Dubai: New higher educational bridges between the UAE and the UK were discussed at the British Council’s “Going Global” Conference that was inaugurated on Tuesday by Shaikh Nahyan Bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research, at the Dubai World Trade Centre.

The two-day conference brought together 1,300 international education leaders from nearly 80 countries to share their expertise and discuss the role of higher education in developing successful international knowledge economies.

During the conference Shaikh Nahyan highlighted the importance of focusing on students’ needs, stating: “Many discussions about higher education can sometimes neglect the consideration of the actual people who are to be educated. In the United Arab Emirates we are fully engaged in global cooperation and discussion that will help nations to strengthen or create knowledge-based economies. A few issues that may be of interest in the discussions is that we must always make sure that students are the focus of our work as they give all of us in the education field a reason for being.”

As for future bilateral educational plans between the UK and the UAE that are likely to result from the conference Gulf News spoke to UK Minister of State for Universities and Science David Willetts.

“I have brought with me to the UAE a delegation with a representation of almost a dozen British universities who are keen to do more here because this is one of the liveliest centres for international universities. Here in the UAE there are more foreign campuses than anywhere else in the world and we see the UAE and the Gulf as a crucial place where universities are setting up and I hope that there will be more universities established as a result of this visit.”

Willets also stated that collaboration in research is another key element that UK universities are keen on, stating: “The Gulf is moving beyond simply a branch campus model but is also moving towards capacity-building by sharing research programmes between the UK and Gulf and we are keen on that type of cooperation because universities are more likely to achieve more by shared programming than by research done by one university in the west.”

As for challenges that UK universities are currently facing Willetts stated that there are three main challenges: how to pay for higher education, how to ensure quality of education and, finally, how to keep pace with technology.

Commenting on the challenge of paying fees due to the fee hike in higher education in the UK, Willets replied, “It is quite controversial but increasingly accepted that university fees in the UK have increased from about £3,000 (Dh16,557.6) to a maximum of £9,000. Students however do not have to pay the whole amount upfront. We provide them with funds and they pay back universities as graduates given that they get a well-paid job, which is a way of financing our education to afford to have more students.”

“As for Arab students they have the overseas student’s regime and it is an open competitive market,” he concluded.

Noor Nazzal is a trainee at Gulf News