What methods are employed to convince local students to attend western-based curricula universities here in Dubai as opposed to going abroad? What are the main challenges when it comes to attracting students?
ALSHAMSI: This part of the world is very attached to the West in many policies and many strategies. There are many relations, both commercial and personal with the West, which makes the Western system of education very attractive to the people here. The Western system of education is becoming more universal. The reality now is that most local universities are adopting the Western system of education and moving toward being Western based universities. Many universities from the East are adopting the Western system today. In addition the Universities in Europe and the UK are becoming more alike in many respects. Because of this more global system that is based on the Western system, people here like to go that route.
When it comes to challenges, the first is that many students would like to have a world-recognized degree and some of the Western branches of universities here are not recognized in the emirates and many local students avoid those universities. However, locally recognized universities are very popular among students especially when it is a Western university. When it comes to post-graduate education, the other important factor is convenience. Many students, who are working professionals, would like to continue their master’s degrees or even their doctorates. Some of these perspective students cannot abandon their professions. So having a locally based university that is accredited both here and in the West is an attractive option. To do that, you also have to offer classes in a convenient way. Classes have to be offered after working hours, part time, IT related resources and more. The other thing I can think of is relevance of the program to their profession.
How will the federal governments spending freeze for state run universities impact higher education in the UAE? What kind of support are you receiving from the government?
ALSHAMSI: The freeze on federal funding for higher education in the UAE is very unfortunate. For a country like the UAE, that has a high percentage of young people in the population, freezing the budget for federally funded universities will have adverse effects, both for students at the individual level and on the future of the country. Education is something that needs to be looked at as something for the country and not for individuals. I think for the past 40 years, the higher education funding has been more or less constant in the sense that the system has not changed. It is about time to change the system of funding universities. They are currently funding in the old fashioned way, where the government gives money to universities and the universities spend that money in ways they feel it is appropriate. We need to move away from this type of system to one in which more support is provided to individuals who want to go to university and these individuals are in turn funding those universities through tuition. The system is stagnant right now and it is time to do something similar to what is done in other countries where individuals benefit directly from the education system. Here at BUiD, we do receive significant funds from the government of Dubai. The ruler of Dubai made a decree by which the government has pledged support to universities located in Dubai and as a result we do get a significant amount of funds from the government.
Where are the majority of your students from? Are there any new enrolment trends currently taking place?
ALSHAMSI: The UAE is a unique country when it comes to demographics. The percentage of the local population is 20% at best and many people say it is well below that. Because of that and because of being a university that is open to anybody in the country, the population within the university somehow reflects this. Here at BUiD, we do not have any one group of people making up a majority over 50%. Local students do make up the largest minority at almost 45%. We only provide postgraduate education, so that is a significant number and we are proud of that. Over 75% of the population of BUiD is Arab. About 25% are from the subcontinent, and we have a few students from Canada and the Far East. When it comes to areas of study, the most important areas are management and engineering. Management is still the biggest for us, whether it is project management or human resources management. Management is followed by education and engineering.
What are your projections for student enrolment numbers in the next two years? How much of an impact has the downturn had upon higher education both in terms of enrolment and course offerings?
ALSHAMSI: The UAE has witnessed great growth over the past ten years. There number of people who came here was very high. The number of people expected to go into postgraduate education is expected to go up because of that. We expected the downturn to affect the enrollment number of students coming to university. In the first couple of months of the downturn many students were reluctant to come to university and there was a lot of caution. Many people were uncertain about their future whether they would continue with their job or whether they would be dismissed and leave the country. Fortunately, over the last year, the number of students that we admitted this year is higher than last year. I feel that next year we are going to see higher numbers as well. All universities now in Dubai also have to be very careful about what they are offering. Course offerings have to be attractive to the population here given the new market conditions. Many universities were very reluctant to provide new course offerings now as they had done in the past. For us, we can easily sustain the number of students that enrolled this year and are expecting an even higher number for next year.
It is about time to change the system of funding universities. The system is stagnant right now and it is time to do something similar to what is done in other countries where individuals benefit directly from the education system.
In what ways is today’s UAE job market different for new graduates? How has BUiD’s curriculum adapted for the change? In what capacity, if any, is the private sector involved in curriculum development?
ALSHAMSI: The job market in the UAE is different than it was in the past. One way it has changed is a result of the downturn in the economy and the worldwide downturn, which has had a lot of influence on the way jobs are created worldwide. Many universities are now developing their curriculum to suit what is needed in the economy. Also, the nature of the skills needed for new graduates has changed. IT and English language skills and the mastering of these skills are more important than ever. Students need the skills that will make them flexible to work in many disciplines, not just in one area. We have an advisory group that is made up of several members of industry and they have a good deal of influence over what we teach and the way we modify our program. Over the past 3 years, we have modified every program we offer to meet the new needs of the market. At the end of the day this helps us get the right graduate for the right job given the economy.