ABU DHABI // More of the world's most prestigious universities are considering opening branches in the capital, attracted by the Government's strategy of paying for new campuses, the emirate's head of higher education said. In the past year, 11 of the top 100 foreign schools, as ranked by the Times Higher Education Supplement of London, have expressed interest in operating in Abu Dhabi, said Prof Jim Mienczakowski, the head of higher education at the Abu Dhabi Education Council (Adec).
The surge in interest follows the opening of the Paris-Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi and the planned launch of New York University Abu Dhabi, both paid for by the emirate. Prof Mienczakowski said Abu Dhabi's strategy of rejecting less-well-regarded institutions was also attracting the big names, as they would not want to set up alongside lower-ranking universities. Dr Mugheer al Khaili, director general of Adec, said last month that 30 universities that wanted to open in the emirate had been turned down. He also ruled out the launch of a free zone, where universities would be able to open more easily.
Prof Mienczakowski said top universities were showing "very, very strong interest" in opening branches or offering their courses through collaborative programmes. He said the support shown by the emirate to NYU, the Sorbonne and Insead, the French business school, had "created a buzz" in the global higher education sector. "The discussions around the top tables of university boards have been, 'if NYU are there, it must be a great prospect, so we must be included in this'," he said.
Paris-Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi opened in 2006 at a temporary base and will move to a new campus on Reem Island. NYU begins courses in 2010 and will eventually be based at a campus on Saadiyat Island. Insead, based in Fontainebleau, France, was launched in Abu Dhabi last year. Prof Mienczakowski said the emirate's strategy of bringing in prestigious names, conceived by Sheikh Mohammad bin Zayed, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, had been "extremely clever".
"Now they are here, they are part of the confidence-generating mechanism to the rest of the world's leading institutions," he said. Prof Mienczakowski said some of the 11 expressions of interest would probably lead to "fully fledged proposals". They could be proposals to teach particular subjects, perhaps as collaborative ventures with other institutions, or to create branch campuses. The emirate, he said, had been "very cautious" in bringing in new institutions, to reduce the risk of overcapacity and the resultant competition that could force schools to close.
"If that happened, no other leading university would want to follow in their footsteps and there would be a tremendous loss of confidence," he said. "Some big universities have had to leave operations in Singapore and China, which hasn't done them any good or been beneficial to students." Abu Dhabi's higher-education strategy differs from Dubai's and Ras al Khaimah's. Their governments established education free zones that allow institutions to open without licences from the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research.
In Abu Dhabi, universities seeking to open must be approved by Adec and secure ministry licences and programme accreditation. Dubai, which has more than 25 foreign higher-education institutions in its free zones, has emphasised that it too has rejected many universities. Prof Mienczakowski said Abu Dhabi also wanted indigenous universities, such as Abu Dhabi University and Khalifa University, which opened a branch in the capital this year, to develop by doing more research.
By offering both indigenous institutions and elite foreign universities, places would be available to students with a range of abilities, not just the most able, he said. Students could also apply to universities in other emirates. "These places will still exist if not in the emirate, certainly within the rest of the sector within the UAE," he said. "Dubai is only just down the road." firstname.lastname@example.org