x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Non-English universities compete for local students

Students visit Najah, the education exhibition at the National Exhibition Centre.
Students visit Najah, the education exhibition at the National Exhibition Centre.

ABU DHABI // Young people in the UAE are being increasingly targeted by universities in countries such as the Netherlands, Germany and Cyprus offering courses in English. Traditionally these students have travelled to the United States, Britain, Australia and New Zealand for their higher education. But now foreign schools are presenting other options, because they offer so many courses in English. Some institutions are also considering following Australian, British, American and Indian universities by opening branch campuses in the UAE. Representatives of scores of universities are in Abu Dhabi for the Najah Education, Training and Careers Exhibition. The three-day event, ending today, showcases higher education opportunities and was accompanied by the Education UK Exhibition (Edukex). Najah has attracted a dozen universities from the Netherlands, where more than 1,000 courses taught in English are available to international students. Madeleine Gardeur, international relations director for the University of Groningen, said the country had seen "a sharp increase" in the number of foreign students. "Definitely the Gulf region is becoming important for us, and China as well," she said. However, she admitted the Netherlands, like other continental European countries such as Germany, had to overcome resistance from students who looked first at countries where English was the first language. "We're a good alternative," said Ms Gardeur. "The Netherlands is very safe and very respectful of Muslims - we have a lot of Indonesian students." Dr Nick Bos, the executive director of Maastricht University, said his institution was focusing on recruiting students from the Gulf, China, India and Turkey. "A lot of people think it's Dutch-taught programmes, but nearly all master's degree programmes in the Netherlands are in English," he said, adding the same was true for most bachelor courses at his university. Having already set up campuses in Saudi Arabia and Oman, Maastricht University has also been "exploring the possibility" of opening a branch in the UAE. One German university, RWTH Aachen, has an affiliated campus, the German University of Technology (GUtech) in Oman. It was the first German institution to open in the Gulf region. Burkhard Rauhut, the rector of GUtech, said students were starting to look beyond the "dominant players". "With the global community we have to expand," he said. "And the more we educate the people from this region, the more economic links there will be in future." There has been "continuous growth" in the number of students from the Gulf, according to Dr Tayseer Alshanableh, director of international affairs for Near East University, based in the Turkish region of Nicosia in Cyprus. Near East University also offers courses in English, has a Dubai office and each year recruits about 60 students from the UAE. Dr Alshanableh said if the university increased its marketing and advertising efforts, that number could double. "We are eager to increase the number of international students," he said. Institutions in countries that traditionally attract students from the UAE say the increased competition will not affect their ongoing recruitment efforts. Last year, the most popular destination for Emirati students on overseas government scholarships was Australia, followed by the US, Britain and Canada. Basma Hakim is the international officer for the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England, which has about 50 students from the UAE. She said the UK was still "highly reputed" for higher education. The country has several factors in its favour, including the relatively short flying time from the Gulf. Also, compared with some other countries, courses are often shorter - three years for a bachelor's and one year for a master's degree. Despite having "slightly higher" fees, "the UK is still recruiting highly from all over the world", said Ms Hakim. Dr Qadri Muhammed Yousuf, the Gulf representative for Birmingham City University, said the processing of UK visas was particularly speedy. "The British Embassy here is quite aggressive in marketing, so we're doing well in the marketplace," he said. Gabrielle Troon, education services manager for Victoria in Australia, insisted her country's education system was "recognised as one of the best in the world". Jane Osborn, education manager for the government of South Australia, said the number of Gulf students was growing fast. "Kids go where their friends or relatives have been before and currently Australia is enjoying that second wave," she said. "People are coming back from Australia with qualifications acknowledged by industry." dbardsley@thenational.ae