x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

First federal PhD programmes are flooded with applications

The first federal university to offer PhD programmes receives nearly 1,000 applications, but only 30 are likely to win seats at UAE University in Al Ain.

The first federal university to offer PhD programmes has received nearly 1,000 applications from prospective doctoral students, but only 30 are likely to win seats at UAE University in Al Ain. Dr Rory Hume, UAE University's provost, said the college would admit only "candidates of the highest calibre" to the programme, the first of its kind in the university's 33-year history.

Approximately three-quarters of applicants proposed to carry out research in the sciences or engineering, although some were interested in the humanities, according to Dr Hume. In the UAE, as in many other countries in the Middle East, higher education has tended to be heavily biased towards business, science and engineering courses, with arts and humanities less prominent than in western countries.

The launch of PhD programmes is part of UAE University's ambition to be among the world's top 100 universities within five years. It was the first university in the UAE when it opened in 1976. The PhD programme has been advertised on the internet and applications have come from all over the world, Dr Hume said. But he hopes the majority of students in the first year will be UAE nationals, and the university will encourage its best graduates, nearly all Emiratis, to apply.

Students who are accepted will receive a monthly stipend of Dh10,000 (US$2,720), furnished housing and health insurance. The university will provide scholarships that cover tuition fees, and also hopes to attract students funded by outside organisations. The large number of applications was due to several factors, Dr Hume said: "I think people are interested in the UAE and its advancement in higher education. People are becoming aware that things are happening here. Also, during times of economic downturn, interest in graduate programmes goes up."

Some PhD students are likely to begin their studies a year's coursework then research for a dissertation in the second term of this academic year, starting in late January. The programme is likely to take about four years, although this may be reduced for those who already hold a master's degree. In a document entitled "Transforming the UAEU" published this year, the university said it hoped to have 1,400 PhD students, or 10 per cent of the student body, within a decade.

The number of PhD students will increase each year as the university develops greater expertise in supervising research students. The report said the aim was for about half of the PhD students to be UAE nationals. Dr Hume, originally from Australia, is the former provost of the University of California, which has about 200,000 students in 10 campuses, including the University of Berkeley. Zayed University, another federal institution, plans to expand undergraduate and master's degree numbers while also increasing the amount of research carried out.

Some non-federal universities in the UAE also offer PhDs, including Khalifa University, which has campuses in Sharjah and Abu Dhabi, and Heriot-Watt University in Dubai International Academic City. Earlier this year the British University in Dubai announced it was launching a doctorate in education. The American University of Sharjah, founded in 1997, is also likely to offer PhDs in the near future. Dr Thomas Hochstettler, the new vice chancellor for academic affairs, said: "It means the university will have achieved a level of maturity."