Emirati students Latifa Al Hosani (left) and Jumana Al Matroushi are going to study at the University of Dubai, which offers co-ed classes. Image Credit: VIRENDRA SAKLANI/Gulf News

With a new academic year on the horizon students from single-sex universities are re-enrolling in co-educational colleges to gain skills that cannot be found in a classroom.

Jumana Al Matroushi and Latifa Al Hosani, 23, are higher diploma graduates from Sharjah Women's College (SWC) who have joined the University of Dubai's (UD) Bachelor of Business Administration programme this year.

This was not only to quench their thirst for knowledge, but to gain confidence in dealing with the opposite sex and mixing with people of different nationalities.

The idea is that this kind of confidence will help further their careers in our globalised working world.

Mixed environment

"I've come from a university environment at SWC that was all girls and I work in a mixed environment which makes me very shy," Latifa said. "I work in human resources and it's difficult to be shy in such a field, that is why I joined a mixed university".

For Jumana, it was not about shyness but more of a need to expand her horizons.

"I joined UD because I'm expecting to meet people from different nationalities," she said.

"In SWC we only mingled with Emirati women and I want to meet people from other countries and nationalities to learn more about them and how they think."

Latifa said: "I just feel shy all the time, I find it hard to express myself properly. I was too shy to ask questions in class or give presentations at a girls' college, so I don't know how I will manage it in a mixed one," she added.

Annie Crookes, senior lecturer of psychology at Middlesex University Dubai said such feelings were normal and a part of growing up.

"It's all about the unfamiliar, something we all go through, just at different stages in our lives," Crookes said.

"Girls from convent schools in the West will have the same issues when entering university, but perhaps here there is a longer system of sex segregation so it takes longer to adjust," she added.

The step towards a solution began with recognising there was a problem.

"I would say it's a wise move to re-enrol because it shows these girls have reflected on what they've got and what they will need for their careers and are being proactive about it," Crookes said.

"They've managed to realise that a successful career is not just about how good you are academically but socially too; they've realised they're lacking and are therefore doing something about it," she added.

However, not all graduates from single-sex universities echo such feelings.

Othman Abdullah Mohammad from Al Ain Men's College said: "I don't get shy around girls because it's something normal, there is a lot of gender mixture in universities and places of work."

"Although if we have girls in our college I try not to mix with them because it's not something we're [Emiratis] used to in our traditions, but I've mixed with girls at work and there is nothing wrong with it," he added.

Noora Bin Kalban, a recent graduate from Zayed University (ZU) said she did not experience any problems fitting into a mixed work environment.

"I felt comfortable and didn't experience any issues at all," she said.

"We've [ZU students] dealt with men at university and on internships so it's never been an issue for us," Noora added.

She said going to a mixed college did not necessarily make it easier to mix with the opposite sex.

"I don't believe that I have to pursue a graduate degree in a mixed college to learn how to interact with guys better," said Noora.


Dubai Men's College (DMC) counsellor Ian Wood said he had heard students express shyness about the transfer of female students into their classes.

"At DMC we've had a number of women transfer into our courses to pursue our degree programmes," Wood said.

"Most of the men enjoy the experience of being in a co-educational learning environment but I do have some men come in and say they are shy about it; but it's a common adjustment for young men making a move from adolescence into adulthood," he added.

He advised men to try to adjust to mixing with women of their own age.

"The men at the college interact with faculty members who are women but they need to make a social adjustment to their female peers.

"And it is through education that they can make it, because it provides a safe learning environment for them to do so," Wood said.