SHARJAH // Student enrolments have increased by up to 40 per cent at some private universities.
Preliminary figures for the start of this academic year show an unusually high spike in new student numbers.
"It is really pleasing to note this year the substantial increase in the number of applications and subsequent admissions into the science, technology, engineering and medical sciences (Stem) fields," said Prof Samy Mahmoud, chancellor at the University of Sharjah, the country's largest private university.
"We are talking here about an increase in the range of 20 to 40 per cent relative to last year.
"It is coming from all sources - nationals as well as international students, women and men."
The academic year is still in its early stages, so specific enrolment data is not available. But Prof Mahmoud said medical fields were always in high demand.
"This year, pharmacy, laboratory technical medicine and programmes such as diet and nutrition and nursing are attracting many more students," he said.
Overall demand for engineering programmes is up nearly 30 percent. Prof Mahmoud described this as "phenomenal in one year relative to the year before", not least rises in subjects such as sustainable and renewable energy, nuclear energy and mechanical engineering.
Demand for degrees such as biotechnology from the College of Sciences is also increasing at a high rate, Prof Mahmoud said.
In the social sciences, demand for international relations and applied sociology jumped by more than 40 per cent, "reflecting the social and global relevance of these programmes in the discussions within family and student circles", Prof Mahmoud said.
Demand for English studies has also increased by 20 per cent.
"Perhaps the increasing demand reflects the expectations of job-market demands for the graduates and the local and international campaigns to promote such degrees, especially among girls," Prof Mahmoud said.
"It is a fact that the participation of women in Stem programmes in the UAE is much higher than in the western world and is something the UAE can take pride in.
"I am personally delighted with this trend."
Increases have also been seen at the neighbouring American University of Sharjah, but not to the same extent.
Annual increases are usually between 3 and 5 per cent but have more than doubled this year.
"We are expecting between a 10 and 15 per cent increase in new student enrolment this coming year," said Ali Shuhaimy, vice chancellor for enrolment.
He said several factors had contributed to the rise."Our recruitment efforts last year were intensified by 200 per cent," he said.
Financial grants were appealing, he added, and political crisis in the region has led many students to see the UAE as a stable destination.
"Students that were enrolled in countries like Syria and Egypt decided to transfer their studies to the UAE," Mr Shuhaimy said.
But not all institutions believe this is the only explanation for the increase.
"That is not the case at the University of Sharjah," said Prof Mahmoud. "We had very few transfer students, a handful, from Syria and Egypt wanting to get into upper years. We are talking here about four or five students, not more."
Prof Tod Laursen, president of Khalifa University in Abu Dhabi, says the increase in enrolment is down to the university's coming of age, not the region's politics.
"It looks like about a 10 per cent rise or so, but it is early," he said.