x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

University courses in UAE grow in diversity

While business degrees are still the top choice amongst Emirati students, more and more are opting for design, law and media.

DUBAI // A business degree remains top choice for Emirati students but many are opting to study media, design and law as universities grow more diverse.

Emirati enrolment at the SAE Institute, which specialises in multimedia, design and film production, has doubled to 20 per cent since 2010.

Campus manager Keiran Bartlett attributes the increase to a growing understanding of the field and the careers it offers. The college, owned by Abu Dhabi's media zone, twofour54, has made increased efforts to advertise in Arabic and reach out to public schools.

"We've focused more on the Emirati markets," Mr Bartlett said.

SAE Institute courses, which include computer game design and 3-D animation, "aren't the traditional media courses so we don't attract the traditional students who might go for subjects like business" Mr Bartlett said.

"Until now, I just don't think people realised we were here and since we've been working on that, we've seen an increase in Emirati enrolment."

At the Université Saint Joseph, a branch of the Lebanese university, the students are almost all Emirati. The law school's first nine students graduated last year, and it now has more than 100 students.

Mireille Mounsef Abboud, campus director, said the demand for Emirati lawyers and diplomats was high, with many positions currently filled by Arab expatriates.

"They need Emiratis," she said. "There are a lot of opportunities for them, whether to become judges or lawyers, or work in embassies."

Demand is such that the university, which opened in 2008, is launching an evening degree programme in September to allow people with full-time jobs - especially state employees - to study after work.

Elsewhere, however, business studies dominate with 37 per cent of degrees, according to the annual report published yesterday by the Knowledge and Human Development Authority.

"Around half our students [43 per cent] are graduate students who are working, so it makes sense that they would go into business-related degrees," said Dr Warren Fox, head of higher education at the KHDA, which regulates free-zone universities in Dubai.

"Dubai is a business city and a business economy."

Dubai has 48,058 university students, up 11 per cent on last year, and 31 per cent since 2008.

The free-zone universities grew fastest, up 12 per cent to 22,301 students, and the federal universities least, up 9 per cent last year to 17,178 students.

The number of Emirati students rose by 10 per cent to 20,619, with 43 per cent in private universities outside the free zones, 16 per cent in the free zones and 41 per cent at federal university. The number of courses on offer rose by 8 per cent to 468.

Dr Abdulla Al Karam, head of the KHDA, said: "There have been fewer institutions opening up but what we care about more is the number of students here and those staying here to work."

In addition, the wider variety of subject matter was crucial, he said. "The offerings now are so wide and it's industry driven," he said, citing fields such as fashion and law.

He said employment prospects were key to private universities' popularity. "Those going to private universities are getting jobs," he said.

And the law passed last year that allows Emiratis attending KHDA-regulated universities to obtain government jobs would help increase the appeal of branch campuses, he said.

mswan@thenational.ae