Business and economics remain top subjects at UAE universities

Universities in the UAE are seeing a continued demand for business and economics courses while fewer young people are enrolling in science and health classes, higher education experts have said.

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DUBAI // Universities continue to struggle to attract students to science and health degrees, despite significant efforts to spark interest.

Dubai’s education regulator said there is “tremendous demand” for courses related to business, but that schools feeding higher education should focus more on promoting science degrees.

“There are many courses in information technology, business, media, while engineering is making a resurgence,” said Dr Warren Fox, from the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA).

“In Dubai, we are low on courses in health, in science and social sciences. We would like to see more programmes related to the environment and to solar energy.

“There is tremendous student demand for business programmes, especially master’s programmes. There is less demand in courses for science or health.”

Universities respond to demand from students and offer courses that are in demand, Dr Fox said.

He gave the example of Aberdeen University in Scotland, which opened a course in nuclear engineering – only to find a lack of demand from students meant it could not continue.

“Engineering and computer science are seeing enrolment and interest,” Dr Fox said.

“We would like to see students better prepared in maths, technology and science when they leave high school.

In Britain, universities are developing courses to make students more positive about life, with subjects based on happiness, well-being and a fulfilling education.

This year, the University of Birmingham will open a branch campus in Dubai.

“This focus on student well-being and happiness is central to the KHDA’s own philosophy and to the goals of Dubai and the UAE,” said Dr Fox. “This is a new area and we are looking forward to what the University of Birmingham is going to get.”

Prof Robin Mason, the university’s international vice chancellor, said it aimed to be a full-service campus in Dubai within six to seven years.

The university’s market research showed there was an appetite for computer science classes for bachelor’s and master’s degrees. It will launch these courses next year.

Prof Mason said that offering medical courses was more complicated than engineering courses because of the regulations and approvals needed in Dubai and Britain.

The regulator requires that any programmes offered in Dubai are offered at the university’s Birmingham campus.

“We are mindful of the plans that Dubai has for its future development,” Prof Mason said. “We have been having discussions with the Dubai Government about their plans for happiness and we are looking to develop a master’s degree in happiness.

“We are trying to look ahead and see what needs Dubai will have in 10 to 20 years to configure our campus according to those needs.”

The university is also looking at offering rail engineering courses.

“We have Europe’s largest group of rail engineers with lots of experience in working across the world,” said Prof Mason.

“Given the regional plans for development of rail infrastructure in Dubai and in the UAE, we think there could be potential for research and programmes in rail engineering.”

A master’s degree in happiness would combine courses in psychology, sport and exercise science and overall well-being.

“It’s about people and how they can adopt good practice mentally and physically,” said Prof Mason.

Sanjeev Verma, chief executive of education consultancy Intelligent Partners, said the UAE’s higher education sector was still at a nascent stage compared with those overseas.

“Medicine and niche areas like astronomy and geology are not there,” he said.

“For this you need resources and demand. IT, business and engineering are in vogue. If you need to study subjects off the beaten path, you need to travel overseas.

“The challenge is to have enough people here who want to study that discipline, and that remains to be seen.”