Towards new horizons of knowledge

Every year a large number of students leave the UAE for foreign destinations in pursuit of higher studies. Colleges and universities in the UK, USA, Canada and Australia open their doors to ambitious young men and women looking for best courses in their preferred fields of study. Preeti Kannan and Suzan Saleem offer an insight into the various aspects of this process

By Preeti Kannan And Suzan Saleem (In Depth)

Published: Sat 12 Jul 2008, 1:28 AM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 6:09 PM

Once again, it is the time of the year when students prepare to leave the country in pursuit of higher studies. Expatriate and national students have already sought enrolment in overseas institutions and most of them have apparently been accepted by various undergraduate schools.

An international degree, a study abroad experience, the availability of their preferred choice of study, the lifestyle and the opportunity of living alone are some factors that the students attribute to choosing overseas universities. Though the mushrooming of international universities in the UAE has, to some extent, reversed the trend, many students still opt to study in other countries.

Having received acceptance letters from various schools abroad, many expatriates and nationals across the country are now busy getting appointments with the diplomatic missions to obtain student visas. Countries like Canada and Australia are slowly becoming popular as educational destinations, though the United States, the United Kingdom and India continue to attract students in large numbers.

Rema Menon, Director of Counselling Point, which helps students make career choices, says she helps students make realistic choices of universities abroad based on their academic profile, interests, capabilities, family's aspirations and financial capabilities.

"It is very important that students are emotionally ready for the transition to universities abroad. It gives them a lot of freedom but with this freedom, there is a lot of responsibility. Some parents feel there are opportunities locally available and opportunities to find work after they study here, while there are others who feel their children should go abroad," said Menon.

Parents and students choose the destination and the college on different criteria, including the reputation and ranking of the college, ranking of the course, cost of study and accommodation and, sometimes, based on the presence of friends or family in the vicinity.

Shwetha Raj, whose son will leave for the US in August to study engineering, says, "We spent almost a year looking for the courses, choosing the college, preparing for SAT and TOEFL. After which, applying is by itself a huge process and there is a lot of documentation required, including recommendation letters, attested certificates and statement of purpose. Once the college sent the I-20 form, we took an appointment with the American consulate and he got his visa last week. He plans to leave in August, by which time we have to shop for clothes, books, suitcases and other requirements."

Sabeel Shamsudeen, who just started studying Chemical and Bio Process Engineering at the University of Wales, Swansea (UK), said he chose the UK because graduating from a British private school in Dubai made it "easier to transition to a British system" for him.

He said other factors that helped him decide were the reputation of the university and the high standard of living in the UK.

Besides the reputation of the college and the course, the lack of specific courses prompts students to leave. For instance, Reema Obaid, a recent graduate from Cambridge International School in Dubai, opted to go to the McMaster's University in Canada to study Medicine.

She said, "There aren't any foreign universities teaching medicine currently in the UAE and education in Canada is internationally recognised and very academically focused."

Dilini Sumanapala, after graduating from her school in Dubai, applied for Psychology in Canada's Concordia University as there were very few options for her to pursue her choice in the UAE.

She said, "Concordia is a renowned institution and offers a graduate degree in psychology as well while Canada gives me the opportunity to pursue work for three years upon graduation."

Similarly, Mariam Osman has decided to go to the University of Melbourne for the winter semester to study Corporate Law.

She says she chose Australia mainly because the UAE didn't have any law programmes in English. She also reasoned that Australia's cultural aspects encouraged greater self-dependence.

Many Indian expatriates send their children back to India to pursue professional qualifications like engineering, medicine and law. "It is not the absence of good universities here that I sent my son back to India after his Grade XII, especially since Indian colleges like Mahe Manipal and BITS Pilani have campuses here. I want him to have the experience of studying in India so that he learns to fend for himself and becomes self-reliant," said Prakash Jha.

United States of America

The United States is another destination that has always attracted students because of its reputation for high standards of education and also because of the possibility to get funding or scholarships to study. In 2007, 1,304 student visas were issued by the American missions in the UAE, of which two-third were to UAE nationals.

Embassy officials concede that the number of students going to the US had slipped down a bit.

The spokesman for the US Embassy, Steven L. Pike, reasoned that one of the main reasons for the dip in numbers was the international study options available in the UAE.

"This is detracting them from leaving and there is an increasing phenomenon that the vast options at home are making it more attractive for them to stay back," he said.

Competition from other foreign countries luring students to their universities was another reason, he observed. Students have the advantage of an expedited appointment process while applying for visas.

Some popular undergraduate courses for UAE students

Engineering, Medicine, Arts and Liberal Arts

Some popular universities for UAE students

Carnegie Mellon University, Georgia Institute of Technology, University of Illinois, University of California, University of Michigan

Approximate fee structures

Tuition fee for engineering could vary from Dh85,000 to Dh220,000.

Entry requirements

TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) and SAT

A visit to the American Consulate Education Division Library could provide the necessary information.

United Kingdom

The United Kingdom has traditionally been a destination for higher studies with students from all parts of the world. Every year, many from the UAE also travel to the UK. According to the Education Department at the British Council, UAE, over 2,200 UAE students went for higher education in the UK in the year 2006-7. The past three years have seen 35 per cent increase in the number of UAE-domiciled students studying in the UK. Over 40 per cent of students from the UAE in the UK are UAE nationals.

The introduction of the Visa Application Centres is the most recent step in simplifying the process for people, including students applying for any type of UK visa.

Some popular undergraduate courses for UAE students

Business, management, architecture and engineering

Some popular universities for UAE students

Imperial College, London School of Economics, Bristol University, Swansea University, University of Wales Swansea, King's College, London, Warwick University

Approximate fee structures

Tuition fees range between Dh30,000 and Dh100,000 per annum depending on the college, university and the course. Students have to bear accommodation costs which could again vary between Dh20,000 and Dh30,000 per annum depending on the location and type of accommodation.

Entry requirements

IELTS (International English Language Testing System) is used to determine English level for entrance into both under-graduate and post-graduate courses at UK universities. UK institutions would also consider applications from students who have taken the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT).

The British Council and the UCAS website are good resources for information on courses and universities

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