x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

School leavers taking long strides

Their final year of school completed, teenagers in the UAE prepare for new careers as they depart for colleges scattered all over the world.

Hannah Campbell, a Dubai College graduate, will soon join Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, where she intends to take pre-medical courses.
Hannah Campbell, a Dubai College graduate, will soon join Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, where she intends to take pre-medical courses.

ABU DHABI // As their textbooks slam shut for the final time and desks are shoved aside to make way for the end of the school year, secondary school leavers are looking to the future. For many in the UAE, that means one more task remains as they leave school behind: packing their suitcases for university. America, Germany, India, Egypt and New Zealand are among their destinations, including some of the top institutions in the world.

Anish Gupta, 18, who has just finished at Dubai College, will study economics at St Catharine's College, Cambridge, if he has achieved three A grades in the A-level exams he recently took. If he does not get the right grades, he will do a similar course at the University of Warwick. He said he also had an offer to attend the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania in the US, but that "worldwide, Cambridge is better recognised".

"Cambridge will be much cheaper in terms of tuition fees and flights and living there," he added. "I am quite excited about going, but not about the cold weather. I am not used to the cold, but I'm keen to meet new people, and Cambridge is a beautiful place." Many students leaving Dubai's Al Mizhar American Academy for Girls are staying closer to home, studying at the Paris-Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi, Zayed University and the Dubai campus of Michigan State University. Meanwhile, others are headed to institutions such as the University of Texas.

Seventy-seven per cent will go directly to university, school officials say. Experts said that for British students, at least, attending university in the UK was getting more difficult. "The government seems to be spending a lot of money bailing out banks and they are severely limiting the number of university places," said Nick Jones, head of sixth form at Dubai College. "Students have to be very clear and specific about where they want to go and what they want to do. If there is a slight deviation from a specific subject area, like they're treating it like a marketplace, those applications are quite weak."

Hannah Campbell, 18, a Dubai College graduate, is heading back to her home country to attend Cornell University, an Ivy League institution in Ithaca, New York. She will study a pre-medical degree in human biology and health and society. "My cousin went [to Cornell], so I know it's an excellent school," Ms Campbell said. "I am really nervous because I've never lived away from my family and it's going to be such a distance away, and that's probably the most scary part."

Ms Campbell said she had considered studying in Australia as well because her father lives there. "To be honest, I'm more comfortable going to the US because I go there every summer and I haven't been to Australia for a long time." Most of her family are based in New Jersey. At the English College - a non-profit school and one of the oldest British institutions in Dubai - 63 of the 67 graduates are going to university. Students have been accepted to the University of Oxford, University College London and the London School of Economics, among others.

Although the destinations of students from other English-curriculum schools are dominated by English universities, at The Cambridge High School in Abu Dhabi, pupils are scattering across the globe to countries that include Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Chile, Ukraine, China, India, Ireland, Pakistan, New Zealand and the United States. At the American International School in Abu Dhabi, many students are going to universities in the United States. Others, however, will enrol at Middle East institutions that follow a US curriculum, such as Carnegie Mellon in Qatar, the American University of Beirut, the American University in Dubai and the American University of Sharjah.

Bassam Abushakra, regional director of Educational Services Overseas Limited, which operates the school, said many of these local universities were "very good". "We encourage our students to apply to them," he said. "For many students, both UAE [nationals] and non-UAE [nationals] who would prefer to stay in the UAE, we have universities here that will offer them a very good education." dbardsley@thenational.ae