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An American University of Sharjah student graduates. Image Credit: Gulf News archive

Dubai: Universities are considering a host of contingencies to enable school graduates to apply for admission despite coronavirus disruption, Gulf News learnt on Wednesday. These include; extending deadlines, relying on final school grades, accepting scanned documents and treating each case individually.

It follows the cancellation or postponement of many school-leaving exams; uncertainty around some university admission tests; closure of school and university campuses; and grounding of international flights.

Universities, exam boards and schools are coordinating to find solutions to these extraordinary challenges in education, which includes a complete move to online teaching and learning for an indefinite period.

In the UAE, university leaders said they are considering, or have already taken, a number of steps to ensure the admissions process continues during the time of COVID-19.

Applying from home

Dr David A Schmidt, President, American University in Dubai (AUD), said: “More than ever, AUD is committed to applying a holistic approach to reviewing an applicant’s file based on their personal circumstances, ambition and experiences. We empathise with the struggle of high school students – and educators – to last semester’s unforeseen challenges, and have updated the current admissions application process to ensure that students wishing to join AUD, can do so from their homes, with minimal basic documentation, until the current situation abates.”

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Middlesex University Dubai Campus Image Credit: Supplied

Individual basis

He continued: “Additionally, and in line with the best practices of many top international universities, AUD now assesses applicants on an individual basis, considering previous in and out of class achievements. At AUD, we educate the whole-person and it is the whole-person we consider when a student applies.”

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Dr David A Schmidt Image Credit: Supplied

Will the uncertainties lead to an extension of the application deadline?

Rolling deadline

Dr Schmidt said: “Yes, given the disruption most of us have seen to our daily routines, we have implemented a ‘rolling admissions deadline’, which simply means that AUD will work with each student individually in meeting the requirements to be accepted and enroll.”

Meanwhile, many students in the UAE may not be able to, or choose not to, go for university abroad.

“We have certainly already witnessed a surge of interest of applicants who had previously looked to study in Europe and the US. The current situation has shifted their interested in pursuing their education in the UAE, to stay closer to home while receiving a world-class education from a US and UAE accredited institution.”

Previous grades

Yousef Al Assaf

Speaking about the cancellation of board exams, Dr Yousef Al Assaf, President, Rochester Institute of Technology in Dubai (RIT Dubai), said: “In the past, IB/IGCSE/A and SAT grades were critical for admissions and scholarship eligibility. As a result of COVID-19, we are in discussions with accrediting bodies on how best to proceed in this unprecedented situation. Among other suggestions, admission could be based on the evaluation of previous school grades and board exam results. We are monitoring closely all the decisions made by the UAE Ministry of Higher Education and our decisions would be based on the same.”

Easing up scholarships

When asked about the potential financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic, Dr Al Assaf said the setbacks “will undoubtedly place a greater financial burden on families regarding the funding of those who are seeking a degree. However, as a non-for-profit university, RIT Dubai remains committed to offering a wide range of scholarships and other forms of financial aid during these challenging times”.

He added that given the circumstances of COVID-19, the university will “ease up” on its scholarship offerings for applicants to support their learning objectives, saying “we are a non-for-profit university, which means all our earnings are retained for scholarships, research and development. This enables us to offer more scholarships to students during these exceptional times”.

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University of Birmingham campus Dubai Image Credit: Supplied

Flexible alternatives

Ben Bailey, Campus Director, University of Birmingham Dubai said closure of some test centres does not definitively mean candidates will be left in limbo.

Ben Bailey

“We’re aware that some students may struggle to access an acceptable English Language test given the closure of some test centres and we are developing more flexible alternative arrangements. Should these be required, we will communicate with the applicant directly to talk them through these options,” Bailey said.

Exceptional measures

The university has already changed some application procedures “given the exceptional circumstances” to support applicants. These include accepting scanned copies of documentation to confirm academic results, “rather than applicants having to provide original copies at this difficult time”.

Also, “we will extend application deadlines if needed, but we would encourage applicants to apply now, receive their conditional offer and let us do the hard work in helping them fulfil those conditions with alternative evidence where needed”, he added.