Data science, engineering, accounting and artificial intelligence are among the most popular university courses chosen by UAE pupils, but some are opting for more off-the-beaten-path or non-traditional degrees.
Designing Hollywood film sets, establishing restaurants, performing in world-renowned musicals and working as art therapists are among the career paths being mapped out by some pupils in the UAE.
A report by the UK’s Universities and Colleges Admissions Service on Thursday showed that statistics, artificial intelligence and material science were the three top choices for international students in the UK. But education experts said the were noticing more and more pupils picking non-traditional degrees.
The National spoke with some final-year pupils in the UAE with more artistic ambitions.
'Lights, camera, action!'
Adheena Nair, 18, an Indian pupil in Abu Dhabi has a goal to design Hollywood film sets.
The Raha International School pupil will be starting a bachelor's degree in production design at Savannah College of Art and Design in the US this year, after receiving a 50 per cent scholarship on tuition fees, which are about $40,000 per year.
“While growing up, the arts subjects were really looked down upon and not recognised as among the best career choices in the Indian community," said Ms Nair.
"What was preferred was engineering or medicine or similar subjects. But I had an interest in art and through the years I cultivated my ability.
"When it was time for me to pick a degree, I chose production design.”
She chose to study in the US because of the flexibility and freedom of expression she was offered, as well as the possibility of working with some of the cinematic giants.
I chose this university because of the opportunities on offer, and also because it catches the eye of big recruiters like Marvel Entertainment, she said.
West End calling
Otilie Emery, 18, from Britain, dreams of performing in a West End musical one day.
A pupil at The British School Al Khubairat, she will start her bachelors studies in musical theatre at The Brighton Academy in the UK in September.
“I always wanted to do this and have had such a passion for acting and performing. I wasn't afraid to [pick the course],” said Ms Emery.
“My absolute dream is to be in the West End and I know it's going to take hard work and dedication to get there. But I feel that if you have a passion for something and you really love it, then there's no reason why you cannot do it.
“I think it's really great that people are starting to pay more attention to creative subjects like art and music and acting and not just focusing on traditional subjects such as mathematics and science.”
In 2021, UK media reported that the country faced a loss of about 400,000 jobs in the creative industry due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
But pupils are still turning to arts degrees and have ambitions of carving their own niche spaces.
Rema Menon, the director of career guidance service Counselling Point, said one of the pupils she was coaching this year wants to study fine arts and psychology to specialise in art therapy.
“The choice is a very individual one but students are trying to seek majors that are a little different, off-beat, not traditional," said Ms Menon.
Career in film
Moath Ibrahim, 18, from Egypt, wants to direct or edit films or work as a cinematographer.
The British School Al Khubairat pupil will start a four-year course in film production at York University in Canada, in September. The degree will cost him about C$32,000 per year.
"I am from Egypt where engineering and medicine are the main pathways that people pick. I've been fortunate that my parents are way more open about different pathways," said Mr Ibrahim.
"I'm focusing more on the technical side which is on editing, cinematography or camera work.
"The university I'm going to will offer different courses in different aspects of the media industry. So you can actually get to know what you want to do.
"People skip opportunities and go for the safe route, but one of the first opportunities I took was an internship at Image Nation in Abu Dhabi."
Food for thought
Not all pupils looking for an alternative degree are looking toward stage and screen. Reese Saldhana, an Indian pupil at Gems Winchester School in Dubai, plans to become a chef and open a restaurant some day.
He will study culinary management for two years in Conestoga College in Canada.
He chose Canada because there are a lot of opportunities for him to work in the country.
“Culinary management is something I wanted to pursue for a very long time,” he said adding that he enjoyed cooking.
“My entire plan is to study the first for Culinary Management then come back to Dubai to open a business."
Gergana Hutchinson, university and careers adviser at The British School Al Khubairat, said she had seen a trend in the past year of more pupils trying non-traditional subjects.
In the past, she said, pupils who were good at design may have considered a degree in architecture instead of one in production design.
“These pupils are very very passionate about these fields. They really want to go and work particularly and only in those fields and they are very committed to it," said Ms Hutchinson.