DUBAI // A partnership between Khalifa Bin Zayed Air College and a federal university earned its wings yesterday with the passing out of its first batch of graduates.
The students were the first at the air college to take advantage of a deal signed with the Higher Colleges of Technology (HCT) in 2010, allowing them to leave with a bachelor's degree rather than a diploma.
Yesterday's graduation ceremony marked the realisation of a childhood dream for Ali Al Ketbi, 22, who wants to serve as a pilot in the Air Force awaits.
"It's an honour for me to serve the country," said Mr Al Ketbi, who is the first in his family to enter the Air Force, although his father is an army officer.
He said the degree, over three and a half years, became more demanding after the partnership between the colleges, but this would benefit his career development and that of other students.
"Before we had just 12 subjects and now it's more," Mr Al Ketbi said. "These are not easy subjects to learn, but even after this, we must still continue our education."
He said he hoped to go on to study for a master's degree.
Mohammed Al Hebsi, who wants to be a support officer in ground control, said that if the course had not been upgraded to degree level the students would need to continue studying, abroad or in another institution.
"It's about pushing us forward," Mr Al Hebsi said.
A large number of male Emirati students drop out of school early, lured by high salaries in the army or police, which do not need a secondary-school certificate.
Mr Al Ketbi said it was time to change that and put more demands on those in the country's forces.
"It's better for the people joining the military or police to finish school and university, to increase their level of education," he said.
Only 25 of about 70 students who began the programme nearly four years ago graduated yesterday. The degree is taught entirely in English, as are subjects in all of the federal universities.
"Everything in the world is in English, especially in aviation," said Mr Al Ketbi.
But most of those entering the college already have a strong grasp of the language, and require less remedial support than in other federal universities where only about 10 per cent of students can start degree courses straight away.
Air college staff said the partnership with HCT had brought a greater structure to the curriculum and better academic planning.
They said standards improved at the college and students now had more options when they left.
There are also more alternatives for those who decide the course is not for them, as they can switch to other courses in HCT.
Mr Al Ketbi said the monthly salary, free housing and support of the college had helped him to remain focused, even when things became tough.
"It really helps knowing we have a job to go to as well," he said. "It keeps our goals focused."
Yesterday's graduates were not all Emirati. Abdullah Bu Shager, 21, from Bahrain, was sponsored by his country's air force because no such course was available at home.
Mr Bu Shager said his degree represented one step in a lifelong commitment to learning in a field that is continually updating.
He and his classmates - Emiratis and others from countries including Lebanon and Djibouti - said the mix of nationalities added to their experience in the classroom.
"You get to know and understand more cultures and traditions," said Mr Bu Shager.
Mr Al Ketbi said: "We live and work and study together, so it's more than just friends."