ABU DHABI // For the first time, Abu Dhabi University has expelled students, forcing 126 to leave after failing to meet academic standards. Some have been at the university since it was launched in 2003 and will now leave with no qualification.
The students - 62 men and 64 women - were each given three warnings. The university's provost, James Mackin, said the institution "cannot tolerate levels of achievement that are below standard".
Nevine el Shoura, the registrar said: "Numerous studies and initiatives were launched and conducted to determine and remedy the causes of these students' consistently poor academic performance, but the students in question were not able to make the necessary adjustments in their levels of commitment to their studies, their learning skills, or their time management skills.
"As a result, these students were dismissed and will sadly no longer be able to pursue their studies at ADU."
Fatima Abdulla, an Emirati educational consultant at Global Consulting Associates and a research fellow at the Dubai School of Government, said: "I would ask why has someone starting in 2003 only just been let go in 2010? They should have been tracked earlier on. If they were weak students throughout, they should have been cut out earlier. It's very unfair; let them go if they're not doing well.
"It's a tremendous waste of time for those students who have been there so long and will leave with no qualification."
Ms Abdulla said a lack of counselling and career advice from as early as high school, means that students are not always following the academic programme they are strong in.
She added: "There are social implications, but it's not as big as it would be elsewhere. If they had warnings, it wouldn't be a big surprise. There would be some expectation that the family be involved."
At ADU, the first academic warning is given to students with cumulative grade point averages (GPAs) below 2.0. These students are allowed extra study hours for the semester following the first warning.
In cases where students fail to increase their cumulative GPAs above 2.0, a second warning is issued and fewer study hours are allowed.
If they fail to go above 2.0 they are required to repeat certain courses to increase their grades but failure to do so will result in dismissal from the university.
Mrs el Shoura added: "The university studied each of the dismissed students' cases individually and provided the students with all the necessary advice and support to help them reach a cumulative GPA above 2.0.
"These efforts were, however, in vain and left the university with no other recourse but to dismiss them."
The private university, which is accredited by the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, took its first batch of 1,000 students in 2003 at its campuses in Al Ain and Abu Dhabi. It now has 4,300 students.
The dismissals affected students across all years and colleges, including engineering and computer science and business administration, its two biggest. None of the students were in their first academic year.
Mohammed Jeddi, the dean of admissions at Ajman University of Science and Technology, said that every semester, 10 to 15 students, generally in the first or second year of studies, are dismissed.
"If they were weak in first year, things would only get worse," he said. In 2004, the university dismissed about 500 students from approximately 12,000, which he said was the "turning point" in changing university policy in dealing with students not meeting standards.
Now, students must repeat two courses before being able to continue and if improvement is not seen, they are encouraged to change academic programmes to something more suitable.
"If they are not strong in maths, we would not suggest they move to engineering for example," Mr Jeddi explained. Dan Johnson, the provost at Zayed University, which has campuses in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, said dismissals were not unusual either in the UAE's universities or in countries such as the US.
"In the US, some students are dismissed in their first semester. Their marks are such that they're counselled out of the programme or they may leave of their own accord. Maybe they're not motivated, maybe they're not equipped to handle it, but it happens. Around three to five per cent would not be surprising."
Zayed University has introduced the fresh start programme to try to give a second chance to students who have been dismissed.
They must stay out of the institution for one semester before they return, receiving counselling and are then asked to meet certain criteria, not least a willingness to improve and meet the standards asked of them.
"It's working for us," Mr Johnson said. "Some do come back and are more successful the second time around."
Farid Ohan, the director of the Sharjah Higher Colleges of Technology, said: "Dismissals in any institution are fairly common. It's not unusual for a university to dismiss students for not reaching academic standards or for behavioural issues."
He said numbers vary from year to year and college to college but affect men and women.
"Dropouts are more common among men who maybe have other options, to work in the police, to work with their father or study abroad, but this is not the same for dismissals."