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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 11 December 2018

Students left in lurch as Dubai college closes

Funding problems means International Horizons College has ceased operating, leaving more than 30 students having to find alternatives.
Dr Chris Hall, president of International Horizons College, says the college’s trustees chose closure ‘with regret’ after student numbers failed to ‘justify continued investment’. Reem Mohammed / The National
Dr Chris Hall, president of International Horizons College, says the college’s trustees chose closure ‘with regret’ after student numbers failed to ‘justify continued investment’. Reem Mohammed / The National

DUBAI // More than 30 students were forced to transfer to local universities after a college had to close its doors because of funding problems.

International Horizons College, which admitted its first class in 2013, was designed to be a pathway for students who wished to study in the US.

The college, in Business Bay, would prepare students during a two-year “associate degree”, after which they could transfer to universities in the US, joining four-year bachelors programmes at the start of the third year.

Dr Bader Aboul-Ela, head of the Commission for Academic Accreditation (CAA), a part of the Ministry of Education that accredited the college, said: “They could not attract a sizeable number of students interested in following such a route.

“The board opted to go for closure. It coordinated with the CAA and has done a responsible job in negotiating with the American University of Dubai and Rochester Institute of Technology [both US accredited] for the ‘teach-out’, in addition to counselling the students.”

Dr Chris Hall, the college president, said it was “with regret” that the college’s trustees decided to close the facility, “recognising that the college has not been successful in recruiting sufficient numbers of students to justify continued investment”.

Dr Hall, who has extensive experience in higher education in developing economies — he was president of the American University in Kosovo for six yearsbefore joining IHC in 2014 — said: “Dubai is a very competitive higher education market and the two-year associate degree is unfamiliar to most UAE families, although it offered a guaranteed pathway to leading US universities such as Rutgers and the University of Vermont, while completing half of the students’ US degree at home in the UAE.”

The reality, however, is that when it comes to university applications, there are no guarantees of entries.

IHC, which was not open long enough to apply for US accreditation, has 32 students due to finish its two-year programme next year, 16 of whom are expected to complete their IHC studies under teach-out arrangements at RIT and AUD.

“Of the transfer students, at the moment we expect about 10 to transfer to RIT, four directly to the US and two to India for their next year of studies,” said Dr Hall. “Students opting for the teach-out will pay the same fees they would pay for study at IHC, including keeping any scholarships or financial aid. IHC will pay their tuition to the receiving college and absorb any losses from the difference in fees.”

The fees were mostly on par, he said, at about Dh65,000 a year for a full-time student.

Dr Aboul-Ela said there were lessons to be learnt from the experience. It is not the first institution to close its doors owing to funding issues. Michigan State University had to close its undergraduate operation in Dubai International Academic City in 2010, two years after opening, leaving more than 100 students to find alternative arrangements within the UAE or to travel to the US to complete their studies.

The campus lost millions of dollars on the project, which has now left it teaching just a small number of students in postgraduate studies at its base in Knowledge Village.

“The lesson for others to learn is to read the market well and understand the students’ mentality and attitudes,” Dr Aboul-Ela said. “Many students, particularly expats, are interested in four-year programmes. That is why other colleges that started as two-year colleges have shifted to four-year programmes.”

Sanjeev Verma is the director of Intelligent Partners, which advises and mentors high school pupils for higher education. He said of two-year associate degrees that he had “never seen this work”.

“If you’re not good enough to get to the US schools, it’s better to go to a community college and transfer and for that there are regular pathways,” he said. “That’s a perfect system and everybody does that.”

mswan@thenational.ae