edu fair
A step-by-step guidance for enrolling in the right course and at a university of one’s choice in the UAE is easily available as the maiden edition of Gulf News EduFair started online today. Picture for illustrative purposes only. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: The challenges and solutions for transitioning from school to university as smoothly as possible, apart from various other relevant topics related to higher education, were highlighted by UAE-based experts during the first-ever online Gulf News EduFair on Wednesday.

During a webinar on day one of the three-day event, which concludes on Friday, registered students and parents in the virtual audience heard about the emotional and psychological changes that teens and young adults are likely to encounter when leaving their family and school to attend university.

There is a sense of “loss” felt by freshmen as they have to adjust to being on their own for learning and taking care of themselves, said Matthew Beck, High School counsellor, American School of Dubai. New university students also take time — months in some cases — before they can feel “at home” on campus, said Dr Naeema Al Darmaki, dean of Students Life, UAE University.

‘Perfect storm’

The emotionally-loaded transition period creates “a perfect storm” as university newcomers excited about their greater freedom often let their time management skills slip, leading to stress in regaining a stable study routine, said Jessica Rosalee, psychologist, The Lighthouse — Centre for Wellbeing. Students have to learn that with new freedoms come new responsibilities, she added.

Start early

To prepare for the transition, high school students should not wait until it is time for university, Beck said. He recommended grade nine as a reasonable starting point for giving more independence to students to take on “the onus of learning” more independently. In taking ownership of their choices, they are more likely to adjust to university life and succeed once they get there, he added.

Uni buddies

Meanwhile, the “key challenge” for university counsellors trying to help new admissions with the transition is “when they don’t ask for help”, said Dr Al Darmaki. To make the process more approachable, her university has “uni buddies” — trained students who can discuss academic and non-academic issues with other students as their “peer advisers”.

There is also “a stigma and myth” that if a student did well in school academically, he should do fine emotionally in university, Rosalee cautioned. There should be discussions — counselling if needed — that it is all right to “not feel happy all the time”. It should also be conveyed to students that it is acceptable and normal to feel some anxiety or make mistakes and learn from them while at university, she added.

Beyond the classroom

In another webinar, senior representatives from leading universities in the UAE highlighted out-of-class learning through innovation labs, internships and research projects, among other strengths of higher education institutions in the Emirates.

Dr R.N. Saha, director, BITS Pilani, Dubai Campus, said the university has a 24x7 innovation centre where students can work on their own projects completely independently from professors. Also, all the three levels — undergraduate, master’s and PhD — have a mandatory research component. Undergraduates also have to spend five months placed in the corporate world, or alternatively use that time for research.

Dr James Trotter, dean and academic president, Murdoch University Dubai, said their programmes “totally prepare students for the world of work; it’s central to what we do”. This is achieved in a large part due to an “industry advisory panel” at the university, which also sees leading experts from the industry share their views on the university’s courses, while students also hear from the experts, leading to internships and full-time jobs.

Mandatory internships are also part of undergraduate life at Abu Dhabi University (ADU), said Dr Sreethi Nair, dean, College of Arts and Sciences, ADU, which has a careers unit in the employability department to ensure “the connection” with industry. Even during the earlier movement restrictions under the coronavirus pandemic, this connection was, and is, maintained via virtual internships. Dr Nair called for partnerships between universities and industry in the region to develop vocational training as another major out-of-class learning avenue for students.

The first day of the free-to-attend Gulf News EduFair concluded with an overview and tips on taking the popular IELTS test for English required by thousands of universities, employers and governments in English-speaking countries. Sayira Banu, account relationship officer, British Council, explained the different formats of the test and how to best prepare for them.

World of opportunities

For full access to the comprehensive Gulf News EduFair, students and parents can register for free at Those who register will also be able to avail of an exclusive discount on fashion offerings from SHEIN, the event’s styling partner. The strategic partner for the event is United Arab Emirates University; knowledge partner is British Council and consulting partner is Y-Axis.

Every step of university application process, especially for the January 2021 intake, as well as all information on courses, scholarships, fees, student life, career placement, and much more, are only a click away through one-to-one sessions by admissions counsellors and other key university representatives, as well as expert-led webinars held daily.

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For the inaugural edition of the online-only Gulf News EduFair, prestigious higher education institutions Heriot-Watt University, University of Sharjah, Amity University Dubai, Westford University College, American University in Dubai, Middlesex University Dubai, SP Jain School of Global Management, University of West London, Canadian University Dubai, Abu Dhabi University, BITS Pilani Dubai, Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) Dubai, and Murdoch University Dubai are participating.

Agenda for November 12:

10am: Registration and networking with representatives from universities.

12:30pm-1:30pm: Webinar -- Closing the skill gap: A pathway to employability.

2:30pm-3:30pm: Webinar -- Stay stylish on a student budget.

4:30pm-5pm: Webinar -- All you need to know about Aptis English proficiency test.

5pm: Close of the day