DUBAI // A policy paper released by the Dubai School of Government and the Knowledge and Human Development Authority has revealed that many students perceive shortcomings with universities in Dubai.
There are 52 higher-learning institutions in Dubai, but problems cited in the paper include a shortage of offerings, a dearth of qualified counsellors and a lack of coordination between the emirate's secondary schools and universities.
The paper's authors, Hanan Al Fardan and Fatma Belrehif, encouraged schools to differentiate between career and guidance counsellors, and stressed the importance of both. They also pointed to the role of parents.
"University students and young adults cite parents as an important influence on their choice of career," the paper said. "Studies find that the family appears to play a critical role in a child's career development. These studies also reveal that parental education, occupation and income influence career aspirations.
"When adolescents perceive their parents to have high educational expectations for them, they are likely to have higher aspirations for themselves."
Nikhil Devnani, 18, who attends the Dubai American Academy, said he might have been influenced to attend university by the fact that his parents had.
But Nikhil is not sure that their experiences in India, their home country, would be relevant to what he expects at the University of Pennsylvania.
"Most of their knowledge now came from the fact that my brother had been through this system three years ago," he said.
Bejal Lewis, 18, also studies at the academy. Her mother studied psychology at university and Bejal hopes to follow in her footsteps.
"It's really helped with the whole process," she said.
Although the British girl grew up in the UK, she will now head to McGill University in Montreal to continue her education.
"I didn't want to stay here so it was either America or Canada," Bejal said.
While there is no central database that has the number of UAE-based students travelling abroad to study, the countries accepting them keep track.
From 2009 to 2010, the number of students going to the US increased by 13 per cent, to 1,871 from 1,653.
The UK continues to be a popular destination, and new markets such as Malaysia are proving popular with Emirati students.
Last year 3,090 students went to the UK. Of those, 1,025 were Emirati, according to the British Council.
About 200 Emiratis attend Malaysian universities, says Education Malaysia, compared with just eight in 2007.
About 4,000 UAE-based Arab expatriates also attend university in Malaysia, with about 1,000 UAE-based Indians and Pakistanis.
But it is not all bleak for Dubai. The total number of students at the emirate's universities rose to 43,212 this year from 39,127 last year.
The number of Emiratis staying home to study also rose, to 18,708 from 16,805 for an 11 per cent increase. Most of those students attend government-funded schools.
Rohan Sampath, 17, who has lived in the UAE for most of his life, has just finished his studies at the Dubai Modern High School.
Rohan has been accepted at some of the most elite US universities - Stanford, Yale and the University of California, Berkeley - and is on the waiting list for Harvard, Princeton and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
"The higher education sector in Dubai is still growing," he said. "Perhaps in four or five years staying here will be viable but it doesn't have the dynamism of the US."
For Rohan's classmate Shrey Jasani, the fact that the system is so well-established in the US was a key factor in his choices, as well as the flexibility to study a range of courses in the first two years.
"It's been there for over 300 years and in Dubai, only 20 or 30," Shrey said.
He has been accepted by Columbia University, an elite Ivy League school, and spent last summer travelling to look at different campuses.
With the help of his parents, he decided where he was going before he met his guidance counsellor, although the counsellor's help was vital in completing applications and resumes.
One of the recommendations in the policy paper, titled Making Higher Education Choices in Dubai, was to increase choices by expanding "general university programme offerings".
Another was to encourage cooperation between high schools and universities.
"Within schools, career counsellors … need to ensure that they interact with a wide variety of tertiary education providers in order to match students' abilities and preferences with the appropriate providers," Ms Al Fardan said.