Text size:

  • Small
  • Normal
  • Large

Emirati university students shunning engineering courses

New figures from the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research show that 27 per cent of Emiratis are studying only diploma or higher diploma level courses.

ABU DHABI // A quarter of Emirati university students are studying courses below degree level, new figures reveal.

The figures, the first released by the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research's new data and statistics centre, show that while the number of Emiratis at university rose from 51,000 in 2008 to 69,000 in 2011, 27 per cent were studying only diploma or higher diploma level courses.

Men are still shunning the kind of technical courses being promoted by the Government as essential to the UAE's post-oil economy. Just 22 per cent of men were studying engineering, with a third (33 per cent) taking business courses. The same proportion of women were studying business, but far fewer (11 per cent) were studying engineering.

Men were, however, more likely to be at private universities, with three in five male Emirati students attending those institutions, and the rest going to a federal university. That was exactly opposite for female Emirati students, 60 per cent of whom were at federal university.

Prof David Woodhouse, leading the project, said the greater tendency of women to go to federal institutions was partly because Zayed University was until recently for women only, which "presumably still brings a historic bias".

The university, which started taking men in 2007, now has about 1,400 male and 5,000 female students.

However, Dr Badr Aboul-Ela, head of the ministry's Commission for Academic Accreditation, suggested the figure might be skewed by other options available to men but not included in the results, such as studying abroad and going into the armed forces.

He said the high numbers studying below undergraduate level were down to poor secondary school standards and the many Emiratis returning to education in a bid to better themselves.

"A significant proportion of those studying diplomas are employed," he said. "They would have left high school and didn't go on to college or university for whatever reason.

"Another factor, though, is that their high school grades did not average 70 per cent – the minimum to enter a federal university – so they would go to somewhere such as Abu Dhabi Vocational Education and Training Institute."

As it is, a "huge proportion" of the federal university budget is spent on remedial courses for the 90 per cent of students whose English is not good enough to start a degree taught in that language. "It's a huge burden on higher education," he said.

While he welcomed the increase in male engineers, Dr Aboul-Ela said their low numbers was just not enough. "The country needs more technology and engineering students – whether boys or girls," he said.

Dr Natasha Ridge, head of research at the Al Qassimi Foundation for Policy Research in RAK, also noted the widespread preference for business courses, which she said "could potentially pose serious competitive problems in the labour market".

The figures were compiled from 64 universities, including 59 ministry-accredited institutions and two in the RAK free trade zone, as well as the three federal universities.

Three statisticians toured the country to collect data including student numbers, and academics' nationalities and qualifications.

Eventually, the data will be made public, but for now institutions can see only their own data, although they can ask for figures for similar institutions.

Excluded from the figures are several ministry-licensed universities that are too new to have meaningful data or lack decent records, and military and police academies, whose details are classified.

McSean Thompson, one of the statisticians, said: "This starts to give institutions a real picture of where they fit with their sphere of work or influence."

Consistency and reliability of data has been an issue to be ironed out as the project matures.

"We don't have any means of checking facts such as the number of publications of an institution," Prof Woodhouse said.

"In time we might be able to do sample checks but you need the staff to do that and we don’t have the resources yet."

While Dr Peter Heath, chancellor of the American University of Sharjah – one of a handful of institutions that publishes its own institutional data online - welcomed the report, he said different standards of data collection meant the figures should be taken with a pinch of salt.

However, he said, "if filled out accurately, it provides an excellent source of benchmarking among the universities in the UAE."


Back to the top

More articles

Editor's Picks

 The Retreat at the Westin Abu Dhabi Golf Resort & Spa will screen IPL games on request. Lee Hoagland / The National

Top five places to catch an IPL game in the UAE

Enjoy all the 20/20 cricket action at a sports lounge near you – whether in Abu Dhabi, Al Ain or Dubai

This April 17 don’t take our word, we’ll take yours

Have a catchy caption for our picture above? Share it with us.

 Fans braved long queues and early morning hassles to buy IPL tickets in person rather than buy them online, such has been the enthusiasm for the tournament. Mona Al Marzooqi / The National

Love it, hate it but IPL is too big to be ignored

The tournament steamrolls its way through life perennially from the throes of extinction to the prospect of expansion; alive one moment through its on-field spectacle, dying the next because of another off-field wrangle.

 An employee plays the game Flappy Bird at a smartphone store in Hanoi. Hoang Dinh Nam / AFP

How Flappy Bird made app developer $50,000 a day

The game propelled the unknown Vietnamese developer Dong Nguyen to rock-star status.

 Iranian President Hassan Rouhani greets supporters after his arrival in Zahedan, the regional capital of Sistan and Baluchestan province on Tuesday, April 15, 2014. During Mr Rouhani's two-day visit, he will tour several other cities and hold meetings with local scholars and entrepreneurs. Maryam Rahmanian for The National

On the road with Hassan Rouhani

Iran's president is touring some of Iran's most underdeveloped provinces. Foreign correspondent Yeganeh Salehi is traveling with him.

 A view of a defaced portrait of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during an anti-North Korean rally on the 102nd birthday of North Korean founder Kim Il Sung in central Seoul. Kim Hong-Ji / Reuters

Best photography from around the world today

The National View's photo editors pick the best images of the day from around the world.


To add your event to The National listings, click here

Get the most from The National