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Spring 2007 Vol. V, No. 3

Technology @ AUB: A Research Revolution

Developing the Middle East’s Future Technical Elite: The CITPER Project

Zahra Hankir ‘06

Bring the American University of Beirut, international businesses, and European Union partner institutions together, and they will introduce you to tomorrow’s technical elite. The Collaborative Information Technology Program for Education and Research (CITPER) is a Joint European Project funded by the European Commission’s TEMPUS program. The project is a collaborative effort between AUB’S Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE), Technische Universität München (Germany), the University of Southampton (United Kingdom), and Siemens AG (Germany). The project has already achieved one of its objectives—the establishment of a two-year Information and Communications Technology (ICT) graduate program at AUB, which began in fall 2006.

Ayman Kayssi, member of CITPER and chair of the Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) Department, spoke at length to MainGate about the program and its prospects in the Middle East. Kayssi noted that since ICT (information and communication technology) in the region is still in its early stages, there is “a lot of potential [for it here]. If you look at the studies that are being conducted concerning what kinds of jobs or job sectors are growing the most around the world, you will see that ICT-related jobs are among the top jobs listed.” These jobs include data management, hardware/firmware engineering, network development, and project management. AUB’s ICT graduates will be well positioned to compete globally in this market.

Surveys distributed by CITPER to regional companies demonstrated that there is a lot of interest in ICT in the Middle East. The program was designed specifically to meet the needs of these regional companies. Member of CITPER and professor of electrical and computer engineering Hassan Artail explained that the survey revealed “that most companies have needs in software systems, management skills, and industrial liaisons.”

The program is being designed not only to benefit the companies in the region: students will be rigorously prepared for the global market as well. According to Kayssi, graduates will be particularly valuable to future employers because of the international experience that CITPER’s links with universities and companies outside of Lebanon will give them. The initial, and so far strongest link, was established when Professor Zaher Dawy, who is now at AUB’s ECE Department, worked with Professor Joachim Hagenauer when he was a PhD student at Technische Universität München (TUM), 2000-04. Dawy now plays a pivotal role in the project at AUB, which is led by Professor Hagenauer. Project members have also started discussing exchange opportunities and project activities with a number of other European universities, including KTH (Kungliga Tekniska högskolan) in Sweden, UPC (Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya) in Spain, and TU (Technische Universiteit) Delft in the Netherlands.

Student exchanges have already taken place: two AUB ECE master’s students, Ali Ghandour and Joseph Constantine, spent the spring 2006 semester at TUM, while Johanna Weindl from TUM spent a semester at AUB. Constantine is currently at the High Frequency Institute in Germany conducting research on antenna modeling in Multiple-Input Multiple-Output (MIMO) channels and taking courses from professors who are renowned in the ICT field such as Professor Max Costa and Professor Peter Russer. Constantine commented that it “is quite a rewarding experience scientifically and research-wise, and it also opens the horizon for future plans.” He noted that CITPER is the first program of its type in the Arab world and that it “will attract excellent students from many Arab countries to Lebanon instead of Europe.”

CITPER is also building strong ties with industry to promote applied research and to increase opportunities for students and faculty members to work with colleagues in

industry. Faculty members affiliated with the program have already started discussions with companies such as Siemens, Ericsson, Nokia, IBM, and Microsoft. Such ties could lead to both internships and employment opportunities for AUB students in the future.

The program is rigorous: students have to take a demanding and diverse series of courses that range from Corporate Information Technology to Wireless Communications. The curriculum includes a business requirement that was prompted by Siemens’s involvement in the program. Siemens’s products are geared towards meeting the needs of industrial and infrastructure companies that use ICT, so the company has a good deal of ICT know-how. According to Kayssi, Siemens plays an important role in CITPER because it is “bringing its expertise and an industrial viewpoint… it identified the business requirement as an important aspect of the program.” Since the three other partners in the program are universities, it is up to Siemens to provide input from the world of industry.

“We want students to be exposed to an industrial environment so they have to complete an internship as well,” Kayssi said. “The students will definitely be in demand,” he added, referring to the industrial experience and exposure to Europe they will have earned by the time they graduate. Kayssi recounted the early days of the internet in Lebanon, when most of the companies that started internet-related businesses were staffed by CCE (Computer and Communications Engineering) graduates. “We expect similar things to happen for [ICT] graduate students,” he said.

Another one of CITPER’s objectives is to help start a doctoral program at AUB. The PhD program is being developed in parallel with the master’s program, and is set to launch in 2007. According to Artail, the implementation of a PhD program will help “attract good students and funding to the program, because right now ICT is very popular. It’s a trend that’s really taken off.”

Whether or not this curriculum can be as easily implemented at other universities in the Middle East, however, remains uncertain. While one of the objectives of CITPER is to provide a curriculum that would serve as a model for universities in Lebanon and the region, Kayssi noted, “In Lebanon, this would not be easy because it really requires human resources and links with other universities. However, he added, other universities in Jordan, Egypt, and possibly Syria may eventually be able to adopt the model curriculum, although “it may take a year or two for them to study it, and they may need to adapt it to their environment and needs.”

In terms of publicizing the program, Artail commented that they are in the process of advertising the fact that the program itself was designed for the region: “We will show all the data and the analysis we have done, since we have looked at university programs, the needs of the industry, and we visited many trade fairs.” Artail even suggested the possibility of creating a local or regional ICT consortium to “keep up with technologies and to enable us to collaborate with each other… This could hopefully revitalize the total industry in the region.”

Constantine is optimistic about the outcome of the ICT program. He thinks it will be “very beneficial for Lebanon and the whole region, and will help with the education and development of its students… [in turn] this will help improve the level of professionalismin the region.”