More than a third of Emiratis studying overseas now opt for Australia, with Victoria and Queensland states the most popular choices
Australia wins the student vote
Six times more Emiratis are studying in Australia now than in 2002, the Australian government has revealed. A total of 1,262 Emiratis enrolled at universities, vocational training institutions, language schools and other institutions in Australia in the first six months of this year, compared with 204 six years ago.
Officials say Australia is seen as more welcoming to Muslims than some other countries in the post-September 11 world. It does not hurt that the country is famed for its sunny climate and scenic beaches. The figures, released by Australian Education International, cover the vast majority of this year's enrolments since the Australian academic year begins in January. The most popular state for Emiratis is Victoria, which attracted 41 per cent of students, followed by Queensland, which has a 38 per cent share.
Gabrielle Troon, UAE education services manager for the state government of Victoria, said "increasing awareness" of Australia was helping the numbers to grow. "As more students go, word spreads and there are recommendations from students who have been there." Mrs Troon said Emiratis felt "comfortable" in Australia because it was "a multicultural environment". Also, she said the fact many Emiratis visited Australia on holiday encouraged students to apply to study there.
Australia's leading research universities were "among the top universities in the world", Mrs Troon said, and so graduates had good career prospects. Fees are generally lower than in rival countries such as the US and the UK, although most Emiratis studying overseas travel on scholarships from the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research or major employers. The overall numbers of Emiratis travelling abroad to study has increased significantly in recent years. In 2001, there were 273 travelling overseas on Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research scholarships, a figure that reached 742 last year. However, Australia has increased its share among these students over the same period from 16.1 per cent to 36.5 per cent. The UK's share has dropped from 11.7 per cent to 9.8 per cent, while the American share has fallen from 46.9 per cent to 33.2 per cent.
Jane Osborn, UAE education manager for the government of South Australia, said Emiratis were returning to the Emirates with "really strong qualifications that make them very employable". "Australians are welcoming. There's an interest in people from abroad that may not be as much in other parts of the world," she said, adding that an International Centre for Muslim and non-Muslim Understanding had been set up at the University of South Australia in Adelaide.
Among the Emiratis to have studied in Australia is Waleed al Marzooqi, 23, who obtained a bachelor's degree in quantity surveying at the Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane. He now works in the engineering contracts section at Dubai Municipality. "It was a new experience for me, a new culture. I found Australia to be very respectful of all religions including Islam," he said. Mr Marzooqi said some Emiratis suffered from culture shock when they arrived in Australia and some even abandoned their studies.
To aid such students, he helped to create the Emirates Student Club - Australia in 2004. "Some of them are not prepared to study in a different culture. They didn't do pre-departure work properly so when they went they were shocked by many things." However, he said students who completed their courses and returned to the UAE with Australian qualifications were often promoted rapidly. "If you graduate from overseas, especially from Australia, you have a better chance," he said. "We can take ideas from the West to our country and we can implement these ideas."
Essa Abdul Rahman, 25, studied telecommunications and electronic engineering at La Trobe University, Victoria, and said the environment in Australia was "really marvellous". He works in Abu Dhabi as a telecommunications engineer. "The people were very friendly and welcoming. They like foreigners coming from outside to their country. I never had any bad experiences," he said. However, he said it took several weeks to become accustomed to the "more open" culture in Australia. He added that there was still a lack of awareness in the UAE about the value of Australian qualifications.
"People don't really know about the Australian background because not a lot of students have graduated," he said. "It needs three or four years to be recognised in the region." email@example.com