Abu Dhabi University considers expansion

New campus would serve tertiary education needs of Al Gharbia community

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ABU DHABI // Abu Dhabi University (ADU) is considering expanding into Al Gharbia, which would make it the first private university with its own campus in the region.

There are two higher education institutions to serve seven towns and cities in the emirate’s western region, Al Gharbia. Only one – the Higher Colleges of Technology (HCT) in Madinat Zayed and Ruwais – awards degrees. The other, the Vocational Education and Training Institute (VETI), offers diplomas.

Many students leave to study in Al Ain, Dubai and Abu Dhabi, where there are more educational opportunities and better job prospects.

The Western Region Development Council is assessing what courses would most help the region’s employers, which include the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company and government entities such as the municipality.

“There is a shortage of educational opportunities here,” Fatima al Marzouqi, one of the council’s team working on the project, said. A new university could help stem the tide, she said. “This will open up more opportunities.”

Ms al Marzouqi expects the biggest demand to be for engineering degrees. “Big companies like Emirates Nuclear Energy Company and Abu Dhabi National Oil Company need these majors. They have huge current and future projects.”

The council is also talking to other institutions, including Zayed University, about ways to broaden the range of higher education in Al Gharbia.

Amira el Masri, the associate head of admissions at ADU, said the university would be working with chief executives and human resource managers in both the public and private sectors.

“We’re concentrating on career opportunities for students graduating from these programmes with the aim of them going into the local workforce, staying in the local area,” Ms el Masri said.

One of the first projects being examined would give more than 100 unemployed Emiratis the chance to top up their diplomas to degree level. “It’s about giving them options,” she said. Expansion would not be without risk, though. “How profitable this would be with such a small population is a question we have to ask,” the ADU provost, James Mackin, said.

“Launching a campus would be costly; building costs, setting up costs. We’d have to really see that there is really big potential to actually build out there.”

Initially, he said, it might prove best to offer online programmes, with just a few academic staff based locally to teach courses such as English, helping to bridge the gap from school to university.

Although there are no recent census figures, there are estimated to be about 16,500 Emiratis living among Al Gharbia’s population of 120,000. They are spread across some 60,000 square kilometres – about 80 per cent of the total area of Abu Dhabi emirate.

Al Gharbia has the country’s richest oil and gas reserves, generating Dh115 billion annually – 40 per cent of the emirate’s gross domestic product, according to the Abu Dhabi Urban Planning Council. To lure students, Dr Mackin said it was important for any new university to offer scholarships for bright students, as well as financial aid for the less privileged.

Other institutions are expanding into the region, too. Later this month, 40 students in Madinat Zayed will become the first to study there for diplomas in medical laboratory analysis and medical services at Fatima College of Health Science.

“We have had a lot of demand for nursing and pharmacy degrees,” Hatem Keiss, the marketing co-ordinator at the college, said. It hopes to launch degree programmes in September.

“At the career fair we found a lot of students interested in studying health care degrees.”

The college, based in Abu Dhabi, offers free education to Emiratis, but does not yet have its own campus in Al Gharbia, instead using space at VETI.