Research visas, business-facing programmes and international accreditation are among the reasons the UAE is emerging as an attractive destination for students considering higher education qualifications.
Following the launch of a national strategy for advanced skills last month, education is a priority sector for the country. The policies enacted will ensure it is sustainable, diverse and in line with the requirements of future development plans as part of a comprehensive system to build future skills in key development areas.
The UAE has previously announced its aim of creating an education sector at the forefront of global rankings, and to that end, Dh10.3 billion — one-sixth of the annual budget for 2019 — has already been allocated for university education programmes.
We’re already seeing results. Two UAE universities, Khalifa University and UAE University, now rank in Asia’s top 50 universities for the first time, according to the Times Higher Education (THE) Asia University Rankings 2019. The University of Sharjah and the American University of Sharjah (AUS) are the only other institutions that make the list.
An education hub
In particular, the THE commended UAE institutions for their international approach, a philosophy that reflects the country’s dynamics.
“The UAE has become a draw for international students due to its location and connections to destinations around the world,” Acting AUS Chancellor Professor Kevin Mitchell tells GN Focus, pointing out that the THE identified the AUS as the university with the highest percentage of international students in the world for the past two years.
“The academic community at AUS is enriched by its diversity and it prepares students to navigate the complexities of an increasingly globalised world,” he adds.
The UAE has become a draw for international students due to its location and connections to destinations around the world.
Recent visa reforms have improved the appeal of the UAE for international students, with those with family in the country to be now given a two-year residency visa to look for a job after they graduate, as opposed to an average of six months earlier. Outstanding students and researchers will also now be able to remain in the country for up to 10 years.
“The recent visa reforms are one of the best things to happen to the UAE’s educational sector,” says Prof. Hossam Hamdy, Chancellor, Gulf Medical University Ajman, which attracts students of over 80 nationalities and has collaborative agreements with leading universities in Milan, Arizona, Central Florida and Cairo.
“The UAE is already a favourite higher education destination, and this move will further consolidate its position as a global leader.”
The recent visa reforms are one of the best things to happen to the UAE’s educational sector.
That internationalisation is in line with global trends, but UAE universities are competing in what the British Council’s fourth Shape of Global Higher Education report called an extremely crowded space earlier this month. Countries with mature education systems, such as the Netherlands, Germany and France, are already offering research students access to domestic labour markets, a move with profound implications for the future of international education strategy.
Making a real-world connection
One way that UAE institutions are responding is with programmes aimed at meeting the demands of the next wave of technological change, from space and robotics to 3D printing. AUS, for example, launched an undergraduate degree in physics last year, to prepare students for careers related to new initiatives for space exploration in the UAE.
At GMU Ajman, Prof Hamdy points to the university’s use of a Virtual Patient Learning simulation technique that mirrors real-world scenarios. “The prevalence of innovative technology like Virtual Reality and Artificial Intelligence in training and learning, especially in medical education, is a major trend in higher education,” Prof Hamdy says.
Dr Kevin Dunseath, City University of London’s Regional Director, MENA and Head of its Dubai Centre, says the way that technology is now encoded into the DNA of many fields influences courses at the institute. “Students on our programmes are routinely required to consider the effects of digital advances on their industry sector as they prepare to deal with the effects of the fourth industrial revolution,” he says.
Students on our programmes are routinely required to consider the effects of digital advances on their industry sector as they prepare to deal with the effects of the fourth industrial revolution.
Meanwhile, other universities are collaborating with businesses to offer a hands-on, real-world experience. The corporate cybersecurity training company SANS Institute has partnered with several UAE faculties looking to enhance their product.
“SANS’ Cyber Exercise course for university students provides a comprehensive cybersecurity curriculum using gamified learning to teach students many of the key elements needed to be a cybersecurity professional and set them on the road to a cybersecurity career,” says Ned Baltagi, Managing Director, Middle East & Africa at SANS Institute.
SANS’ Cyber Exercise course for university students provides a comprehensive cybersecurity curriculum using gamified learning to teach students many of the key elements needed to be a cybersecurity professional and set them on the road to a cybersecurity career.
Blended workplaces are inspiring blended campus courses.“In business education, we see more interest in aligning course content and learning formats with the workplace,” says Randa Bessiso, Director – Middle East, The University of Manchester.
“Practical real-world learning means that we focus more on case studies, and enable students to undertake group projects as part of their learning programme.”
Practical real-world learning means that we focus more on case studies, and enable students to undertake group projects as part of their learning programme.
Finally, placements and career coaching remain a major draw. Many universities have career services divisions, such as the one at AUS, which also helps with internships.
“The internship programme not only provides work experience prior to graduation, it also results in opportunities following degree completion. AUS maintains strong links with employers through a dedicated career fair,” Mitchell says.