Dubai - 72 percent of respondents said they would "not encourage their child to study at a university here
Huge strides are being made in the higher education field in the UAE, but it seems like parent sentiment is lagging.
When Khaleej Times polled more than 100 expatriates to figure out just how confident they were in UAE universities, 72 per cent of respondents said they would "not encourage their child to study at a university here".
While 39 per cent said cost was a huge factor, claiming tuition fees were "too expensive", a further 34 per cent said they did not feel that the university campuses were mature enough, yet.
And when it came to what they want to see more of here, the response was blatant. Additional branch campuses took the majority of the vote with 34 per cent in its favour.
However, the anonymity of the poll may have influenced some of these answers, because when Khaleej Times spoke to several parents, the responses were - in large part - very positive.
According to British expatriate Liz Bamford, mindsets are changing for the better when it comes to the higher education sector in the UAE.
"Traditionally there was a tendency for expatriates to send their children back to their home countries for schooling, but that sentiment has changed hugely now."
With two children - in Year 1 and Year 4 - attending Repton School Dubai (International Baccalaureate curriculum), Bamford said educational courses here are "incredibly high powered now", and they are only getting better.
"Parents don't want to send kids away for studies. Before there was no choice, now we a have choice."
She said there are some really strong viable alternatives to sending children back home for education.
And with more and more UAE students getting admission to Ivy League Schools today, there is no wonder parent-confidence is fast growing.
For mother-of-four, Saba Khan, the availability in terms of university programmes and services has been one of the biggest changes she has witnessed while living in the UAE.
"Graduates are getting so many career opportunities now, too."
She said it speaks volumes to have such a bevy of options for students, including further study opportunities including Masters and PhDs.
And with UAE universities once boasting a predominantly business-tailored approach, we are now seeing more specialised courses like media and aviation attracting international students.
And these aren't just words from Khan, as all four of her children have attended university here.
"It's a fantastic system here. To have your kids become whatever they aspire to be due to their education is the pay off, and many of my friends agree with this statement. We have seen our kids become doctors, marketing professionals, bankers and creatives."
The UAE's education agenda going through positive change
It is no secret that the education sector is considered to be among the most important sectors for the UAE people, and this point was made clear recently by His Highness Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of UAE and Ruler of Dubai.
To mark his tenth year in concession since assuming the position of the UAE's Vice-President and Prime Minister, Shaikh Mohammed issued a statement recently highlighting Dubai's economic milestones and achievements in governance since 2006. Referring to education, he noted that the number of accredited programmes in the UAE universities has grown from 206 to 862 since 2006.
Speaking to Khaleej Times, Dr Cedwyn Fernandes, director of Middlesex University Dubai, said there has been a "sea of change" when it comes to undergraduate opportunities in the UAE.
"In 2002, we had just one international university with 645 students. Today, we have 26 with more than 30,000 students. That's progression."
And speaking about the growth of Middlesex University when it comes to student attraction, he said they now enroll 30 per cent international students, as opposed to just five per cent five years ago.
How the Higher Education sector is gaining ground in the UAE
For a country that is driven by an agenda of innovation and knowledge, a thriving higher education sector is vital. There is no doubt that this has increasingly become a focus in the UAE in the last few years, raising not only the quality but also the range of study opportunities available here. There are several reasons for this; to raise academic standards; to meet the demands of the rising numbers of students who are completing their secondary education in the UAE and also to attract students from other parts of the world. One of the results of this is that the UAE now has the highest number of branch campuses of anywhere in the world, with world class Universities from the US, the UK, Australia, France and India complementing the already established local universities. The range of degrees on offer currently leans towards the disciplines of business and finance, but we are now seeing universities diversifying their portfolios with some specifically including areas that are geared to meet the employment needs of the region with programmes covering areas such as aeronautical, hospitality and design.
Several of the universities in the UAE are now globally ranked which adds to their prestige and gives their alumni greater credibility when it comes to employment. The increase in masters programmes and research-based institutions is also enhancing the status of higher education in the region.
The attractions of studying in the UAE are many; access to globally recognised and accredited qualifications; the opportunity to study in specialist institutions; in many cases the chance to learn in smaller classes with an internationally diverse peer group; multiple entry points and, with some of the branch campus universities, the chance to split your degree programme between studying in the UAE and the home campus. Plus the fee structure for the universities here is very competitive compared with the costs for international students in other parts of the world. As educational consultants advising students on finding the best paths for study, Gabbitas are increasingly recommending the option of taking a degree here in the UAE.
Fiona McKenzie, Director Middle East, Gabbitas Education www.gabbitas.ae