x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Michigan State University half-price tuition fees lure students

The Dubai campus of MSU receives heavy criticism despite their cheaper tuition fee policy proving popular with students.

DUBAI // A university's attempt to lure students away from other institutions by offering half-price tuition fees is proving popular - despite some heavy criticism. More than 200 students have so far applied to Michigan State University (MSU) in Dubai since the scheme was launched six weeks ago.

The university is offering 50 per cent off its standard annual fee of Dh58,186 (US$15,840) to undergraduates who transfer from other institutions. Its usual fee is the highest in the emirate. "As of this morning, we've had 223 applications," MSU's executive director, Brendan Mullan, said yesterday. Mr Mullan said he expected between 100 and 130 of the students would be accepted. They would start at the university, whose entry requirements are on a par with institutions in the US, at the beginning of the spring term. That would almost double its present number of students.

He said MSU had struggled to attract enough entrants with suitable qualifications and the reduced fees offer was an alternative to lowering academic requirements. "For the autumn semester, we rejected 30 per cent of the applications," he said. "We are not where we would like to be concerning enrolment, but we're not going to compromise our standards." Students who have applied for the MSU offer will not find out whether they have been successful for several weeks as the final decisions will be made in the university's home city, Michigan, in the US.

Mohammed Madi, an associate dean at the state-run UAE University, was broadly in favour of the MSU scheme. He said fees at private universities were punitively high. "I think it's a good thing. Tuition is not the only factor when students look at what school to consider." However, academics at other institutions were unimpressed by the offer. Abeer Najjar, an assistant professor at the American University of Sharjah (AUS), said the MSU scheme was a business-first approach that undermined the country's educational standing.

"It's unprofessional," she said. "This is not a way to compete in academics - getting between universities. It's not how business is conducted between universities." Professor Brian Smart, the executive dean at Heriot Watt University said to "proactively poach students, this is off. It's a bit dubious". "It's both innovative and upsetting. I would stress 'upsetting'." Ms Najjar said MSU was also risking its long-term reputation.

"If you're going to establish your reputation, which reputation are you going to offer? One based on halving tuition?" She said she was not aware of any students considering a transfer because of the offer. "It's not a problem for us and I don't expect it to be. "I don't think people would lean away from AUS just for lower tuition fees." Prof Smart said the MSU scheme was having little impact on his institution. "We've had zero withdrawals," he said.

Mr Madi said that as his was a public institution, with no fees for Emiratis, he did not expect many of his students to be influenced by the scheme. But he added: "It's a good idea for universities to attract more students." jgerson@thenational.ae