New York University Abu Dhabi Image Credit: Supplied

"When we set out to create NYUAD [New York University Abu Dhabi], we made it clear we were looking to attract the top students in the world, regardless of their national origin," said Josh Taylor, Assistant Vice-Chancellor of Public Affairs at NYUAD, ahead of the intake of the university's inaugural freshman class of 2014.

About 150 top candidates from 39 countries have been admitted.

Americans make up about one-third, mainly due to the university's popularity in the US, said Taylor.

"One of our challenges is that many of the top students in the UAE choose to attend university abroad," said Taylor. However, that may all change with the US' fifth best university at their doorstep.

"I never expected to stay in Abu Dhabi for university until NYUAD," said Ahmad Al Masoud who will soon start classes. "I didn't want to stay, I wanted a different experience, but now with NYUAD I can do that to a greater extent because I get to travel to more than one country," he added.

Quality of applicants

"The secondary school system in the UAE has a long way to go when it comes to graduating students fit for competition in the world's top universities."

This sentiment was expressed by NYUAD new recruit, Shamma Suhail Al Mazroui, who is now part of NYUAD's inaugural freshman class of 2014.

NYUAD also revealed that just 5 per cent of the inaugural class is made up of Emiratis.

When asked how she feels about the number, Shamma, a UAE national, said it reflected two things. "[It reflects] that the high school education system in the UAE may have some ground to cover before the majority of its graduates are considered for admission into NYUAD," she said.

She added that it could also reflect a desire of the capital to attract talented students from abroad who may end up as part of Abu Dhabi's skilled workforce.

UAE on the global map

Set to open in August, NYUAD has also served to further cement the position of the UAE on the global map and set new standards for higher education in the UAE, with international students now seeking to move here, Al Masoud said.

"We don't have a university in the UAE where people from abroad come specifically to study at," he said. "[But] NYUAD will now attract people from everywhere to come and study here," he added.

"We're moving into a truly globalised age, where business, government and education will be more international than they ever have been and NYUAD puts us right at the forefront of this movement," said Erin Katherine Meekhof, a new NYUAD recruit from Washington DC, US. "I couldn't pass up the opportunity to learn about an unfamiliar part of the world by living there," she added.

"I can't imagine a better place [than NYUAD] for becoming a global citizen, which I believe is the way of the future," said Máté Bede-Fazekas, a NYUAD freshman from Hungary.