x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Men make their mark, by degrees

Zayed University was set up as women-only, but these days there are a lot of bright young male faces in the student body.

Abdallah Al Hosany, 18, centre, works on an English exercise while another student receives some assistance at Zayed University in Dubai.
Abdallah Al Hosany, 18, centre, works on an English exercise while another student receives some assistance at Zayed University in Dubai.

DUBAI // Men are making great headway in an area once dominated by women - a curious turnaround for the Emirates.

And Rashid Binjarn last year became one of the pioneers.

Rashid, 18, an Emirati, was among the first batch of male students to be admitted to Zayed University's Dubai campus, and his choice of institution still surprises some people.

"When I go to interviews people ask me, 'Isn't it a women's university?'" he says.

Zayed University was founded as a women-only institution more than 13 years ago, but its mission and image is changing with a steady stream of male students, who study separately from their female peers.

This year is the second intake of men at the Dubai campus - and a bigger batch is expected than the 150 who entered last year.

Rashid, a gifted student, was offered places at some of the country's top private universities, including the American University of Sharjah and the University of Wollongong Dubai.

But his family told him if he wanted to attend a private university he would have to pay his own way.

With fees at private universities running up to about Dh60,000 a year, he opted for a free education at the state-owned Zayed University.

One year on, Rashid is pleased with his decision.

As one of the few Emiratis with sufficient marks in English to start his degree straight away, without remedial classes, he feels he has had a good start.

While he admits private universities tend to have a more diverse range of students, he says Zayed's gender segregation was good for him and his faith.

"One of the benefits of being here is being away from girls, Islamically speaking," Rashid says. "You have to respect your religion and your family's decisions."

Ali Al Ketbi, 18, who has just joined, has already fielded the same questions as Rashid.

"When I told my friends I was going to Zayed University, they asked me why, as it's a women's university," Ali says. "They were surprised."

But the student from Al Ain says the small classes, of only seven or eight students each, have their advantages.

"We get to know each other and build up team work," Ali says.

While the Abu Dhabi men's campus is in its fourth intake, it is still new ground for Dubai.

The past year has gone very smoothly, says Dominic Bending, the head of the Dubai men's campus.

It is proving popular with Emiratis and attracting fee-paying students from around the region, including Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait.

"I can see this is going to be growing," says Dr Bending. "The final numbers will not be clear until next week, when registration ends.

"Zayed University's reputation is growing in the region, and more and more people are becoming aware that we have a campus for both men and women."

But the campus is struggling for space, with the female students using converted meeting rooms for classes.

The university wants to build a male campus on land it owns in Dubai International Academic City but has yet to secure funding.

"We didn't want to take too many students this year because of space constrictions," says Dr Bending. "However, we can cope with even more than doubling our numbers this year. Next year, we'll need new premises."

The men use the same classrooms the women used earlier in the day. Their classes start at 3.30pm, after the women have left.

That works well for the men, allowing them to hold jobs while they study - and that makes them far more focused, says Dr Bending.

"They are all very serious and we are very pleased with their attitude and behaviour," he says.

Abdallah Al Hosany, 18, a first-year finance student from Sharjah, works in the mornings and studies in the afternoons.

"The most important thing is to have work experience," Abdallah says. "When I graduate, this will ensure I have better career opportunities."

mswan@thenational.ae