With universities in Dubai Knowledge Village expected to relocate to Dubai International Academic City within two years, Notes gauges student reaction and asks representatives of various institutions about their expansion plans. Maysam Ali reports.

All the universities in Dubai Knowledge Village (DKV) are expected to move to Dubai International Academic City (DIAC) by 2011. The move is considered a natural next step in their expansion plans. Amid all the rumours and media reports about which universities plan to move and when, Notes spoke to their representatives in DKV to bring you a clearer picture.

Unprecedented demand

DKV has so far been the major educational hub in Dubai, encompassing about 450 training and educational institutions. Since 2007, many universities started relocating to the new Dubai International Academic City (DIAC), located 20 to 30 minutes from the city's business centre.

Ayoub Kazim, Executive Director of DKV and DIAC, told Notes that DKV put Dubai and the Middle East on the global map as a destination for educational excellence. DIAC was founded in 2007 as an offshoot of DKV's growth.

"It was born out of a need for a cluster totally dedicated to higher education… . The inception of DIAC was also the result of Dubai experiencing an unprecedented demand for higher education from both regional and expatriate students," he said in an interview.

Accommodating growth

The ultimate aim is that DIAC will serve as the educational cluster of the country and the region, while DKV will become a centre for training and development institutes.

"Currently, DIAC hosts over 30 reputed international universities from the US, the UK, Belgium, Iran, Australia, France and the Indian subcontinent," Kazim said. Some of these universities include Michigan State University, Dubai, Heriot-Watt University Dubai campus, Hult International Business School, and Manipal University.

DKV currently hosts a number of universities as well as institutes that provide training in management, e-learning, linguistic skills, executive development and human resources consultancy.

Universities such as BITS, Pilani - Dubai and SZABIST, which was based in DKV, have already shifted operations to DIAC. Those that remain, such as the University of Wollongong in Dubai (UOWD) and Middlesex University, Dubai, expect to make the move by 2010.

The International Institute for Technology and Management (IITM) and EHSAL – European University College Brussels Dubai told Notes they do not plan to move out of DKV.

Due to the sensitivity of the issue, officials from other universities were hesitant to disclose information. "We are negotiating the plan but there is nothing clear. DIAC might be an option but we are still in the process of studying the plans," a senior official at EHSAL, who wished to remain anonymous, told Notes.

Notes also contacted the British University in Dubai, which did not respond until the time Notes went to print.

SAE Institute also said it would be staying in DKV. According to Anthony Frantzis, head of marketing and strategic alliances at SAE Institute, the institute is unlikely to relocate. "SAE Institute is both a higher education provider as well as a vocational training institution; we provide practical training along with Australian government accredited undergraduate and postgraduate bachelor programmes. Dubai Knowledge Village is anticipated to become a full-fledged vocational training zone, which sits very well with SAE's plans," he said.

University of Wollongong in Dubai

The University of Wollongong in Dubai (UOWD) is by far the largest campus in DKV in terms of student strength — around 3,400.

Raymi van der Spek, vice-president of administration at UOWD, told Notes that DIAC is only one among several options the university is considering as part of its expansion plans. He said more options could arise due to the effect of the economic crisis on real estate values.

"The managements of DKV and DIAC don't wish that universities remain in DKV because they believe the scope and scale of the DKV environment isn't large enough and can only facilitate that in DIAC… . Right now, we're trying to evaluate the situation; there is nothing specific but a general sense that there are several opportunities," he said.

"This year [we] will clearly identify and confirm where and how the move is going to take place," Van der Spek said, adding finalising the relocation plan will take over a year.

"We haven't informed students because it won't be within a year. We will decide on the timing of the ultimate move depending on the location we choose in the upcoming year. But we will make sure our students have a clear, defined timeline so we don't want to be in a position to make unilateral decisions. The students need to have the opportunity to see the progress," he said.

The university has not started construction at any site and might be considering prefabricated buildings as they match the university's facility requirements. "We are openly inviting interest from private developers," Van der Spek said.

