Dubai: A number of universities in Dubai saw admissions rise by 50 per cent this academic year as many students opted to study in the UAE, attracted by special admission offers and campus safety measures in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, universities said.
BITS Pilani, Dubai Campus, witnessed a 50 per cent surge in admissions compared to last year, said its director Dr R.N. Saha. “Students are opting to study in UAE [based] universities to avoid lockdowns or getting stranded abroad. The pandemic has played a significant role in changing people’s mindset. The priorities and outlook have changed, wherein parents are now focusing more on ensuring stability and security of their wards while also making sure they stay close to home.”
The India factor
The COVID-19 situation in India has also contributed to a higher intake here, he added. It also means more students from the Gulf countries are coming or staying here rather than travelling to India, or other popular study abroad destinations such as the United Kingdom, United States, Canada or Australia, according to Dr Saha.
“On the contrary, higher numbers of students from India are now choosing Dubai over other destinations. The availability of a plethora of well-known institutions, affordable tuition fees, lower cost of living, great quality of life, international exposure, safety as well as Dubai’s prominent location, are amongst the significant factors working in Dubai’s favour, making it an attractive higher education destination for UAE-based students along with students coming from Asian and other Gulf countries.”
Dr Saha said lower tuition fees here, as compared to the West, were also a reason. Moreover, the UAE’s successful vaccination programme “also enhances its appeal as a safer place compared to other countries”. At BITS Pilani, Dubai Campus, for example, all staff are vaccinated.
Even after their studies, virtually all BITS Pilani Dubai graduates decide to work in the UAE. BITS Pilani provides a 7.5-month ‘Practice School’ (industry internship) programme. The institute has a collaboration with nearly 300 companies to offer internship to its students.
“In fact, 98 per cent of all our students who secure campus job placements end up working in the UAE itself. The salary levels are much higher than what they may get in India or even in the western world. Essentially, the return on investment is much more when you study in Dubai – a degree from a well-reputed engineering institute, international exposure and access to a global job market,” Dr Saha said.
Heriot-Watt University Dubai is currently slated for a 48 per cent admission spike for the September intake – and the figure is likely to climb higher before the new academic year begins, said Gary Fernandes, the university’s Head of Prospect Experience.
For the current academic year, which has nearly ended, universities made admissions more flexible by extending application deadlines and hosting hybrid admissions events, Fernandes said. “Enrolment decisions are being made based on predicted grades and historical evidence of academic achievements. For example, at Heriot-Watt, for the recent cancellation of the [Indian] CBSE board exams, we admitted students on the basis of their school assessed grades,” he added.
The university this year also launched ‘COVID-19 Relief Scholarships’ that offer all Indian students enrolling from India a fee reduction of Dh8,000 (around INR160,000) for the September 2021 intake, resulting in a greater number of applications from India, Fernandes said.
Another pull factor of the UAE, he added, has been the long-term ‘Golden Visa’ for high-scoring students and their families. “They can therefore plan a long-term future here in the UAE and one that goes beyond just the duration of their study programme, which makes the UAE a very attractive study destination.”
Heriot-Watt Dubai also introduced a ‘Go Global’ programme that offers inter-campus transfers from Dubai to the UK campus. On the flip side, it saw an interest from students from partner universities abroad who have opted to do a semester at the Dubai campus. Almost a third (30 per cent) of students at the Dubai campus are international students from overseas; the rest are based in the UAE.
Combination of factors
Middlesex University Dubai is expecting double the number of international students and at least 50 per cent more UAE-based students, said Dr Cedwyn Fernandes, Pro-Vice Chancellor of Middlesex University and Director of Middlesex University Dubai.
“This is result of a combination of macro factors relating to Dubai and the UAE and those relating specifically to Middlesex University Dubai. The UAE has one of the world’s most successful vaccine rollouts and today is the highest vaccinated country in the world. The UAE has demonstrated excellence in ensuring the health and safety of its residents and visitors. Dubai is open and is way ahead of many countries who are still under lockdown,” Dr Fernandes said.
“The economic recovery in the UAE is ongoing, and the opening up of tourism and Expo 2020 Dubai will boost the economy and create more employment opportunities. Dubai, which hosts a large number of world-class universities, is thus among the first choices for international students.”
Rethink of plans
What’s more, the “ongoing travel restrictions” to typical destinations for UAE-based students — UK, USA, Australia and Canada – has meant that many students here are rethinking plans to study abroad, he added.
“The fact that we can offer a world-class UK degree in the heart of Dubai, a city that is open and recovering while being incredibly safe, is one of the reasons why our student enrolment increased. Students have a choice of many universities in the UAE and we are delighted that we have one of the highest intakes of new students amongst international universities.”
The university is opening its second campus in Dubai International Academic City this September.