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Sultan Nomani, left, and Hassan Al Redaini, international business and language students at Paris-Sorbonne Abu Dhabi, were looking for a more diverse education than one solely based on the US curriculum. Silvia Razgova / The National
Sultan Nomani, left, and Hassan Al Redaini, international business and language students at Paris-Sorbonne Abu Dhabi, were looking for a more diverse education than one solely based on the US curriculum. Silvia Razgova / The National

UAE students choosing against universities that focus solely on US-style education

Universities using curriculums other than solely American are attracting more enrolments in a trend towards more multicultural knowledge.

DUBAI // Students are increasingly choosing against universities that focus solely on US-style education.

Business remains the most popular subject, accounting for more than half of students, but many are looking to broaden their horizons.

Sultan Nomani, 27, chose to study international business and languages at the Paris-Sorbonne University in Abu Dhabi.

The Emirati hopes the French syllabus will set him apart from the thousands of other business graduates.

"I didn't want to be under the typical American system that so many universities, government and private, follow," Mr Nomani said.

"We have different cultures here in the UAE so if you want to improve your mentality, your ideas, I think this is the best place, not to be restricted to only the American way of thinking.

"We are in an important part of the world for business, and business is not always about American ways and the English language."

While the curriculum does cover US business methods, that is only a part of it.

"This comparative perspective is much more useful for the job market," Mr Nomani said. "I can also bring my own local knowledge and add my comparisons from what we study."

Hassan Al Redaini, 23, also chose the Sorbonne for his degree in international business and languages. His school, the Abu Dhabi International School, followed the American curriculum but he wanted a university with a broader perspective.

"In school there was a very American focus while here I get the other side of the world," Mr Al Redaini said.

"This broader education has made me much more open-minded."

In particular, he said, it had been useful to learn about management across different cultures, from the informal approach to business and the importance of networking in the Arab world, to the greater focus on quantity than quality he saw in the Far East.

But in the main, UAE universities lean strongly towards the American model for their business courses, as do many elsewhere.

Katariina Juusola, a PhD student from the Jyvaskyla University school of business and economics in Finland, compared the UAE's universities with those in her home country.

Ms Juusola found business schools around the world were increasingly accredited by US bodies, and filled with US-trained staff teaching US curriculums from US textbooks containing US case studies.

The trend has been gathering pace since the Second World War, she said.

"America became a role model for the rest of the world," Ms Juusola said. "Many academics went to the US and visited leading business schools there. When they returned, they usually took positions in universities and developed that American model."

That, she said, led to the American model being regarded as universal.

One Indian branch campus in the UAE uses exactly the same curriculum as Harvard Business School in the US, including case studies, without any adaptation to Indian or Emirati culture.

"They call it a universal model," says Ms Juusola.

Teaching staff at international branch campuses, of which the UAE has more than anywhere else, are often American or have studied or worked there.

Insead, for example, has a branch in Abu Dhabi and although the organisation is based in France, its academics lean to America.

"Although the academics at Insead are very culturally diverse, most have completed degrees in the best American business schools," says Dr Martin Spraggon-Hernandez, an Argentinian lecturer at the American University of Sharjah (AUS).

Dr Miguel Lobo, the director of Insead's Abu Dhabi campus, admits the US business school model has had a "tremendous impact around the world", although he says Insead draws on a range of European academic traditions as well as American.

Insead Abu Dhabi has worked hard to make its courses locally pertinent, he says, developing "a substantial number of cases with a UAE and Middle East context".

Dr Virginia Bodolica, a Serbian business lecturer at AUS, points to a natural tendency of universities in smaller countries to look outwards, choosing internationally recognised courses.

The obvious place to turn is the US, with the result that "they all become quite similar", Dr Bodolica said.

The economic and social effects of such changes remain unclear.

"Business education should always be adapted to the local culture, at least in some aspects," Dr Bodolica said.

Some courses in the UAE, such as those in Islamic finance, show the strength of such localism.

"There is at least some light," Dr Bodolica said. "Maybe it isn't going to Americanise much more."

At the Dubai campus of London's Cass business school, local context is key, with just a handful of its case studies coming from the US.

Roy Batchelor, its associate dean of MBA programmes, says it is because companies in the Middle East are "more likely to be family-owned or state enterprises".

"We involve local experts and entrepreneurs alongside the teachers from London to make sure this context is recognised," Dr Batchelor said.

mswan@thenational.ae

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