x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

NYU opens its Abu Dhabi campus

The university is searching for the world's best students as it aims to rival the likes of Harvard and Oxford as a renowned seat of learning.

NYU Abu Dhabi's first 100 students are due to arrive next September.
NYU Abu Dhabi's first 100 students are due to arrive next September.

ABU DHABI // The view from one of the windows of New York University Abu Dhabi says it all - we are in the UAE, not Greenwich Village, Manhattan. A large white mosque, rather than the pavement of Washington Square Park, can be seen from the building's spacious library.

Here, students will be surrounded by residential towers in a quiet neighbourhood populated by cornershops and hole-in-the-wall restaurants. A manicured courtyard behind the new building, which will be used in the winter as an outdoor cafe and study area, faces two enormous towers still under construction, a familiar sight amid the capital's rapid development. The headquarters of the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority are a stone's throw away along the Corniche.

The only things missing yesterday at the inauguration of the distinctive downtown location of NYU Abu Dhabi, a modular modernist building decked out in the university's signature grey and purple, were students. The first class of 100 will arrive next September. The campus was officially opened by Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces. Dr John Sexton, the president of NYU, who has been the driving force behind the university's expansion, was among local dignitaries and NYU administrators present. The plans for NYU Abu Dhabi, first announced in October 2007, represent a project unlike any other in global higher education - to create a top international liberal arts university in the Gulf as part of a "global network" that includes NYU's campus in Washington Square, New York.

Dr Sexton wants the university to compete with world-leading institutions like Harvard and Oxford, and the creation of the Abu Dhabi campus plays a significant role in that project. NYU Abu Dhabi, funded entirely by the Abu Dhabi Government, will function independently of other local universities and the Ministry of Higher Education. Khaldoon al Mubarak, the chairman of the Executive Affairs Authority, said yesterday's opening was "a major milestone in the establishment of NYU Abu Dhabi", a development that would go some way to making the city "one of the world's true cultural capitals".

The 6,000 sq m city centre campus will serve as a temporary base for the university until 2014, when a permanent home on Saadiyat Island is due for completion. Many NYU administrators have moved to Abu Dhabi over the past year, including Al Bloom, the former president of Swarthmore College, who will fill the top role at the Abu Dhabi campus. The university has steadily increased its public presence in the capital through a series of events presented by the new NYU Abu Dhabi Institute, including readings, panels and conferences, the most recent of which was a two-day meeting devoted to issues of higher education and globalisation which concluded yesterday.

Last year, the university launched the Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed University Scholars programme in which 16 local students from federal universities were selected to take part. In New York, an aggressive recruitment campaign has been launched to lure new faculty to Abu Dhabi, and to find students from around the world. It will be more difficult for students to obtain admission to NYU Abu Dhabi than to the original campus in New York, home to more than 20,000 undergraduates.

Even at full capacity, NYU Abu Dhabi anticipates only 2,000 undergraduate students, compared with a first-year intake of more than 4,000 in New York last year. So far, 20 new professors have been hired for the Abu Dhabi campus and faculty recruitment is continuing. Other teaching positions will be filled by professors from New York, who will rotate into Abu Dhabi to teach for a few semesters at a time. The university will award bachelor of arts and bachelor of science degrees, with the first class to graduate in 2014.

In the first year, students will choose from among 60 courses, including engineering, calculus, Islamic studies and environmental history. Josh Taylor, the senior director of communications at NYU Abu Dhabi, said interest had been strong. The university has already received more than 500 "early decision" applications, in which students promise that, if accepted, they will not apply elsewhere. The final deadline for regular applicants is in January.

Dr Bloom, its vice chancellor, said at the opening: ""NYU Abu Dhabi is building its first class, of students who are dazzlingly bright, serious about learning, united in their readiness to be educational pioneers, and resolved as individuals to make their mark on a better world." While other universities that have set up shop in the Gulf have struggled to attract students, the prominence and prestige of NYU Abu Dhabi seems to have avoided that fate.

Part of this success might be attributed to its aggressive recruitment drive, the fact that NYU is not limiting its intake to the region, and generous financial aid packages for students. Last spring the university asked guidance counsellors at 900 leading schools around the world to nominate two students each as applicants to the Abu Dhabi campus. The Institute for International Education, a US establishment that works with the Fulbright Scholars programme, was also involved in the recruitment process.

For the past seven months, the institute has scoured the globe for exceptional students, appearing on behalf of the university at international college fairs, and hosting meet-and-greets for prospective students. Students applying to NYU in New York this year can indicate that they would also like to be considered for admission to NYU Abu Dhabi. "We are seeking to attract the best students from around the world regardless of nationality," Mr Taylor said. "We are recruiting in the UAE as well as the greater Middle East, but ultimately the class will be dictated by the strength of individual applications."

Every student accepted to NYU Abu Dhabi has the chance to visit the UAE before agreeing to attend. "We are trying to build a global class for a brand-new university in a city that parts of the world don't know a lot about," Mr Taylor said. "What we have found is that, thus far, as students learn more about it they get incredibly excited." klewis@thenational.ae