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University funding for all Emirati students

All those passing their entrance exams will receive a place this year, but only thanks to an emergency budget increase.

Funding for every qualified Emirati to go to a federal university should soon be made permanent, the Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research said yesterday. More than 13,000 students received text messages yesterday from the national admissions and placement office, telling them they had a university place for the coming year.

However, for the second year in a row, this was only made possible by an emergency funding increase. Before last year, lack of funding meant thousands of Emiratis were denied places despite passing the Common Educational Proficiency Assessment (Cepa) exam. Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak said it was of the "utmost importance" that a new formula that linked funding to the number of qualified students was approved.

The permanent formula would allow institutions to cope with the large increase in the number of Emiratis reaching university age expected over the coming decade. Early last year, proposals were announced to link funding provided to institutions to the number of students they enrol. This funding formula had still not been approved, Sheikh Nahyan said yesterday, although he expected this to happen soon. "We have been given feedback that it is about to be approved," he said, adding that it would be "hopefully in the next budget", which is expected in the autumn.

The minister made the comments as he approved admissions for the 2009-10 academic year to Zayed University, the Higher Colleges of Technology and UAE University, the three federal institutions. He is also the president of Zayed, and chancellor of the other two institutions. The number of Emiratis confirmed as having a place at one of the three institutions or a scholarship to study overseas was 13,102, slightly down on last year's record figure of 13,315.

UAE University in Al Ain will admit 3,146 students, the Higher Colleges of Technology 7,423, and Zayed University 1,813. Scholarships to study overseas were approved for 550 undergraduates, 160 postgraduates and 10 students with special needs. Of the students admitted, 37.8 per cent were male and 62.2 per cent female, reflecting a long-running imbalance that has led to concern that too few Emirati men are going to university.

"It's an obligation to provide education for every male and female [Emirati] seeking to enrol in higher education," said Sheikh Nahyan. "We do not have the formula at the moment, but we've been given indications it will be approved." It had been hoped that the funding formula would be in place for the 2009-10 academic year, but Sheikh Nahyan said it was likely to receive approval when the next federal budget was finalised.

In 2007-08, 10,785 students gained entry to the federal universities or were awarded government scholarships to study abroad. Although the figure increased 23 per cent to 13,315 last year, when the first one-off funding increase was approved, many of these then failed to take up their places - a ministry official said yesterday that fewer than 10,000 students had actually turned up for classes. Dr Suleiman al Jassim, vice president of Zayed, said that ensuring that qualified students could enter a university represented "a commitment from the Government" to higher education.

"It was clear that the instruction from our leaders that education should be made available for all [UAE] nationals," he said. Although all qualified students were able to secure places at UAE University, the provost, Dr Rory Hume, said funding and space restrictions meant they could not all enrol at the faculty of their choice, with some students not able to join the faculty of medicine. "We're delighted to have offered admission to 3,146 extremely highly qualified students," he said.

dbardsley@thenational.ae

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