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AUS launches region's first guide to picking a university

SHARJAH // The first guidebook offering students advice on choosing one of the region’s many universities has been launched by the American University of Sharjah (AUS).

There are 107 universities and colleges in the UAE alone but it can be difficult for students to choose between them as only three – UAE University, AUS and Abu Dhabi University – feature on international rankings tables, which feature information on class sizes, research output and student numbers.

AUS, as part of its community service remit, has now produced an online manual offering guidance on selecting the best university.
The free e-book does not refer to specific institutions but instead identifies seven key areas students should consider: application deadlines, academic accreditation, recruitment history, fees, curriculum, location and global reputation.
The guide also urges students to consider an institution’s relationship with employers and graduate recruitment. 
Ali Shuhaimy, vice chancellor for enrolment management, said the project was prompted by the number of students unaware of issues such as accreditation.
“Throughout the years, we’ve noticed a lack of knowledge on these issues among students, parents and counsellors,” he said.
The need for such guidance is apparent. The Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, which licenses and accredits 70 of the UAE’s institutions, will launch the country’s first database of higher education data and statistics next year. It will include information from the ministry’s institutions and some outside its remit which have volunteered to submit data.
Rankings tables are not always reliable, some experts warn, because  they vary according to criteria and the business interests of those who compile them.
“We tell people that rankings are a good indicator of quality education but it’s not the only factor,” Mr Shuhaimy said. “We say in the book that some institutions may not be in a position to be ranked but they still may be good.
“Younger institutions may not be in a rankings list but that does not mean they are bad.”
Dr Warren Fox, head of higher education at the Knowledge and Human Development Authority, which licenses 27 branch campuses in Dubai’s free zones, said: “Rankings aren’t helpful with newer campuses and one-programme universities.” He said that to assure students of a university’s credentials, the authority had created the Quality Assurance International Board for campuses.
Sara Al Boom, 20, is an Emirati media student at the American University in Dubai. When she finished school, she was 16 and not ready to go abroad.
She welcomed the guide, saying she, like many of her friends and family, relied on word of mouth when choosing a university.
“The guidance counsellor didn’t sit down with me so I didn’t have that advice,” she said of her days at the private Muwakeb School. “The e-book will make a huge difference for students. Many parents feel schools don’t invest enough into giving this kind of information.”
Prof Raed Awamleh, director of the branch campus of the UK’s Middlesex University, said: “We all benefit from these types of guides because they serve to better inform students’ and parents’ decisions when it comes to selecting a university, which is good for everyone.
“Like in the UK where many of these types of guides exist, prospective students should also be able to compare universities and programmes on a range of criteria.
“However, the higher education landscape in the UAE is quite young and unique with respect to the number of universities, the programmes offered, university structures and student population, so it might be a bit more challenging to develop a comparative guide at this stage.”