Dr Peter Douglas, Director of the University of Waterloo’s (UW) UAE campus, believes UW’s practice of a cooperative engineering education helps attract students to the programme. Image Credit: Oliver Clarke/ Gulf News

Dubai: The University of Waterloo's (UW) UAE campus has experienced steady growth by offering unique cooperative education opportunities to engineering students in the UAE and the region.

The Canadian institution opened its doors in the UAE in 2009 and offers engineering students an international education with a guaranteed two years of work experience accumulated before graduation.

"The idea behind our cooperative education programme is a work and study experience offering students much more than an internship," said Dr Peter Douglas, Director of UW's UAE campus. "The students get a paid job and learn by observation, because we don't expect companies to train them, but put them to work instead."

UW was founded in Ontario in 1957 by a group of German businessmen who initially embedded the apprenticeship concept into the university's practice.

Slow and steady

It is mandatory for engineering undergraduates to complete six work terms at a four-month stretch each within their four years of study at UW, either in Canada or the UAE. However, the cooperative programme is optional for students of maths-based disciplines.

UW launched its UAE operation by offering just two undergraduate degrees in civil and chemical engineering to a body of 20 students.

A year later, UW introduced two maths-based undergraduate programmes, in IT management and financial analysis, to its UAE campus and now has an approximate student body of 80.

"In terms of our growth we are happy with what we've experienced so for," said Dr Douglas. "We expect an intake of 90 students this fall, which exceeds our target as we'd rather focus on delivering quality programmes than accumulating student numbers."

He added that students are attracted by the substantial amounts of guaranteed work experience on offer. UW is located in Dubai International Academic City in a building in Dubai Men's College due to its partnership with the federal institution.

Programme completion

However, students enrolled in Dubai cannot graduate here but have to finish the remaining two years of their studies at the campus in Waterloo, a campus synonymous with Mike Lazaridis, the inventor of the Blackberry mobile phone and founder of Research In Motion.

"The idea for the Blackberry was developed at UW by a then third year cooperative student, Mike Lazaridis," said Dr Douglas. "At UW we heard about the Blackberry 20 years ago before anyone else and now the factories that manufacture the phones surround the campus."

Yet, the obligatory transfer is merely for the students' benefit, said Dr Douglas. "The reason we've done this is for our students to get a global experience," he said. "They will spend valuable time both working and studying in the Middle East and North America."

He added that this premise seems to be working well for UW. The UAE campus is the institution's first outside Canada and successfully manages to attract North American and European students.