x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Students put the partying on hold

Emirates Focus Many bright young minds would dream of studying in a Dubai university, with its big-city distractions.

Rabie Nassereddin, 19, a student at the University of Wollongong in Dubai.
Rabie Nassereddin, 19, a student at the University of Wollongong in Dubai.

Many bright young minds would dream of studying in a Dubai university, with its big-city distractions satisfying those precious first moments of independence. But how would they cope with being among the growing number of students studying in Dubai and forced by housing shortages to live in Ajman? "Seriously, there is nothing to do here," said Rabie Nassereddin, 19, a first-year business administration student at the University of Wollongong in Dubai, which opened a student housing block in Ajman in September.

"We go for shisha in Ajman but that's it. There is Ajman City Centre where we sometimes go for movies but we prefer going to Dubai for the weekend. When we visit Dubai we can visit big malls. Every weekend we like to go to Dubai, unless we have exams." University officials said the eight-storey Ajman building was the closest complete building to the Australian university's campus in Dubai Knowledge Village they could find at a reasonable price.

A report by the property services firm Asteco found residential rental costs in Dubai increased 22 per cent in the 12 months to June this year, on the back of heavy increases in previous years, forcing institutions such as the University of Wollongong to look further afield for accommodation. The building is about 45km from Knowledge Village, but students say the road distance can be 80km, depending upon the route taken, a journey that usually takes about two hours.

So far the building is not full, but the university expects it to reach its capacity of 190 students within a year. The students, all male, are housed in one, two and three-bedroom flats, with two to each bedroom. While students in some of the university's other accommodation, such as Jebel Ali Gardens, can use a swimming pool and a nearby gymnasium, those living in Ajman have more limited facilities.

An internet connection is now in place, but students still bemoan the lack of things to do when they pull their heads out of their books. Rabie, who comes from a village in the south of Lebanon but has lived in Beirut and Doha, has had difficulty adjusting to life in the much smaller Ajman. Some of the students from his university have cars to travel to other emirates at weekends, but others have to rely on public transport.

Many of them take advantage of the buses laid on by the university. Every day at 8pm there is a bus to Ajman City Centre, which is a five-minute drive away and has a supermarket, cinema and shops. On Fridays a bus runs to Ajman beach, Sharjah bus station, from where buses connect widely, and Deira City Centre in Dubai. There is also a university bus to Deira City Centre, Mall of the Emirates and Knowledge Village each Saturday.

Abdullah al Maawali, 18, from Oman, is in the first year of an internet science and technology degree course and also struggles to find ways of occupying himself in Ajman. "There is nothing to do, no facilities and it's really far. I wouldn't mind living there if it was closer to Dubai," Abdullah said. He said the students have developed a strong sense of community in their apartment block, perhaps because they feel isolated, and have regular gatherings in one another's flats.

"In every other flat you will find a bunch of students. My flat is not one of the hang-out flats, but in the other flat nearby guys hang out there. You have smaller communities within the dorms themselves," Abdullah said. "It's entertaining but it gets boring after a while because there's only so much you can do together. There are no parties. We are all guys so I wouldn't want to have a party. It's just basically getting together to watch TV or have a chat."

Living in Ajman also means the students have to be early risers. For an 8.30am lecture, they have to get up at 5am to catch a 5.45am bus, as the next service at 6.45am might mean missing the start of classes. With a return journey of the same length, students might spend four hours on the road each day, cutting into the time they can spend studying outside lectures. While the university said this year there had not been an exodus from the accommodation, some students, including Rabie, are considering moving out of Ajman.

He would rather live in Dubai to cut down on his daily commute and be somewhere with more things to do. Rabie hopes he might be able to find a place to rent with some friends in Dubai, even though this would mean an increase in rent. Accommodation at the University of Wollongong in Dubai's apartment block in Ajman costs Dh22,500 (US$6,126) a year, compared with Dh48,000 for students at the university's housing blocks in Jebel Ali Gardens or Dubai Investment Park.

"I am searching for a new apartment in Dubai," Rabie said. "If I get something good then I will move." Others are thinking of taking things a step further and leaving the UAE completely. Greg Sabella, 21, a first-year student in internet science and technology, is considering moving back to his native Australia. Greg said he missed the outdoor pursuits such as white-water rafting and windsurfing that he used to enjoy at home. In Ajman, he said, there is "nothing to do".

"I don't like the lifestyle and I only came to experience a different culture, a different lifestyle," he said. Daniyar Rakhimov, 18, a student from Kazakhstan in the first year of a bachelor's degree course in business administration, said he was also hoping to go to the University of Wollongong's main campus, which is in the town of Wollongong, 80km south of Sydney. Daniyar hoped living in Australia would be more exciting and improve his English skills. "All the students here just do the same thing. It's too boring here."

dbardsley@thenational.ae