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Students lured by French lessons

French Embassy aims to boost education links by attracting UAE scholars to Paris, citing low tuition fees and a wider range of courses.

ABU DHABI // The French Embassy is stepping up efforts to lure students from the Emirates to France for higher education.

The Campus France project was established nine months ago and has since attracted 120 students for either university education or short courses - 10 per cent of them Emirati.

Sixty per cent of those have taken up master's degrees.

Claire Bertolotti, the project's director, said that with master's and PhD studies just getting started in the UAE, France could help fill that gap until the courses get more established. Forty per cent of the country's 75,000 PhD students are from overseas.

"The embassy wants to improve educational links," said Ms Bertolotti. "It's strong in trade and economy but not in education.

"Abu Dhabi has the Paris Sorbonne and Insead [business school] but they want to expand that."

French universities offer many courses that are not yet available here, including in areas being targeted for the UAE's economic development, such as aeronautics, renewable energy and semiconductor manufacturing.

"Emiratis generally go to study law, health sciences, international relations and business," said Ms Bertolotti. "Emirati law is very similar to French law, so it gives them a very good grounding."

The Campus France offices in Dubai and Abu Dhabi are teaming up with universities from France for outreach programmes that have recently included Khalifa University in Abu Dhabi and the Institute of Applied Technology school system.

The Higher Colleges of Technology this week signed an agreement with the Paris-based Grenoble Business School to encourage greater exchange between the two.

The initiative is not only for French speakers - French universities now teach more than 600 courses in English and charge far less in tuition fees than their counterparts in the UAE of Britain.

The profile of French education in the UAE has been on the rise since Paris Sorbonne University opened in the capital five years ago, followed by Insead in 2007.

Dr Dipak Jain, the dean of Insead, said the two institutions had made people sit up and take notice.

"It makes people think there must be something very good about an institution when it is invited to a foreign country," he said.

As universities globalise and diversify, with Insead opening branches in Abu Dhabi and Singapore, French education is no longer only for the French. "It has global appeal," said Dr Jain.

Many organisations have already forged educational links with France, from the army and police to the Abu Dhabi Education Council (Adec), which sent Emirati students to Paris in July for a three-week political science course at the Fondation Nationale des Sciences Politiques et l'Institut d'Etudes Politiques de Paris (Sciences Po Paris).

Dr Murad Al Obthani is about to leave for a medical residency in France. He will take a one-year intensive French language course then, under the University of Paris, a year of ophthalmology training.

He is one of a growing number of doctors in such a scheme, organised between the French Embassy and Adec, allowing him to study in what he believes is one of the world's best education systems.

"The French education system is much more established than it is here," he said. "The training programmes are very well organised.

"The programmes here are very young and not so developed, so our medical training there gives us great skills to bring back with us to the UAE.

"A lot more doctors will be doing this. It's a great opportunity for us - not only for our education but to gain a language that is spoken all over the world."


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