Dr Abdullah Al Karam, Director General of KHDA (right) addresses a conclave at the KHDA. Also taking part in the discussion are (from left) Dr Warren Fox, executive director of higher education at KHDA, Hanan Al Fardan, higher education coordinator at KHDA, and Wessen Rawasik. Image Credit: Pankaj Sharma/Gulf News

Dubai: The number of students enrolled in higher education institutions in Dubai increased 10 per cent last year, a Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) report revealed yesterday.

The total number of students enrolled in the emirate's tertiary education sector was put at 43,212 in the report titled The Higher Education Landscape in Dubai 2011. This compares to a total of 39,127 students in the previous year.

"In a short period of time we've seen the number of students increase exponentially, which is a great testimonial for the concept of branch campuses," said Dr Abdullah Al Karam, director general of the KHDA. "Now with introduction of Resolution 21 existing investors and students will be reassured of predicted exponential growth of Dubai's higher education sector."

The data, collected in October 2011, was disclosed by the KHDA yesterday as part of its third annual higher education landscape report. It aims to provide a snapshot of Dubai's higher education sector for investors, students and higher education stakeholders.

The introduction of Resolution 21 last year means the KHDA is now recognised as a governing body. It is now authorised to certify academic degrees from private institutions in the free zones. This means, qualifications obtained by students at Dubai's free zone institutions will now be recognised by employers in both the private and public sectors. The Commission for Academic Accreditation (CAA) — part of the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research — requires all institutions located outside the free zones to be licensed by the CAA.

Professor Ammar Kaka, vice-principal and dean of Heriot-Watt University's Dubai campus, believes the new law will increase the number of Emirati students in free zone branch campuses.

"I think Resolution 21 should result in more Emirati students joining us as well as more Middle East students because some Emirati graduates will go on to work for the government," he said. "So the option of internationally attested degrees is an attractive option because it will give them a continued chance or option."

Dr Faiz Ishaq, head of the Szabist Dubai campus believes the new decree will further promote multiculturalism on campuses.


"Our degrees are accredited by the Pakistani higher education accreditation whose procedure makes it difficult for non-Pakistanis to get their degrees attested," he said. "However, with the new resolution, we are confident it will help us attract more non-Pakistani students and ensure a more multicultural interactive learning experience for our students."

The new report recorded 52 higher education institutions now operating in Dubai, with the newest addition being Amity University. Sixty per cent of these institutions operate in Dubai's free zones namely Dubai Knowledge Village, Dubai International Academic City, Dubai International Financial Centre, Dubai Health Care City and Silicon Oasis.

More Emirati students

The remaining 34 per cent of Dubai's tertiary institutions operate outside the free zones, while federal institutions account for six per cent of the total.

The figures also showed an 11 per cent increase in the number of Emirati students enrolled in federal and private tertiary institutions in Dubai. This brings the total number of local students to 18,708, nine per cent of whom are enrolled at one of Dubai's three federal institutions. The federal universities in the emirate, included in the report, are Dubai Women's College (DWC), Dubai Men's College (DMC) and Zayed University (ZU).

The Emirati student population makes up the largest of the emirate's student demographic, accounting for 43 per cent, with Asian students coming in as the second largest.

Generally there are more male than there are female students with the former accounting for 56 per cent of the total student population. However, the new report also shows an increase in the number of male Emirati students, who now make up 55 per cent of the national student population in Dubai.

Although there are more Emirati male students in Dubai's higher education system than their female counterparts, the report shows the number of Emirati female graduates is at 52 per cent.

"In high schools 20 per cent of Emirati boys above 10th Grade do not graduate so there is a retention issue at that level," said Dr Warren Fox, executive director of higher education at the KHDA.

Course diversity still an issue

The Higher Education Landscape in Dubai 2011 shows 40 per cent of Dubai's 43,212 students are enrolled in business degrees. The majority of these students, 68 per cent, are enrolled in bachelor's degrees while only 19 per cent are enrolled in master's degrees.

The remaining 13 per cent are enrolled in foundation, diploma, and higher diploma, doctoral and associate degrees.

The fields of society, law and religion were the second largest disciplines of choice accounting for 19 per cent of the student population. Disciplines such as natural and physical sciences accounted for half-a-per cent of Dubai's student population. An evident lack of student interest in fields such as health and medicine, tourism and hospitality and architecture and construction were represented by three, one and two per cent respectively.

Professor Raed Awamleh, Director of Middlesex University Dubai, believes the figures do not reflect a deficiency in the supply of diverse degree courses but show instead student demand.

"Universities like Middlesex, Heriot-Watt and others have supplied a wide range of programmes but a majority of students want to study business," he said.

He added such data shows the need for institutions to collectively increase career awareness programmes. "Students need to know for example that a career in business doesn't necessarily start with a business degree."

He added parents also play a role in creating awareness as they also have a big hand in the degree choices their children make.

"The government reports are saying the economy needs graduates in other diverse degrees for its development," he said. "Then it has to be a joint effort between universities and the government."

He added an example of how the government has tackled this issue in the UK is by basing its higher education funding model on paying universities more to teach non-business programmes.

"Here in the UAE it could translate into increased scholarship programmes for various degrees or other awareness programmes."

Free zone campuses stand to benefit

The Higher Education Landscape in Dubai 2011 report shows that the majority of students in Dubai — 59 per cent — attend institutions outside the purpose-built free zones; although the free zones account for 60 per cent of Dubai's 52 institutions.

However Dr Abdullah Al Karam, Director General of KHDA, believes the number of students at free zone institutions will surpass those at non-free zone institutions within the next three years. He believes this will be due to the new Dubai government legislation, Resolution 21, which now grants KHDA authority to certify academic degrees from private institutions in the free zones. This means, qualifications obtained by students at Dubai's free zone institutions will now be recognised by employers in both the private and public sectors.

"I think in the immediate future, two to three years, the number of students in branch campuses will definitely surpass those in non-branch campuses," he said.