The projected increase in the estimated number of job opportunities in the region is making it imperative to focus on quality education.

It is estimated that by 2020 there will be almost 100 million job opportunities in the Middle East. Therefore, the UAE government has begun focusing attention on the need for a high quality education to supply a skilled workforce to fill these posts.

With the task of nurturing the region's talent pool and supporting its growth, Dubai Knowledge Village (DKV), the world's only free zone wholly focused on professional training, was founded in 2003.

Then in 2007 TECOM Investments (the parent company of DKV) founded the Dubai International Academic City (DIAC) as a unique cluster solely for third level institutions. The aim of the two free zones, according to Dr Ayoub Kazim, Executive Director of DKV and DIAC is, "To double the number of universities in the city of Dubai and to serve at least 25,000 students by 2012".

Educational free zones

To achieve this ambitious objective, DKV and DIAC have forged partnerships with some of the world's leading academic institutions, encouraging them to set up satellite institutions in the emirate. There are currently 20 international universities operating out of DIAC.

The educational free zones offer many advantages which lure the universities to set-up campus there, including 100 per cent foreign ownership, 100 per cent tax free status and effortless visa issuance procedures. In turn, these world-renowned colleges and universities present considerable benefits for both undergraduate and postgraduate students who wish to study in Dubai.

For example, BITS Pilani Dubai, an outpost of the prestigious Birla Institute of Technology and Science in India, which was established in 2000 to respond to the shortage of engineers, has now fostered academic links with reputed American universities.

The partnerships include twinning programme arrangements for undergraduate studies, preferential admission into graduate programmes for BITS students and joint research activities. This opportunity to study abroad is one of the key features that DIAC partners are able to offer students, thus enticing them to study here.

International opportunities

For Hult International Business School, the Dubai campus, launching September 2008, will join the existing Boston and Shanghai branches and the intended London campus.

These four branches will enable students to rotate at which school they study while gaining insight into the world's major economies. It also allows the Hult brand to gain global recognition, something which is becoming increasingly important among students who seem more geographically unhindered than ever.

One key idea that Hult have adopted and which is fundamental to the success of the educational free zone philosophy is, that irrespective of which location students choose as their study campus, they will receive a fully accredited education which is absolutely identical to that offered at the main site.

To ensure that these goals are met, the University Quality Assurance International Board or UQAIB, has been established to set standards across international higher education programmes on offer in the emirate's free zones.

UQAIB will be chaired by Dr Warren Fox, Executive Director of Higher Education in the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) of Dubai Government. Dr Fox believes that, UQAIB will support third level institutions "by giving them a format by which the quality of what they offer is transparent and easily understood by the public."

The variety of academic disciplines offered to students at DKV and DIAC is as impressive as the roll of universities already secured as partners. Michigan State University, which will commence classes in August 2008, offers degrees such as media, PR, and computer engineering.

Fashionably first

With 150 years of history, it is ranked with Harvard and Yale as a Carnegie Foundation Research I University. In October 2006, Esmod, the French fashion university, which has trained stylists for Dior and Givenchy, to name a few, opened the doors to its Dubai base.

The university offers a range of creative, technical and marketing programmes for students wishing to become players in the booming Emirati haute couture scene.

While only last month, it was announced that Murdoch University, listed in The Top 100 Asia Pacific Universities, would establish a centre in Dubai. Murdoch University International Study Centre Dubai is expected to attract students from within the UAE, across the Middle East to cater for the expanding Dubai Media Industry.

In addition, DKV also has a branch of University of Phoenix which will offer online graduate and undergraduate courses specifically designed for working adults as well as the launch of the K12 International Academy, an online school for children.

Of course, Abu Dhabi will not be outdone by its neighbouring emirate. In 2005, the Abu Dhabi Education Council (ADEC) was set up by General Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, to develop education in Abu Dhabi.

Cultural hub

Under ADEC, Paris-Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi (PSUAD) is among the first distinguished universities to establish an offspring institution in the UAE capital. This is just the first arts based facility that Abu Dhabi hopes to open. At the present, Abu Dhabi's government is also in talks with Yale University regarding the possibility of opening an arts institute on Saadiyat Island, which is being envisioned as the UAE's cultural hub.

New York University (NYU) has already confirmed an agreement with the Abu Dhabi government for a centre in the emirate. This will be the first comprehensive liberal arts campus established abroad by a principal US university and it is estimated that the first batch of students will enroll in 2010.

Although NYU Abu Dhabi (NYUAD) will be primarily a residential research campus, it will adhere to procedures and standards established at NYU's Washington Square campus. Like many of the DKV and DIAC based universities, students enrolled in NYUAD will also have the opportunity to study at one of NYU's other global sites.

Following the launch of these unrivalled education incentives, the question remains will the UAE become the leading destination for higher education in the Gulf region? If the successful ambitions of the past or the well planned details of these projects are anything to judge by, the UAE should brace itself for orientation week.