ABU DHABI // Hundreds of young Emiratis signed up for massively expanded vocational training courses yesterday as an alternative to university.
By 8.30am, half an hour before the doors opened, several young women were waiting at the front doors of the Jazira Institute. The men were as eager, also gathering half an hour before registration opened at 12.30pm.
Jazira is one of four campuses run by Abu Dhabi Vocational Education and Training Institute. Next month it will open new branches in Sharjah, Ajman and Fujairah.
Many students who signed up yesterday had been rejected by the three federal universities. Before, they would have been guaranteed a place at the largest, the Higher Colleges of Technology, but this year HCT raised its entry standards to match those at Zayed and UAE universities.
Instead, 3,500 students have been offered places at Adveti, compared with only 2,000 last year.
Ahmed Al Kindi, 19, turned down a job with the Abu Dhabi Courts and six months' training to become a supervisor, to go to Adveti.
"I'm young still and it's a priority to finish my education. I have time to go to work," he said. "I'm happy Adveti accepted me."
The institute opened in 2007, offering courses in work-orientated subjects such as tourism and human resources.
Dr Kathleen Hodge, the managing director of Adveti, was until yesterday expecting about 60 per cent of those offered places to take them. She now hopes it may be higher.
Dr Hodge was surprised at how many students signed up yesterday. "It's been the same at all four campuses," she said. "It's not so many that we're overwhelmed, but we're delighted."
During the final year of high school, Emirati students apply to their preferred university, where they can study free, provided they reach a minimum entry score of 150 on their school-leaving exam and average 70 per cent or more in their overall marks across the last four years of high school.
Last year, HCT, which has 17 colleges around the country, set a minimum score of 140 for the first time, and this year the requirement was raised to 150, the same as the other two federal universities.
The move was part of an effort to raise standards at HCT while removing from it the burden of putting students through remedial classes in maths and English, which has accounted for around 30 per cent of its budget.
Those who failed to make the grade for HCT were instead made offers at Adveti, which will give them intensive English lessons for 35 hours a week. After that, they can either continue at Adveti on a diploma course or, if they have improved their grades, transfer to a federal university.
Many spoke yesterday of the relief at having been given a second chance to go to a college.
Ahmed Ali Mansour, 17, scored 146 in his final exams - just short of the mark he needed to get into Zayed or UAEU. He admitted his English had let him down. "I thought nobody would accept me," he said.
Omar Al Zubairi was even closer, scoring over 150 in his exam but narrowly missing the 70 per cent average to get into HCT.
"I've heard good things about Adveti," he said. "For me it's really just an issue of working afterwards and making sure I can get work."
He plans to study engineering at the institute once he completes his remedial year.
"We're very pleased with the scores we're seeing," said Dr Hodge. "These students will progress very quickly here."
Twins Khadeeja and Ruquia Al Meshgri, 18, and their cousin Ashwaq Bokeht, 21, all applied to UAEU in Al Ain but did not make the grade.
"I know I need to improve my English," said Khadeeja, "and I know I can do that here. I was disappointed at first but now I've come here and met the staff and seen the campus, I am very happy."
The three girls have also benefited from a change in the law that allows the children of Emirati mothers the full benefits of citizenship, including free education.
Ashwaq said: "Before this year, it was a worry to know what we would do for education as we would not have been able to go to university. I'm so happy that now we can study since the law changed."