The administration expects student strength to go up by 5,000 to 10,000 on the new campus. The new campus, van der Spek said, would have more cohesive facilities and a higher degree of campus identification and experience.

Middlesex University Dubai

Neighbouring Middlesex University Dubai has over 1,100 students, up 20 per cent since last year. The number is expected to reach 2,000 by the end of 2011, according to Raed Awamleh, director of Middlesex Dubai.

"We have growth in our current programmes, the number of full-time faculty members and students, so we need to increase the university's capacity," he said. "We are also adding new programmes and non-degree programmes.... DKV expects universities to move but we see this as an expansion and not a move. The campus can fit about 400 more students here, but over the four-year plan, we need a bigger facility."

The university plans to keep its Centre for Innovation in Management, a training centre for professionals, at DKV. "We want to establish a campus in DIAC by 2010 and also keep the training centre in DKV for professional development of company staff, if possible," he said.

In the next three to four months, Awamleh expects a decision to come through, with DIAC topping the list of options.

"DIAC is a good location; universities there are doing well. We are interested in good space, facilities and dormitories for students. It has a lot to offer," he said.

Does he foresee any challenges while moving to the new campus? "I don't see major challenges but rather opportunities — flexibility, room, etc," he said.

The date for the opening of the new campus has not been announced. "We haven't announced it to the students because the current students will most probably not be affected by this change since it won't be taking place before a couple of years. When the plans are clear, we will inform the students," Awamleh said.

Student feedback

For the moment, students are isolated from any worries related to the big move. Several students told Notes they felt their university wouldn't be moving, since it had invested a lot in the current campus; besides it hadn't made any announcement.

International Institute for Technology and Management (IITM)
"Our administration told us that we are not going to be among the universities who will be moving to DIAC," said Anita Claudius Peter, an accounting and finance student.

Her friend and classmate, Rohit Sukheja, said it would be better if the university moves to DIAC as there would be more space for students and less traffic.

Samantha Suresh Egde, an accounting and finance student, said: "We had renovations in our building on campus so I'm sure it won't happen anytime soon. Knowledge Village is better because everything is close by."

Anita Nanda, student counsellor at IITM's Administration Office told Notes that the university has no plans to move anywhere outside DKV. "There are no plans to move right now but that could change in the future. We are very comfortable here at Knowledge Village and would like to stay if it's possible," she said.

Opposing views

A group of UOWD students had mixed feelings about the move to DIAC.

Humaira Latif, a business administration student, said she was worried about the lack of a proper food court at DIAC.

"It's coming; it's coming," said her friend Princy Mathew, who is majoring in business insurance, alluding to plans to build a bigger food court at DIAC.

Humaira said: "I asked Student Services and they said it's in three or four years so we don't need to worry about that move."

Transportation is another issue on students' minds.
"I live in Abu Dhabi so going to Academic City will take more time, but I still believe moving to DIAC is good because there is more space there and better facilities," said Princy.

UOWD's van der Spek discussed student worries about the move. "Our students come from a diverse number of areas, many from Sharjah, Abu Dhabi and now Al Ain. The distribution pull is very wide, so there is no simple solution," he said.

UOWD finance student Mansi Katkoria put forward another advantage of being in DIAC. "We will get to interact with students from other universities so it will be good for us," she said.

Amreen Khan, human resources student at UOWD, said: "It's good for some students to have the choice to go to DIAC. The prices are expensive, so is transportation and those who are living outside Dubai, in Al Ain or Sharjah, will find it better."

Priteish Sharma, accounting student at UOWD, said: "If they move, it wouldn't be a good decision but it won't affect our academic life."

What DIAC has to offer

According to Dr Ayoub Kazim, Executive Director of Dubai Knowledge Village (DKV) and Dubai International Academic City (DIAC), DIAC offers a range of amenities for students and faculty. It includes on-campus accommodation equipped with broadband internet connection.

"DIAC also offers independent apartments in a safe environment in a wide variety of sizes and prices for students who also have the option to customise their habitat," he said.

"In addition, a modern sports centre complete with a gym, basketball and volleyball courts and a soccer pitch as well as facilities for track and field athletics will be provided."