Students aspire for job-oriented courses
Students are calling the shots when it comes to university education in the UAE and it's 'better student experience', 'stronger industry links', and a 'fully digital environment' that they want. So if universities want to thrive here, they need to adapt to the students' way or the high way.
This was the overriding message which came from the final day of the Higher Education Forum on Thursday, which is part of the International and Private School Education Forum (IPSEF) Middle East 2017.
With the gross enrolment ratio of students in higher education now sitting above 35 per cent (compared to 14 per cent in 1990), Roland Hancock, director of PwC said "rising demand and student expectations" have led to a crossroads for universities here - either make the major transformational change or fail.
Today, the student experience is a fundamental element in operating a successful university model and it's the students themselves who are now in the driving seat. They are looking for a journey, not just an education. Although enrolment in the UAE's higher education sector has grown an average of 10 per cent annually, gaps still remain.
Speaking to Khaleej Times on the sidelines of the event, Dr Warren Fox, chief of higher education at the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA), said it is these gaps that universities should be looking to fill.
"One of the difficulties that our students face is the cost of living, housing, and transportation - not just tuition fees. So we are encouraging the free zones to either bring in providers of housing as well as advising campuses themselves to build their own accommodation."
Although on-site living is a "relatively new concept" in Dubai, Fox said it is something they are hugely in support of.
Aside from accommodation, better course opportunities are what students want; more specifically, job-oriented ones, Jitin Sethi, senior vice president, Parthenon-EY told Khaleej Times.
"Typically, if you look at programmes that work well in universities, they are employment orientated. While arts are important, the big players in this region are courses revolving around health and business. That is where I believe universities should be focusing on."
And for Dr Fox, vocational and educational training courses will benefit both universities and students in the future. "Over the last 10 years, the applied and vocational area of higher education has not developed as fast as we would have liked it too. But there is a lot more to do here."
Many of the colleges and universities under the KHDA do recognise that particular skills in health, engineering and technology need qualified experts - short of the college level - like two-year degree or vocational certificate level. So we can expect to see more such introductions in the future, he said. "There is a demand for it and I am looking forward to seeing that change."
Chinese students encouraged to study in Dubai universities
Dubai continues to push its bid to attract more international students to further strengthen the burgeoning higher education sector here - with Chinese nationals firmly in its eye line.
Of the 60,000 university students in Dubai today, just 30 per cent account for international enrollments.
Speaking to Khaleej Times on the sidelines of the Higher Education Forum, Jitin Sethi, senior vice president, Parthenon-EY said overseas students are one of the biggest areas for growth for Dubai-based universities. "Recognising the right student profile is crucial here. It will be significantly tougher to focus those efforts on the US, UK, or Australia, purely because of their well-established higher education reputation. These universities need to appeal to students who want a quality education which is price sensitive."
The UAE's strong business relationship with China, as well as its growing Chinese expat population, means it makes sense for campuses to focus largely on Chinese students.
"China has one of the biggest exports when it comes to sending students overseas for studies, but many of them return to China to upstart businesses. Dubai is much closer to their home; it has the English-driven education system they are after, at a lower price. It is a market that needs to be tapped, and I think this is something we will see happen over the next five years."
With international branch campuses from 12 different countries already established in Dubai, and five campuses newly-opened this year including University of South Wales, Curtin University, Dubai Institute of Design and Innovation, Birmingham University and Abu Dhabi University in Dubai, Dubai has shown the world it can become a leading global business hub, so "now it is leveraging this success to attract international students".
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