Going Dutch: UAE pupils consider English-speaking universities in Europe

Netherlands, Georgia and Poland increasingly in demand

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English-speaking universities in the Netherlands, Poland and Georgia are increasingly attracting students from the UAE, education consultants have revealed.

Interest in those three nations is on the rise, while falling in some of the traditional favourites chosen by school leavers in the Emirates.

"If you're looking for a competitive pricing, a lot of people are looking at countries like Georgia and Poland, which were virtually unheard of in the past," said Sanjeev Verma, chief executive of Dubai-based Intelligent Partners, which helps students with university applications and visa arrangements.

The UAE sends about 13,500 students of all nationalities abroad.

A lot of people are looking at countries like Georgia and Poland, which were virtually unheard of in the past
Sanjeev Verma, chief executive of Dubai-based Intelligent Partners

Traditional markets include Canada, the US and the UK but high fees and competition have led to demand for more options.

The Netherlands typically attracts more than 100,000 foreign students each year, drawn by the widespread availability of degrees taught in English, and that figure is growing. In the current academic year there are 115,068 international students in the northern European country, a 12 per cent rise on last year.

About 30 per cent of those are from outside the European Union and those students can expect to pay from €6,000 (Dh23,600) to €15,000 per year for a bachelor's degree. Students with EU passports pay a flat annual fee of €2,168.

The UK remains highly popular but many families are priced out by high fees. British universities charge foreign students between £10,000 (Dh46,400) and £38,000 per year for a bachelor's degree.

Rema Menon, director of career guidance at UAE-based Counselling Point, said many more prospective students now come to her asking about life in Amsterdam and Utrecht.

“The Netherlands wasn't a hot favourite among students in the past," she said. "But increasingly I see people are looking at the Netherlands as an important study destination, as more and more universities are offering courses in English.

“Also the costs are quite reasonable and is comparable to universities in the UAE."

Students look to post-university life

Ms Menon said Canada, the US and the UK remain the top destinations. Students from UAE, who often struggle to get on to the first step of the career ladder, often look to countries that allow them to stay on and work.

“In the UK you can stay on for two years after you graduate, so people are taking advantage of that option," she said.

A record number of students from the UAE applied to UK universities in 2022, data from admissions service Ucas revealed in February.

Ms Menon and other experts said Australia has slumped in interest after repeated lockdowns during the pandemic.

“Australia is no longer at the top of the pecking order, it has slipped considerably," Mr Verma said.

Broader effect of Ukraine invasion

Political and economic situations can prove a telling factor, particularly as parents prepare to fork out for three or four years of fees, flights and living costs for their children.

Before the war, Ukraine's well-regraded, English-taught universities attracted 76,000 international students. Fees of $1,000 to $3,000 a year for most degrees, and $2,000 to $6,000 for medical degrees, offered some of the best value worldwide.

One in four of those students were from Africa, including many from Egypt, Nigeria and Morocco. About 20,000 each year came from India, with many attracted to medicine and nursing.

As a consequence of the war, Poland has drawn huge demand from Ukrainian students who fled.

That and Poland's proximity to the fighting has led some UAE students to think twice about attending, though with annual fees for as low as €3,000 it remains popular.

“The war may be in Ukraine, but there are far-reaching consequences in other parts of Europe as well, such as shortages," said Ms Menon.

"People are worried of going to places like Poland and Georgia. Right now there is some amount of apprehension around that."

Likewise, she said similar fears have put students off Sri Lanka, where there is economic and political turmoil, even though the risk of getting caught up in violence would be slim.

Mr Verma said many families were looking at mainland Europe for the first time.

"Europe is the new kid on the block," he said. "Germany has always been there, but the interest in Germany has increased considerably."

Malta was another European nation that he thought could soon be popular with students, Mr Verma said.

He said those who could afford it pursued studies in Western European nations including France, Italy and Spain.

"On the other hand, if you're looking for a competitive pricing a lot of people are looking at countries like Georgia, Poland, etc, which were virtually unheard of in the past," he said.

"Ukraine obviously is off the map for the time being. Most people are still, I would say grudgingly, looking at Poland, Georgia and surrounding countries.

"They're not shunning them but they're cautiously optimistic."

Netherlands 'far cheaper' than British universities

Baahir Sameesh, a 19-year-old Indian in Dubai, will be heading to Vrije University in Amsterdam in September to start his bachelor's degree in artificial intelligence.

Baahir Sameesh, a 19-year-old Indian in Dubai, will be heading to Vrije University in Amsterdam in September to start his bachelors degree in artificial intelligence. Photo: Baahir Sameesh

“The whole reason I chose the Netherlands was because it was much cheaper compared to other places and had good quality of education," said Mr Sameesh.

“Instead of going to the UK and spending 1.5 times the money, I could go to the Netherlands and get a good-quality education.

"Europe also got a lot of attention when Australia slipped down.

"I have five friends who were going to Australian universities and when they were told they would have to do their degrees online, all five of five of them switched their plans and decided to study in Europe."

He said the Netherlands had a lot of research into artificial intelligence and he was excited to join the course.

Mr Sameesh said he would pay around Dh48,000 per year in the Netherlands, compared to Dh70,000 to Dh90,000 for a similar degree in the UK.

Cristian Rebelo, an 18-year-old Portuguese-Indian pupil at Wellington School in Silicon Oasis, will be heading to HZ University of Applied Sciences in Netherlands after summer.

Mr Rebelo will take on a four-year course in water management and hopes to return to Dubai to work on the UAE's development.

"I found that the Netherlands is a really good place to study environment and especially for water management," said Mr Rebelo, whose degree would include a year of internship.

"There's a lot of research in water management in the Netherlands, so it's very specialised, which is why I looked at the country. Also, the quality of education is really high."

Updated: May 30, 2022, 7:54 AM