DUBAI // Universities are seeking ways to push students towards postgraduate study and prepare them for an increasingly demanding job market.
Middlesex University Dubai is expanding a grants scheme to try to keep graduates in school.
About 10 per cent of its graduates go on to pursue a master's degree at the campus of the British university, but its director hopes to lift that by raising grants from Dh6,000 to Dh10,000 or more.
Tuition and fees range between Dh45,000 and Dh85,000.
Prof Raed Awamleh, the director of Middlesex University Dubai, said 35 graduates took advantage of the scheme last year. Prof Awamleh expected that to rise to 40 this year.
"We believe that these types of grants are important because they reward both loyalty and hard work, encouraging postgraduate studies in the absence of wider schemes of financial aid for students outside the university, and to enhance the quality of students undertaking postgraduate study," he said.
The Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA), the emirate's education regulator, said only 18 per cent of students were enrolled in master's degrees last year.
Dr Nabil Ibrahim, the chancellor of Abu Dhabi University, said there was a rising demand for graduates with master's degrees, especially in fields such as sustainability and advanced technologies.
"That's encouraged a lot more people to come for graduate study," Dr Ibrahim said, noting the graduate school grew to 700 from 550 students this year.
Most are working to pay for their education, with classes sponsored by their employers, Dr Ibrahim said.
Prof Awamleh said: "Given the dynamic growth of the UAE and the relatively young population, employers are becoming more discerning and increasingly seeking graduates with advanced skills in specialised areas."
Dr Warren Fox, the executive director of higher education at the KHDA, said that although there was steady growth in postgraduate study some sectors, such as engineering, health, education, culture and the arts, were lagging behind.
"Some countries have large student loan and grants programmes, but that is not the case here," Dr Fox said. "Support or sponsorship from employers is important as it strengthens links between the education and business communities."
The Middlesex Graduate Award was introduced in 2009. Last year, the university awarded more than Dh2 million in scholarships based on factors ranging from sports talent to academic excellence, and those in financial need. This academic year it expects to award more than Dh3m.
Dr Shadi Martin, the head of research for social work at UAE University in Al Ain, is establishing a master's degree in social work, which she hopes to launch next year.
Although undergraduate study at the federal institution is free for Emiratis, she said they did raise questions about money when it comes to postgraduate study.
"You think money here is less of an issue than in the US, but money does play a role," Dr Martin said. "It's key to catch the students while they're still excited about their subject in the latter stages of their degree."
Prof Awamleh said although the award scheme was a good incentive, it was not the main force in pushing students towards advanced degrees.
"Ultimately, students have to choose the right postgraduate programme for them," he said.
Prof Tod Laursen, the head of Khalifa University in Abu Dhabi, said financial aid and incentives were important in encouraging more graduates into postgraduate study, as was early exposure to research.
"We have several mechanisms for doing that," Prof Laursen said. "One is summer field trips for our undergraduate students to get them excited about research through exposure to projects."