Dubai: It was a Thursday afternoon, in the square outside Heriot-watt University and University of Wollongong in Dubai Knowledge Park, students were chatting and laughing during their course breaks. Energy and joy filled the space. Among them, many were Chinese students.
In recent years, about 1.08 million tertiary-level Chinese students are studying overseas, accounting for the largest overseas study group worldwide, according to United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).
The number of Chinese students in higher education in the UAE has seen a continuous rise since 2012, as per Tongtong Zhou, CEO of Oriental Wise Education Group, which is the only certified overseas study service center, by the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) in Dubai, for Chinese students in the UAE.
Gulfnews spoke to some UAE-based Chinese students to find out, why they chose the UAE as a place to study?
Scholarship policy provides cost-effective tuition fees
Many universities in the UAE offer scholarships and grants. Shiqi Li is currently attending the University of Birmingham in Dubai for her Bachelor’s degree. She was able to get a scholarship from her university, which saved her 40 per cent of the tuition fees. “I paid almost only half of the fees to get the same level of education in the UAE. It’s more expensive to go to universities with similar world rankings in countries such as the US and the UK.”
Pursuing her Master’s degree in Media and Communications in University of Wollongong in Dubai, Wanjiao Xiao also got 20 per cent off on her tuition fees, as scholarship.
“In general, compared with the headquarters of universities in the UK, the US and Australia, the UAE campuses provide attractive scholarship policies,” Zhou explained.
Dozens of international universities have set up their campuses in the UAE, including New York University Abu Dhabi, London Business School Dubai, Hult International Business School Dubai, University of Birmingham Dubai and Heriot-Watt University Dubai.
The process of applying for universities is more efficient and hassle-free here in the UAE
An efficient and hassle-free application process
Li’s chosen university – the University of Birmingham, is a British one headquartered in the city of Birmingham, but it also set up a campus in the UAE, specifically in Dubai. When asked why she chose the UAE over the UK, the 20-year-old replied, “The process of applying for this university is more efficient and hassle-free here in the UAE. From submitting documents, to receiving my admission, it took about three weeks.
“Meanwhile, I get to study the same courses that are being taught in the UK. Upon graduation, I will also obtain a bachelor’s degree that is directly issued from the UK, which is the same as those being issued in the UK campus.”
Li also said that with her highschool score, she wasn’t able to enter top universities in China, but it helped her to get accepted by the University of Birmingham, which is among the top 100 universities in the world, based on Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) World University Rankings.
She explained, “Other than academic scores, overseas universities, such as mine, tend to also evaluate students based on criteria such as their English language skill, practical experiences, personal statement and research ability.”
Simple visa application process
Li felt that she “almost didn’t make any effort in obtaining her student visa”.
“I applied for my visa through Zhou’s organisation. All I did was to submit the documents to them and wait. It took 20 working days for the visa to be issued.”
Xiao also thinks that the visa application process was easy. “The documents I needed to submit included passport-sized photographs, passport front page, payment slip and some others. After submission, I just waited for my visa to be issued.”
Most Chinese students attending universities in Dubai and the northern emirates apply through Zhou’s organisation. According to Zhou, if a student is outside the UAE, they will need to hold an e-visa specified for students to enter the country. Once they are here, they will need to go through the process to obtain their emirates ID. Issuance of the e-visa takes 20 working days. Physical examination and issuance of emirates ID takes two to three weeks.
Meanwhile, students’ family members can visit them with easy visa procedures – they can land in the UAE and get their passports stamped for a 30-day visa at the airport, or follow some simple steps to apply for a 90-day family visit visa.
Students can choose to pay monthly – you can submit 10 checks in advance, afterwards the university will deduct relative amount monthly through your bank.
Flexible tuition payment terms
Nengchi Zhang, is attending Heriot-Watt University in Dubai for a Master’s degree in Business Strategy Leadership and Change. He said that the university allowed students to pay the tuition fees in instalments.
“Students can choose to pay monthly – you can submit 10 checks in advance, afterwards the university will deduct relative amount monthly through your bank. You can also choose to pay by credit card, which allows you to pay in eight instalments, if I remember it correctly.”
“Applying for universities in Dubai does not require bank deposit guarantees or deposit freezes. The tuition fees of nearly all universities are paid in installments. Some universities allow payment based on the actual number of courses – all these terms make students here achieve self-sufficiency in payment,” Zhou concluded.
English-speaking, safe and top-tier expat environment
Nationals from more than 200 countries live and work in the UAE. In 2022, Dubai and Abu Dhabi were ranked among the top 10 expat cities in the world.
The country’s openness and inclusiveness is one of the key factors that attract Chinese students.
Wanjiao Xiao said, “I wanted to explore different content and teaching methods in my field of interest in a foreign country, and according to what I’ve heard and researched, the UAE offers just the right environment.
“The English-speaking environment in the UAE pushes me to practice my rusty English skill - which is useful to have, in a highly globalised world.
“My classmates are multinational. A lot of our homework is assigned as a group effort. So, students with different backgrounds often work together to finish a common project – this is again very valuable experience for my future career, because I will need to work in groups, likely an international one.
“I especially adore my campus – it’s quiet, modern, and we get to enjoy free Wi-Fi. The equipment and facilities in our classrooms and learning spaces are also advanced. For example, we have digital group study rooms, where we can share our computer screen on a common screen, so group members can discuss projects easily.
“My university is situated at the Dubai Knowledge Park, which is close to Tram and bus station, making it convenient for me to travel.
“All in all, the living conditions in the UAE are very friendly to Chinese nationals – it’s a safe country to be in.”
There is also a thriving Chinese community here, which makes many Chinese students feel at home.
The job market in the UAE has become one of the reasons why Chinese students come and study here.
Degree obtained in UAE recognised by Ministry of Education of China
Zhou said that if Chinese students in the UAE choose to return to China after graduation, their degree is recognised by the Ministry of Education of China and can be attested online following some easy steps. With the attested degree in hand, they can benefit from some domestic policies in China, which are tailored for overseas students, such as the opportunity to apply for residency in first-tier cities.
Good job opportunities for Chinese in the UAE
“The university will send job opportunities to students by email regularly. Well-known companies, such as fortune global 500 companies are often included in the email. They will also remind you of job fairs in the UAE, and quite often, leading local and international companies are there to recruit,” says Zhang.
Xiao thinks that Chinese people have more chances to enter famous companies for high-paying positions in Dubai, compared to in China. “My Chinese friends have relatively good jobs in the UAE. Mandarin language skill becomes an advantage here. However, speaking English is also essential in the employment world in this country.”
“Nearly 70 per cent of the world's top 500 companies have their headquarters in Dubai, and more than 6,000 Chinese enterprises are currently operating in the UAE. It’s relatively easy for Chinese students to get good internship and job opportunities here, compared to regions and countries such as Europe and the US. About 95 per cent of Dubai Chinese graduates will stay here to work, for at least a period of time. The job market in the UAE has become one of the reasons why Chinese students come and study here,” Zhou concluded.