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Emiratis go Down Under to study

Trend sees increasing numbers of nationals seeking foreign education.

DUBAI // The number of Emiratis going to university in Australia has gone up tenfold since 2002.

The reason for this is that institutions there are offering increasingly attractive alternatives to studying in the UAE or in the more traditional choices of the UK and US.

In 2002, just 94 students went to Australia. By the academic year that finished this month, that figure had risen to 922. The numbers going there for vocational education and training also rose, from 25 in 2002 to 391 in 2009, with a slight drop last year. According to Feras Sallan, regional education manager at the Australian consulate, the dip had come about because the UAE was beginning to build its own institutions in this area.

The annual Open Doors report by the Institute of International Education, a US think tank, reports that in 2008-09 there were more than 1,200 Emirati students in the US. That rose sharply last year, to 1,650, showing perhaps an easing of students' worries about anti-Arab or anti-Muslim feeling.

Ibrahim Jamel, 48, took a degree in business in the US during the 1980s, a very different time. By the time he took a master's in 2005, he felt uncomfortable in the US, under a Bush administration that he felt had vilified the Arab world.

Mr Jamal - now the operations director in Dubai's education clusters, Knowledge Village and Dubai International Academic City - chose instead to study human resource management at Queensland University of Technology.

"When Bush was in power, people were afraid to send their kids to the US," he said. "Australia gave us an alternative place, with easy access to visas and reasonable tuition fees. Now that Obama's in power, it's becoming popular again."

There has been rapid change in the UAE. With foreign branch campuses from the UK, India, Australia, the US and elsewhere, there are now 50 private institutions that allow Emiratis to get a foreign education at home. Last year alone, the numbers of Emiratis at the universities in Dubai rose by 10 per cent.

Warren Fox, head of higher education at the Knowledge and Human Development Authority, Dubai's university regulator, said: "More Emiratis are going to private high schools, so the trend is that more and more are choosing to follow that through in higher education with private universities."

mswan@thenational.ae

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