Higher education is obviously vital to any modern, knowledge-based economy. Naturally, then, the UAE is investing energetically in this field, by building local institutions and also by welcoming institutions of international renown, such as New York University and Paris-Sorbonne in Abu Dhabi.
But rapid growth, while welcome and even essential, can bring problems. As the demand for higher education increases, and as the internet keeps gaining in importance, many people are turning to schools that offer online degrees.
But what is a university degree, beyond being a piece of paper? Around the world, universities and governments trust accrediting bodies to inspect schools' adherence to standards.
As The National reported yesterday, the Ministry of Higher Education has warned students about the importance of accreditation after complaints over online degrees from the unaccredited Must University.
Hundreds of UAE students have been granted degrees from this school; thousands have taken online courses. Must offers online degrees including nursing and business, and provides scholarships to attract UAE students. But it is not accredited by any internationally recognised association.
The case shows that this is a big issue that needs to be addressed. Online education, when properly organised and supervised, can be very valuable, especially for those who live far from big cities or who have impaired mobility. But nursing education, for example, requires clinical practice - hands-on experience with real patients, in other words - that cannot be provided through online courses.
Providing affordable education of a high quality for the people of the UAE is a challenge that the government is recognising and working towards achieving. The country spends millions every year to provide Emiratis with scholarships to enhance their skills and capabilities. Some universities provide scholarships for international students. But with the increasing demand for degrees, more effort will be needed.
A good education costs money. If scholarships, bursaries and loans on good terms are widely available, and if degree-granting institutions are carefully monitored for accreditation purposes, we can be sure to offer fulfilling, valuable education to those who want it.