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International exchanges help to forge a global citizens

Study abroad programmes are growing because it is understood to be the key for young people to develop as global citizens.

Education is the key to sustainable and secure economic growth. As the United Arab Emirates moves ahead in its quest for leadership in building a knowledge economy, the link between higher education development and economic stability becomes increasingly clear.

At a recent forum on education and innovation, Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, the UAE's minister of higher education and scientific research, called upon the nation to "define and leverage its strengths to become leaders in knowledge creation and application through education, and to increase human capital, which is essential for economic growth".

That is the kind of leadership the UAE and other Gulf nations need to be competitive in our global economy. This commitment to educational reform and human resource development is what is needed to prepare the region's work force in key sectors. Educational exchange between the UAE and the United States can play an important role.

This week, the Institute of International Education released new data from the annual Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange, which showed that the number of international students at colleges and universities in the United States increased to an all-time high in the 2009-10 academic year. The Open Doors Report is published with support from the US Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

The number of students from the Middle East increased by 16 per cent over the past year, and the number of students from the UAE studying in the US increased by nearly 36 per cent over the same period.

However, the number of students from the UAE studying in the US is relatively small, and the number of American students who study in the UAE is even smaller. Clearly, there is substantial room for growth and educational partnerships between the two nations.

UAE students who come to the United States to study bring international perspectives into their classrooms, helping prepare American students to work with citizens of the world as they embark on global careers. They also return home with knowledge and cultural skills that enable them to make vital contributions to global research and business capabilities in their home countries and regions.

A huge step forward came in September when New York University opened NYU Abu Dhabi, a research university with a fully integrated liberal arts and science college.

This unique institution draws students from around the world, and prepares them for the challenges and opportunities of our interconnected world. As the NYU president John Sexton observed: "There has never been anything quite like the global networked university. You can move around the network as a citizen of the global environment, literally foreshadowing the kind of global citizens that we want to produce in the 21st century."

This new campus is already proving to have positive benefits for the Abu Dhabi host community and for young people from the region and all over the world who are part of its inaugural class of students. It is helping to educate the next generation of young leaders of the Arab world.

We should encourage English and Arabic language classes on our respective campuses. And, since American students tend to study abroad for relatively short durations, higher education institutions in Abu Dhabi should consider developing programmes for an academic term.

We also should address credit transfer and academic standards, cross-cultural issues, safety and security, scholarships and financial resources, and help host institutions in both countries to learn to reach out to attract one another's students.

Other major higher education initiatives elsewhere in the Arabian Gulf, such as Education City in Qatar and KAUST in Saudi Arabia, are providing platforms for international academic mobility and excellent opportunities for students.

Global leaders, including the US president Barack Obama, believe that education and innovation will be the currency of the 21st century. The commitment to developing this currency in our youth seems strong in the UAE as well, so my hope is that both nations will work together to embrace higher education partnerships that makes sense.

In my country, as in many others, international study is growing because it is understood to be the key for young people to develop as global citizens. There are challenges, to be sure, but I am very confident that the UAE and the US understand this priority, and I am eager to see some exciting new developments in the coming years.

 

Allan E Goodman is the president of the Institute of International Education in New York City

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