of research and teaching, conceptions of knowledge that seek to serve the common good, and a commitment to guaranteeing that all students, from diverse geographical, social and cultural origins, have access to high-quality education.
Students from 65 nationalities attend our campus in a spirit of mutual respect and openness. Students who choose Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi not only pursue the quality of French higher education, they also carry an openness to French and Francophone culture at large. They are, for the most part, aware of the efforts involved in learning French as a foreign language and adapting to a different teaching model than that of their country of origin or residence. On the flipside, our students from France have the opportunity to compare their experiences with those of students from all over the world and discover the richness of a country beyond its stereotypes.
Our University provides an opportunity for academic researchers to teach students in the UAE who don’t all come from the French school system. This requires them to adapt their teaching methods to communicate the same academic content while shifting away from French or Euro-centric habits.
Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi is therefore a space in which different visions, ways of life and cultural traditions coexist in a context of mutual respect, a quality that enriches the entire university community. It is in this sense that Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi constitutes a bridge between civilizations.
For you, what are the best aspects of Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi?
Precisely this diversity! But it’s not the only strong point of Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi. The main asset is of course the quality of the teaching. As is the case in France, this excellent quality is due in particular to the parallelism between teaching and research; the courses offered at Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi are in line with contemporary scientific advances.
I would also like to highlight the quality of the setting in which the studies are conducted, with small classes, very attentive teachers, a pleasant campus, a dynamic student life, a modern library and state-of-the-art sports facilities.
Finally, studying at Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi provides a unique opportunity to live in a very cosmopolitan country, oriented not only towards the Arab world but also towards the Indian subcontinent and Asia. Students can benefit from a rich cultural environment and the professional opportunities that come with being connected to the business sector in one of the most dynamic regions in the world.
What changes or advances do you hope to see for Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi in the coming years?
Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi is engaged in an ambitious development program, marked by the opening of new bachelor's and master's degree programs, the expansion of research activities and the strengthening of partnerships with businesses and public institutions. Developments in artificial intelligence are a great example of these new directions: high-level scientists and doctoral candidates will conduct their research at the Abu Dhabi branch of SCAI—the Sorbonne Center for Artificial Intelligence—thanks to two chairs of excellence created through a partnership with Thales and Total.
A new bachelor's degree in mathematics, specializing in data sciences, is also now offered to students as of the 2020 academic year, with further programs to follow. The synergy between teaching, research and adapting to the demands of local stakeholders can also be found in the field of archiving and records management: a bachelor's degree opened last year, and courses offered in partnership with the National Archives are generating growing interest in the Gulf region and beyond. At the same time, Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi is positioning itself in international research programs, as well as strengthening its cooperation with universities, cultural institutions and local and regional companies.
This new dynamic, as well as a reinvigorated academic program, will increase the attractiveness of Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi to more and more students from more and more regions. Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi thus plays a key role in the development of Sorbonne University’s internationalization strategy.
*Formerly Paris-Sorbonne University