We end 2021 speaking to Professor Yusra Mouzughi, President of the Royal University for Women (RUW), about education and women’s empowerment.
“Work with passion, believe in the education cause and, most importantly, be humble enough to believe that we are all still learning.” – Professor Yusra Mouzughi
OHLALA – You have been building your career in the academic sector for over 20 years, focusing on higher education. Can you tell us how this exciting journey started and how it has been unfolding?
Professor Yusra Mouzughi – In fact, this is my second career. I worked in the insurance industry in the UK for a period, and this was the catalyst for starting my PhD where I looked into the critical success factors for Knowledge Management in the Financial Services sector. From there, I started doing some teaching and progressed my career into programme management, programme development and academic leadership. Having grown up and lived in the UK for over 34 years and more recently moved to the Gulf in the last five years, I feel that my journey has been enriched with an understanding and appreciation of two very different cultures and educational ecosystems. I must say, though, I ‘fell’ into the education field; however, it is the thing I have enjoyed the most throughout my life and being able to see the impact of your work on individuals and broader societies is so rewarding.
OHLALA – What was the biggest challenge you faced during your career?
Professor Yusra – When I was finishing my PhD and working full-time in teaching, I was involved in a major road traffic accident that took me out of work for more than a year. I was in a wheelchair for over four months and on crutches for another two. With a very young family and husband who worked in London while I lived in Liverpool, the logistics of daily life became very challenging and simple day-to-day activities took meticulous planning and preparation. Being away from the work scene for so long obviously impacted my progression at the time. Despite the challenges, I felt this gave me a new and different perspective on the importance of support mechanisms – especially for working mothers – as well as an opportunity to reflect on my priorities in life. Thankfully, I went on to make a full recovery but the learnings gained during that time have stayed with me. They have made a lasting impression on how I relate to challenges, particularly those facing working mothers.
OHLALA – And what were the most significant successes?
Professor Yusra – I feel blessed to have had a number of highlights in my life. When I was in the UK higher education sector, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to set up and lead the Doctorate of Business Administration (DBA) programme at the university where I worked. This was a brand-new programme in an emerging area of education. With a dedicated team and a clearly differentiated vision, the programme went on to be a great success and, to this day, I am still in touch with many of the students who participated in it. More recently, when I was in Oman, I am honoured to say that I was the first (and remain the only) female Vice-Chancellor/President of a university. This was a great accolade and one that I will always be very proud of. I am also very conscious of the responsibility that goes with this accomplishment in terms of role modelling for other women in academia, but I hope that it will inspire others to believe in themselves and aim for the top.
OHLALA – You joined the RUW in May 2021; it is a relatively new role. What is it like being part of the RUW family? What are the highlights of the university for you?
Professor Yusra – RUW is a truly special place because it has a unique mission dedicated to the advancement of women, supported by the Supreme Council for Women (SCW), with whom we have a strong and strategic partnership. This is a global agenda recognised internationally with a UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG #5) dedicated to Gender Equality. Therefore, we feel we are not simply serving RUW but serving a much bigger cause. This common cause creates an exceptional feel and atmosphere among RUW staff and students, and this is one of the things I picked up as soon as I arrived – there is a real sense of loyalty and commitment to the university. Our quality drive is translated into successful daily stories when we see our graduates and alumnae lead exciting, rewarding and inspiring careers in all walks of life. This makes me really happy and is a constant reminder of how blessed I am to be in a job I love.
OHLALA – You were in Oman before moving to Bahrain, which means that you haven’t been living in the Kingdom for too long. However, what are your favourite things here so far?
Professor Yusra – I came to Bahrain in mid-May, so still relatively new but, luckily, I arrived at a period when we were going back into a sense of normality with many activities and events being re-launched after the Covid-19 lockdowns. What has really caught my attention is the vast range of activities in the Kingdom at any given time. This is especially the case now that the weather is getting cooler. I always feel that there is lots to do and many cultural and entertainment activities to suit all tastes – my favourite so far has been the Pearling Path in Muharraq because it really sheds light on the rich history of Bahraini trade and international relations. I must admit that I am a great coffee lover, and I have been impressed by the number of really nice and trendy coffee shops in Bahrain. I am slowly making my way around these and creating my list of favourite spots!
OHLALA – What would be your words of advice to those looking to grow their careers in the academic field?
Professor Yusra – Academic life is a rewarding and fulfilling journey of self-discovery, contribution and growth. Being around students in an environment where knowledge is being created, shared and disseminated is thrilling and a great way of ensuring that you maintain a lifelonglearning approach to everything. My experience has taught me that to succeed in academia, you have to seek opportunities and really ‘own’ them like many other industries. Work with passion, believe in the education cause and, most importantly, be humble enough to believe that we are all still learning. Working together, we can make a better tomorrow for the next generations.