Arab students still prefer US

DUBAI - Although several students shifted to colleges in Europe, Far East, and Arab countries during the months that followed the September 11 attack according to news reports, the US colleges and universities are still the most preferred academic destinations for many students in the Arab World, especially after recent decline in incidents of harassment.

By Meraj Rizvi And Tarek S. Fleihan

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Published: Sun 17 Aug 2003, 11:40 AM

Last updated: Wed 1 Apr 2015, 10:13 PM

While the world marks the second anniversary of the tragic events in the US next month, reports of harassment of Arabs and Muslims at US colleges and universities in the aftermath of September 11 continue to evoke a mixed reaction and concern among parents - whether to send their children to pursue higher education in the US or opt for another country.

However, many students despite the uncertainities want to brush off rumours and are preparing to leave for higher education to US institutions, a few victims of the past, have urged the authorities to iron out the problems ensuring their safety since US universities are still on top of their priority list of higher education.

Saeed Mohammed Al Suweidi, a final year student at Dubai Men's College (DMC) plans to go to the US next year for his Masters in Engineering Management at the American University in Washington D.C.

"The tragic aftermath of September 11 on Muslims around the globe, is all hyped up by the international media, but the reality is faced only when one is actually in America. I have visited the US twice after September 11, and have found no discrimination being perpetrated against the Muslims and Arabs in particular."

Saeed believes that stringent security measures at US airports and strict US visa regulations adopted by the US government is fair and in the interest of America's security and safety. But, this is not going to deter UAE nationals from going to the US for higher education, especially to pursue courses and programmes that are still not available in local universities.

Back to normal

According to Saeed, US is his first preference, while Australia is second. "But, my decision is purely based on the availability of seat and the kind of course to be pursued, and is not influenced by September 11," said Saeed. He admits that a year ago, UAE national students did begin to explore new destinations such as Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand and France among others, but things seem to have reverted back to normal and nationals are once again keen on going to US institutions for higher education.

"My cousin who applied for a student visa at the US Consulate in Dubai recently received it within a month's time. This is enough indication that America still wants to welcome Arab students and that the US State Department has urged the authorities to speed up security clearance for student visa applicants," Saeed pointed out.

Another local student, Hashim Abdurrahman Al Tamimi, a graduate from the Higher Colleges of Technology (HCT) and currently employed with the UAE Air Force as an aircraft engineer also expressed his desire to go to US for higher education, provided he could arrange finances to sponsor his education. "September 11 attacks and its fallout on the Muslim world is not a deterring factor in choosing a US institution. I already have around five friends who are currently studying in the US and find the environment comfortable and conducive to Arabs."

Hashim admits that "higher education scenario in the country has undergone a significant change recently, with a wide range of private and government institutions established to offer international standard programmes and courses. But, we still need to give these institutions some more time to establish themselves as reputed international institutions, after which UAE nationals will prefer studying in their own country," says Hashim, adding, however his family and friends at present have an open-mind on the US and UK institutions which continue to offer the best quality education compared to other countries around the globe.

Meanwhile, some Arab students subjected to harassments at colleges and universities following the attacks, have asked officials at universities to work with parents and community groups to ensuring that harassment and violence have no place in the US colleges and schools.

Parents' fears

Kamal N., a graduate studying in US, said there have been increasing news reports of incidents of harassment and violence directed at persons perceived to be Arab Americans or of Middle Eastern or South Asian origin. Kamal noted that Arab-American parents have publicly expressed fear about the safety of their children at school.

Saeed Mahmmoud, a student willing to pursue his higher education in US, said that reports of harassment and undue security checks are frightening Arab students away from their dream of studying in the US.

"There are many efforts to support Arab-American and Muslim students who are fearful of personal harassment such as the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC). The committees are calling upon school officials, university presidents and deans, student government leaders, religious leaders and others to issue public statements that innocent people should not be blamed for the acts of others," he noted.

Such bodies are also seeking educational fora involving group discussions to give students a chance to express their views and invite members of the Arab-American and Muslim communities to speak to students, Mahmmoud said, observing that the most effective way to counteract hostile stereotypes is through coming in personal contact with other communities.

"Such groups should invite speakers, show videos on the Arab world and Islam, and remind students that the Arab world is an entire civilisation with a rich cultural heritage," he said.

Wael Z., a student in one of the US colleges told Khaleej Times, that hundreds of Saudis have returned from the United States and complained of widespread abuse, harassment and maltreatment mainly by government agencies.

"Many of the Saudi students in the US have moved to the American University of Beirut among other universities in the Arab World. Other countries, such as the UK is still considered a good option for them," he said.

Students are also looking for safer destinations in the Far East such as Malaysia, Wael observed, noting that Arab students are more equipped to protect themselves from discrimination by laws enforced by the US Department of Education Office of Civil Rights.

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