x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Transfers deal will put students on the move

Academics welcome flexibility to change institutions, saying new agreement will help those undecided about their careers.

ABU DHABI // Emirati students can now transfer to the federal university or college of their choice after their remedial mathematics and English courses, under a deal signed yesterday.

The agreement between the Higher Colleges of Technology (HCT), Zayed University and UAE University (UAEU) standardises their foundation courses, allowing students to transfer without reapplication procedures.

Emiratis applying to federal universities have to go through at least two years of a foundation programme if they are not proficient in English, maths and IT. The vast majority of school-leavers do not meet the level required to avoid remedial classes.

Dr Mark Drummond, the provost at HCT, said the agreement would offer greater flexibility for students.

"It was very difficult for students who would start off at one institution and then decide they want to pursue a programme offered by another," he said. "They would have to do a foundation programme at a place they intended to continue in. There was no way for the students to be mobile."

He said aligning the entry-level courses would eliminate the red tape and reapplication procedures for students. "The requirements in mathematics and IT were not equal throughout the institutions and that has been sorted," said Dr Drummond.

UAE nationals list their preferred universities while applying through the National Assessment and Placement Office.

If their Common Educational Proficiency Assessment score is less than 160 points they have to settle for HCT.

The initiative will benefit students applying for the new academic year as well as those enrolled in foundation programmes.

The English requirements are already standard across the institutions, with all students needing an International English Language Testing System score of five before they can start their degrees.

Thomas Cochran, the chief of staff at Zayed University, said the move was good for students who are undecided about their career.

"There are always a few students who might think they want to do something when they are out of school but then towards the end of the foundation might change their mind," he said. "So now, if they achieve the appropriate marks to pass their foundation stage, they can make that switch."

Dr Drummond said there had been initial resistance to the deal because it could cause an exodus of students.

"But in the future it will allow institutions to specialise and focus on certain programmes."

The Government has said it wants to eliminate the foundation programmes by strengthening the teaching of core areas in schools.

Dr Drummond agreed that the ultimate goal was to do away with the programmes. That, though, is a while off.

For now, the institutions are considering how the agreement is likely to affect their student numbers. One possible consequence is an increase in demand for foundation courses at HCT, which has campuses across the country and therefore close to more students' homes, followed by greater demand in later years for places at Zayed University and UAEU.

Dr Drummond was sanguine about the prospect, though. "At first we might see a slight uptake but nothing HCT cannot handle," he said. "I do not think it will be that popular among students now but perhaps in five years they will prefer completing the basic programme somewhere close and then looking further."

Aisha al Bloushi, a foundation student at UAEU, said she would prefer to complete her higher education at the same institution.

"I chose this place because I want to continue studying humanities," she said. "Anyway, it would be a hassle to move to a new college because they all work so differently."

Mohammed Saleh, a Grade 12 student at a public school in Abu Dhabi, said standard foundation courses would help students like himself who are still undecided.

"I am not sure what I want to take up so during the two years of the programme, I will still have the opportunity to change my mind."

aahmed@thenational.ae