Dubai: From just a handful of universities ten years ago, Dubai has seen an exponential growth with 52 higher education institutions and almost 40,000 students currently in the emirate.

The current student enrolment is a two per cent increase from 2009 and a 10 per cent increase in Emirati students. The Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) recently released these figures in The Higher Education Landscape in Dubai 2010 report, which gives a snapshot of the total enrolment.

KHDA officials said the report will allow policy-makers and education leaders to plan better and make strategic decisions in addition to giving them an accurate picture of the academic environment in terms of trends, developments and demands for higher education.

Dr Warren Fox, Executive Director of Higher Education at KHDA, explained why the number of institutions and programmes has increased in Dubai.

Young population

"We are serving a very young population so every year we have more and more high school graduates. Expats now have more programmes to choose from, and more institutions, and as a result of that we are attracting more students. We have not yet collected data about overseas students, but we hope to do so in the future."

There are 394 programmes offered by institutions in Dubai, however business dominates with almost half of programmes on this list.

Dr Fox said universities are responding to the demand as they see it and business is very much in demand.

However, more programmes are now being introduced, he said. "For example, there are more education degrees now than there were three years ago. We need to take a developmental view on this issue. If you go back a few years, there were very few doctoral programmes in Dubai, and now that number is growing."

As institutions mature they will evolve, Dr Fox said. "Having said that, there is a huge demand for doctoral programmes in Dubai and we look forward to being able to offer more in the future. What we want is steady growth, linked to quality, and that takes time to achieve."

Other options

The establishment of education free zones has attracted educational institutions from around the world to provide quality degrees where alternative licensing options are available, the report stated.

Dubai Knowledge Village (DKV), the first zone to house education institutions, was built in 2003 and attracted eight institutions. The popularity of DKV encouraged the Dubai government to set up other education Free Zones and since 2003 there has been a 77 per cent increase in these institutions, according to the report. There are five Free Zones including Dubai International Financial Centre, Dubai Healthcare City, DKV, Dubai International Academic City and Dubai Silicon Oasis.

Of the 39,127 enrolled students, 38 per cent are in Free Zones, 43 per cent are outside the Free Zones and 19 per cent are at federal universities.

The largest institution in Dubai is the Islamic and Arabic Studies College with 3,197 students, the largest federal university is Zayed University with 2,960 students and the University of Wollongong in Dubai is the largest Free Zone university with 2,173.

Interestingly, the ten largest institutions enrol about 23,000 students.

In numbers

39,127: students are enrolled in universities in Dubai

3,197: students in the largest institute in Dubai