x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Oxbridge, Ivy League - and now NYU?

Al Bloom, vice chancellor, has big dreams for New York University's capital campus.

Dr Bloom called the incoming student body "astoundingly diverse".
Dr Bloom called the incoming student body "astoundingly diverse".

ABU DHABI // At New York University Abu Dhabi, the ambitions are as grand as the temporary campus is modest. "Creating a new global paradigm for higher education" is a phrase oft-repeated by Dr Al Bloom, the vice chancellor a lofty goal he believes can be accomplished by establishing a world-class institution that recruits from across the world.

The result, he says, will be a university that rivals the likes of Harvard, Oxford and Cambridge and helps Abu Dhabi become one of the "centres of the creation of ideas". "We have a vision centred on creating a really global university where the students and faculty are drawn from round the world. The best students and best faculty," he said. "The focus of the curriculum and the school is to educate global leaders."

The response from prospective students, Dr Bloom said, has been "phenomenal", "astounding", "amazing". Academics are said to be equally enthusiastic to work at the Abu Dhabi Government-funded university, which will open this autumn in small, temporary quarters on Airport Road. After 500 students applied under a special early admission process, just over 60 places were offered. The response from these students, who come from more than 20 countries, has been "overwhelmingly positive", Dr Bloom said.

The university now plans to accept 150 first-year students, after an initial estimate of about 100. For the remaining places, the university has 8,000 applicants to choose from, including those who applied for NYU Abu Dhabi and others who applied to NYU but asked to also be considered for the Abu Dhabi campus. It is a stark contrast to the experiences of some other western universities that have opened campuses here and struggled to attract qualified students.

Dr Bloom was reluctant to predict how many Emiratis would be among the inaugural class, although Dr John Sexton, NYU's president, had previously suggested the figure would be about five per cent. Perhaps keen to ensure expectations are pegged realistically, Dr Bloom would only say the university would have "good representation" from the Emirates, Middle East and North Africa and that over time would achieve its desired proportion of students from the region.

The university has, however, made considerable efforts to attract Emiratis. "We've had outreach efforts to Emirati schools," Dr Bloom said. "We're very excited by the Emirati students that we have." Based upon Dr Sexton's earlier comments, however, NYU Abu Dhabi will not be like Qatar's Education City, where close to half the enrolment is Qatari. The government-funded project includes six small campuses of American universities which are expected to recruit many local students.

Concerns have been expressed that entry standards in Education City are lower than in the home institutions, something Dr Bloom insists will not be the case with NYU Abu Dhabi. He says students admitted here would be among the top three per cent of those who gain entry to the main NYU campus. But not everyone is convinced the campus, where arts, humanities and science degrees will be taught, will compete with the world's best universities, at least not from the beginning.

Dr Clifton Chadwick, a senior lecturer in international education management at the British University in Dubai, believes there is "a lot of hyperbole" surrounding the new university, and thinks top American students will prefer their best home-grown universities. "If you're a really good student and you have a choice of the Ivy League universities or NYU Abu Dhabi, you're not going to get lost on that," he said.

However, NYU Abu Dhabi has emphasised it is recruiting globally by contacting hundreds of the world's best high schools. As a result, even if some American students believe they have better options elsewhere, NYU Abu Dhabi may have less difficulty in attracting high-fliers from the many other countries where they have focused recruiting efforts, such as Kazakhstan, especially given the financial arrangements.

"It will be an astoundingly diverse student body," Dr Bloom said. Although some students will contribute to their costs, Dr Bloom said financial aid was comparable to that at the most generous US colleges. Students offered places are being flown out to see the campus. By the time the operation moves to the permanent campus in Saadiyat Island in 2014, the undergraduate student body is expected to have grown to about 750. Over the following several years, it will swell to about 2,000, plus about 800 postgraduate students. Eventually there could be around 4,000 students taking undergraduate, postgraduate and professional courses.

Dr Bloom is nothing if not ambitious about what this means for Abu Dhabi. "As a result of helping a great university, a great international community, a great research environment connected to New York and our global sites around the world, it will help Abu Dhabi establish itself as one of the centres of the creation of ideas round the world," he said. "Abu Dhabi will be able to benefit from the fact it's joining NYU in creating a new paradigm for higher education.

"It's an incredible opportunity for any city or country to be part of creating what higher education has to become for the world." @Email:dbardsley@thenational.ae