ABU DHABI // The provost of Abu Dhabi University, which has recently dismissed 126 underperforming students, has apologised to parents whose children have been in the system since as early as 2003.
He said that for the parents who have paid fees for so long and the students who have now left without qualifications, the situation was unfortunate but unavoidable.
Such cases would not happen again, he said, now that the policy for dismissing students after three warnings, developed two years ago, was being enforced. It was the first time the university has dismissed students.
"We had a change of leadership and the previous leadership didn't understand these issues," said the provost, James Mackin, who added the university "cannot tolerate levels of achievement that are below standard".
There is an academic recovery programme for students who have reached three warnings, but, students still had up to five extra semesters before dismissal.
Mohammed Otoum, 19, is studying computer engineering at the university and said that five extra semesters was too many. "Two or three extra semesters is more than enough. By that time, you can figure it out that you're not going to study," he said.
Lama Zayed, 20, who is studying architecture, has been through all three of the probation periods and admitted she was more concerned with having fun than studying.
In spite of the help of professors and student counsellors, she came close to dismissal before finally concentrating on her studies.
"The problem was in me. I didn't care about the fees, as long as I was receiving an education."
Yasmine Trabelsi, 21, is studying management. She has been on probation once and said the problem was a the transition from high school to university. "My weak subject is maths and then to suddenly go from studying maths in Arabic to studying it in English was very tough."
Computer engineering student Ahmed Nashaat, 19, said many were in the wrong programme.
"They don't care how long it takes them to get their degree, as long as they get it, but it shouldn't be this way. If you can't complete it in this time, you should be doing another programme where you perform better."
The dropout rate of underachievers at the University of Sharjah, however, has improved, according to its chancellor Samy Mahmoud, "to the extent that it has become truly insignificant in most of our degree programmes".
He said two major changes had been responsible. "Proactive academic advising at admission time for students coming from high school ensures that they enter the programme most suitable for their aptitude and talent. We did so after we realised that students coming from high schools make fundamental mistakes in selecting the right programme that matches their skills and future plans. At the same time we found that academic counsellors in high schools needed help to do their job effectively and we provided plenty by communicating directly with a large number of them."
The university developed the Student Success Centre, where social workers and educational psychologists identified first-year students who were struggling.
However, the system has problems, said Rania Abdulla Ahmed, a final-year medical student. She said that until the second year, advisers helped them target correct resources, guiding study skills, but beyond then, things have not been as easy.
"By the third year, the faculty were changing and were using a different system. By the third and fourth year we were suffering. We didn't know which subjects to focus on or which were the better resources. I could sit and read an article for two hours and then realise it wasn't what I wanted. If the advisers had stayed on or the professors knew how to advise properly, things would have been better."
She said that while her friends in the college of engineering had similar problems, the college of health sciences had retained the tutor system, whereby students had constant support.