RAS Al KHAIMAH // The University of Bolton in RAK, a branch campus of the British university, is now offering vocational qualifications to fill a growing demand in the emirate.
Vocational colleges are not common in the Emirates and RAK did not have any, but employers are increasingly seeking students with such training.
While it is unusual for a university to offer such qualifications, Bolton already does so at its campus in the UK and said it was meeting demand from both employers and students.
The qualifications on offer - Higher National Diplomas (HNDs) - are seen in the UK as more advanced than high-school learning but less so than undergraduate degrees.
The university is offering HNDs in business management, electrical and electronic engineering. Students have the option of "topping up" the HNDs and continuing on to degree level.
While the engineering specialisms are no longer offered at the UK campus, Raj Nambiar, director of admissions at RAK, said the courses were in demand in the UAE. Seven students are enrolled for engineering, with 20 in business management.
Abbas Fazzal, 20, was one of the first students to sign up for the HND in business management.
"It's more vocational than a degree so it will be more useful as companies want this," he said.
The Pakistani student was born in the UAE and commutes from Fujairah for the course, which can be completed in 18 months and costs Dh20,000 per each academic year.
"It's cheaper than doing a degree but that didn't have anything to do with my decision," Mr Fazzal said.
"This is far better for me. We've been doing a lot of team work, which is helping us work better as a team."
Sunita Rani, 19, is also studying business management. She hopes to go on to earn a bachelor's degree and said the speed of the HND attracted her. The 18-month course can be topped up to a degree in just one more year.
The Indian student, who has lived in RAK since she was 2, said: "With a bachelor's in business administration I couldn't work so soon, but with this I could work straight away."
While RAK is not the only place offering HNDs in the UAE, Bolton is the only college in the area offering such a qualification.
Ms Rani said the course was more advanced than she expected.
"We're already learning about things such as organisational behaviour and business structures, which I didn't expect so soon," she said. "It's been amazing. It's really what I wanted."
Mr Nambiar said many who were attracted to the HND were less academic pupils who may not have achieved more than 60 per cent grade averages at high school.
Many arrive with only GCSEs and the majority are from the Indian and Pakistani curriculum schools.
"We want to give these students options and the HND course is more accessible," he said.
"There's a demand for vocational education.
"These are portable skills and skills demanded by employers. There needs to be a middle option for students."
The RAK branch of the university, which opened in 2008, has about 280 students.
Twenty per cent study either national diplomas, similar to A levels, or what other students do as foundation or preparatory courses at other UAE universities except with a recognised qualification at the end, or higher national diplomas, both under the qualifications body Edexcel.