Emiratis seen to prefer private universities

Federal universities are losing out to private institutions in attracting UAE nationals, as students seek a multi-cultural environment and diverse course offerings.

By Afshan Ahmed

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Published: Thu 15 Apr 2010, 8:42 AM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 10:51 AM

In Dubai alone, the number of Emiratis in private institutions is more than in federal universities. According to the Knowledge and Human Development Authority, 6,475 nationals go to private and international branch campuses, while 6,308 attend public universities. This is excluding the 2,788 students in institutions run by the Dubai Government.

Fatma Mohanadi, Director of Government Communication, Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research (MOHESR) told Khaleej Times on the opening day of GETEX Dubai, “Many (Emirati) students prefer private universities to federal institutions.”

GETEX Dubai, an education fair with more than 400 international and local universities participating, was opened by Shaikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research, at the Dubai International Exhibition and Convention Centre on Wednesday. It remains open till April 17.

Stringent entry requirements at public universities are making students look for options. Capacity issues at the three federal universities — UAE University, Zayed University (ZU) and Higher Colleges of Technology (HCT) — was also cited as a reason for increasing numbers in private institutions.

“The cut off is about 75 per cent to 80 per cent grades at federal universities and students with less opt for private education instead,” she said.

The ministry is working on a strategy that includes visiting schools to promote federal institutions and creating awareness about accredited universities in the country.

“Whether public or private, students must choose high quality institutions and can visit the ministry’s website for all information,” Mohanadi said.

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More than 64 public and private institutes are accredited by the ministry, but many organisations in the country operate without accreditation in the absence of a regulatory mechanism. “These institutes do not have high standards and, therefore, accept students who are not competent enough,” she said.

Bryan Gilroy, Assistant Provost for Enrollment Management at ZU, said cost was not a determining factor for Emirati students. “They are looking for quality education irrespective of the cost,” he said.

Being a federal university, ZU also boasts an international accreditation from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education that authenticates its standards. However, Gilroy believes programme diversity steers students towards private institutions.

“These institutions offer programme that we are yet to venture into,” he said. “They have also started offering scholarships to nationals which makes them attractive.”

Fighting back, ZU will be intensifying its scholarship programme and adapt to the demands of studentsw.

“We are changing are programmes to reflect what is required by the market,” Gilroy said.

The trend of moving towards private institutions is also an extension of a preference for private schools by Emiratis. In Dubai, more than 50 per cent of UAE nationals attend private schools that offer better education.

UAE national Ali Ali joined a private school and went on to complete his education at the Al Ghurair University in Dubai. Over 70 per cent of the student population at the private university are nationals.

“Private education is valued more and I was advised to join this university,” says Ali.

He will be applying to an international university for his masters. “I want a multi-cultural environment which I believe is lacking in federal universities.”

Dr Abdurahem Mohammed Al Ameen, President of the university, said: “In a global society, students want to interact with students from other cultures. Also some students want to study and work and we offer flexible study schedules.”


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