AJMAN // City University College, the emirate's much-needed third Ministry accredited institution, is due to open this month.
The institution has been accredited by the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, and it will open with just two degrees - finance, and accounting and marketing.
With only Ajman University of Science and Technology and Gulf Medical University open, hundreds of students each year have had to travel to Sharjah or Dubai for tertiary education at places with recognised accreditation.
While it expects to enrol about 40 students when courses start on February 26, City University College of Ajman (Cuca) already has ambitious expansion plans for the next five years, when it hopes to introduce a range of new courses and colleges of health, education and engineering.
Mark Langer, the programme director, said diversification was essential for the long-term future of the institution.
"These are all areas of economic growth," Mr Langer said. "In tourism, for example, there's so much development and graduates could find jobs right here."
Hardeep Anant, who will be teaching business management, said the feasibility study showed there was a major need for more options for Ajman's young population.
"It showed a lot of school leavers don't have the opportunities for study," Mr Anant said. "Roughly 1,200 students every year have to go outside the emirate and 59 per cent of those choose business management, which means over 600 are going away to get this degree."
Most significantly, he said, there would be a large number of women not included in the study who would also need to be accounted for - those who could not leave the emirate to study.
"They might not even get an education," Mr Anant said.
But with about 70 per cent of applicants so far male, indications are that plans to have mixed classes may have to be reassessed, especially if they are to tap into the local Emirati community.
"It's something we may need to look at in the future, to separate the classes or something like that or even look at totally segregated education," said Salma Senaran, the university's registrar.
"It's a very local community who prefer to send their daughters to the government universities where they have segregation."
But the closest government institutions are the Higher Colleges of Technology in Dubai or Sharjah and Zayed University in Dubai, meaning the girls from more conservative families may still prefer to study close to home or not study at all.
Just next door is Preston University which has been twice turned down for accreditation by the ministry since it was established in 2001.
With 900 students, it is moving to the management of the Ajman free zone to allow it to operate independently, governed only by the Pakistani Higher Education Commission, for its four undergraduate and three postgraduate degrees.
Abdul Hamid Malik, the president of Cuca, left Preston University for the new project after Preston's plans for accreditation were turned down for a second time.
"Ministry accreditation was very important to us when we were establishing Cuca and it's a big thing for the students as it allows them access to employment in the government and private sectors," Mr Malik said.
"It's very important in the Arab region. Many countries around us have adopted the ministry's standards as of last year so it is recognised now not only nationally but internationally."
He is confident it will not take long for the institution to grow, with its projections indicating it could have as many as 4,000 students from Ajman and surrounding emirates within five years.
Mr Malik said it was time more focus is given to the Northern Emirates and more options opened to its population.
The university has set a competitive fee structure, costing about Dh90,000 for a four-year degree, broken down by credit hours costing Dh750 compared with about Dh1,000 at other institutions.
Entry requirements are also accessible, asking for a grade point average of 60, the same as Ajman University of Science and Technology but low compared with 80 at more prestigious and expensive institutions such as the American University of Sharjah.
Mr Anant hopes the university will play a big economic and social role in the area's development, not only in Ajman but in the neighbouring emirates too.
"We need to do a lot of research to see how we need so serve the community here," he said.
"We need to engage local partners such as local businesses to do this.
"We have an important role to play, catering to the local population."
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