William O’Brien is the President of the American College of Dubai. Image Credit: Supplied picture

For globally minded expatriates in Dubai, an American or Canadian university degree often represents an important goal towards securing their children’s future. The value of these qualifications are well-recognised and provide the needed international recognition — an important requirement for those who are unsure of their ultimate national place of domicile.

While much attention has understandably been paid to the rising fees associated with primary and secondary education in the UAE — the cost of higher education in North America has been on a similar trajectory such that the average cost of university in the US is now estimated to average some $30,000 per annum, with some high-end institutions requiring $50,000 or more, while Canadian institutions are now in the range of $26,000.

Also to consider is the fact that many big-city institutions in the US and Canada are located in high-cost metropolitan areas that can add significantly to the ultimate amount families have to expend.

The good news, however, is that families can utilise approved transfer programs so as to significantly mitigate the cost of North American higher education while at the same time ensuring their children are adequately prepared for academic success once they complete the transfer process so as to complete their final degree coursework at the university of their choice in the US or Canada. 

1) Example

By way of an example, students matriculating from either CBSC Plus Two or an “O” level stream could gain immediate entrance to a US or Canadian institution and be prepared to shoulder a four year cost of studies that could approach a total of $250,000. However, for a number of reasons — finance usually being at the top of the list — students could opt to begin their coursework at a recognised and accredited college in the UAE. Working with the college’s counselling staff, a student would compare the courses on offer with those required at the institutions to which he or she wishes to ultimately attend and enrol accordingly. 

2) How does university transfer work for students interested in a US or Canadian degree?

Basically, a student opts to complete the first one or two years of their university coursework at a college specialising in this particular area of post-secondary education. The US and Canadian systems are somewhat unique in the fact that both include a significant number of general education courses (humanities, social sciences, natural sciences and mathematics) that are integral to all degree qualifications whether in business, engineering or other pursuits. These general education courses are offered at transfer-oriented institutions — thus allowing for a student to complete a significant portion of his or her degree before actually commencing their formal studies at university.

From a terminology standpoint, most institutions offering transfer coursework are usually known simply as “colleges” — which is the case in the UAE. In the US, many use the term ‘community college’ which signifies the fact they also offer career-oriented advanced vocational training in addition to the general education transfer coursework discussed earlier. 

3) Cost-saving factor

Costs are kept lower at community college type institutions due to a number of reasons. As these colleges focus almost exclusively on classroom instruction they do not incur the extensive administrative and other overheads required to support a comprehensive research university. Instructors are generally just as qualified as those teaching similar courses at full-universities — but they are engaged primarily for instructional — as opposed to research — duties and thus earn more modest salaries.

Adding to the cost savings is the fact that students in these types of transfer programs tend to commute to college from their home residence — — which further reduces a family’s financial burden and eliminates the need for extensive campus support infrastructure.

While the cost savings are indeed important, an added benefit is that fact that students in transfer program have the opportunity to ‘ease’ into a new system of education — — and can even absorb a setback or two while they adapt to an approach to learning that is often different than that experienced in their secondary programs. Additionally, the extra time spent close to home allows them to attain additional maturity and self confidence before encountering the daunting task of navigating their way in a distant land and an unfamiliar and often hectic setting.

Once they begin their coursework at the transfer college, students can choose to transfer upon the completion of any of the two main academic semesters (Fall and Spring) and should arrange document submission and student visa preparation in accordance with published timelines. The good news is that inter-institution transfer in North America (both from domestic and international institutions) is quite common and all admissions counsellors are well familiar with the concept and attendant procedures. 

4) Is transfer for everyone?

Certainly not. Students who are mature, well-prepared academically and hail from families with strong financial resources should probably opt for direct admissions into university. For their part, the very elite strata of US institutions (Harvard, Yale, MIT) do not allow for any sort of significant intake of second or third year students as the admissions requirements of these universities are such that the vast majority of enrolling freshman (first year students) stay together to complete the full four years of studies.

However, for over 3 million US students and an increasing number of international students, transfer program offer a compelling case for an alternative — and financially less burdensome path to degree completion.

To many families putting together the necessary finance for an internationally recognised university education is as much a challenge as ensuring their charges are academically prepared and qualified.

The concept of transfer — beginning in the UAE and completing a degree in the USA or Canada — offers an excellent alternative and, in many cases, can make the difference financially in allowing students to achieve their academic dreams.


The author is the President of the American College of Dubai