UK, Japan and Netherlands among top destinations for UAE students

Visa changes, quality of life and wanting to go somewhere less conventional are driving undergraduate choices, say experts

British seats of learning, such as the University of Oxford, remain popular with UAE students. Getty
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The UK and Netherlands are proving popular for UAE students looking to continue their education abroad, while Japan and the Czech Republic are among less conventional choices, say experts.

Visa changes that came into effect last month in the UK mean many students cannot take dependents to the country but this is unlikely to deter UAE students, as most head there to study for first, or bachelor's, degrees.

In 2023, there was a rise in the number of UAE students accepted into British universities, bucking a global trend.

Figures released in September showed 1,710 people applying from the UAE were offered places in 2023, an increase of 17 per cent from the 1,460 a year previously.

UK still attractive to undergraduates

Rema Menon, director of Counselling Point Training and Development, an academic counselling centre, said the UK was still a popular choice for UAE students heading abroad for undergraduate studies.

“The visa regulations mainly impact postgraduate students and a lot of UAE students are going for undergraduate programmes,” said Ms Menon.

“Some students have been accepted in Canada, but because of the new policy changes announced in Canada, have now applied to UK.”

Canada has cut the number of international student visas by more than a third this year, compared to 2023 when it hosted more than 900,000 students from overseas.

“Increasingly, students are looking at the safety and security that the UAE provides,” added Ms Menon.

“As more new options become available here, they are looking at doing undergraduate studies here and then going abroad for master's studies.”

Finland and Japan gain popularity

In Europe, Finland has gained popularity among students, said Vandana Mahajan, founder of Futures Abroad, an education consultancy in the Emirates.

“I'm seeing a huge surge in Finland admissions and competitiveness is quite high. The reason a lot of students are opting for Finland is because they can take their families with them,” said Ms Mahajan.

“I'm seeing a lot of increase in interest for Japan. People are seeking unconventional countries,” she said.

She said students wanted to study in locations which promised something different and offered prospects for their family and careers.

In 2023, the Japan International Co-operation Center (JICE) Abu Dhabi said 63 Emirati students were studying in Japan.

Unconventional countries in Europe like the Czech Republic, Finland, Ireland and Germany are very popular because they are affordable
Vandana Mahajan, founder of Futures Abroad

“We are seeing more applications now for Europe and the US than any other destinations like Canada or Australia. Those are not so popular at the moment,” she said.

“The US will continue to have great prospects for STEM-related programmes.

“The other biggest countries for higher education are in Europe. Unconventional countries in Europe like the Czech Republic, Finland, Ireland and Germany are very popular because they are affordable.”

In the Netherlands, international students from outside the EU can expect to pay from €6,000 (Dh23,755) to €15,000 per year for a bachelor's degree. Students with EU passports pay a flat annual fee of €2,209 for bachelor's studies.

British universities charge foreign students between £11,400 – £38,000. The average cost is around £22,200 per year for a bachelor's degree.

Netherlands is top European choice

Madhav Juneja, UAE country manager for Crimson Education, which helps students apply for university, also said Europe had gained popularity among students during and following the pandemic because of its relative proximity to the UAE.

“I'd say the Netherlands is the top one [in Europe], just in terms of English taught programmes available for international students,” said Mr Juneja.

He said Canada was still a popular choice but the fallout from their immigration changes would become apparent in the next few months.

“The biggest challenge has been language and I think [the] Netherlands has more than 480 English taught programmes. That is the biggest driver, as well as the quality of life,” he said.

He said there was a lot of demand to study medicine in the Netherlands, especially as many students sought an alternative to the competitive British medicine courses.

The Netherlands attracts more than 100,000 foreign students each year. In 2022-23 there were 122,287 international students attending state-funded institutions in the country, according to Nuffic, the Dutch organisation for internationalisation in education.

Students consider quality of life

Areesh Sami, 18, a Pakistani pupil in Dubai hopes to start her bachelor's studies at Vrije University in Amsterdam, which has made her a conditional offer to study law.

Ms Sami initially considered studying in the Netherlands because the grade requirements were lower than the UK and the US.

“I don't have to stress myself out as much during exam season. Student life is really nice and it's a very walkable city, which appeals to me very much,” said Ms Sami.

“I also like that most of the courses are very interdisciplinary.

“I have an interest in environmental law and I feel like the Netherlands is better for that.”

She said she picked the Netherlands mainly for the quality of life and affordability.

Yagiz Ozenci, 17, a Turkish pupil in Dubai, will be moving to the United States to study economics and physics at the University of Pennsylvania.

The university charges around $90,000 per year for the bachelor's course.

“The first reason was just the scale of the country,” he said. “I also applied to the UK but decided to go to the US.”

He said the brand impact that US universities carried was a crucial factor.

“The main thing for me is the opportunity. It's not like Canada or the UK do not have that opportunity, it's just that when you have a country that is the size of a continent, the possibility there is not really comparable,” he said.

He said he wanted to gain work experience in the banking sector in the US, and then work in the UAE.

UAE students head overseas - in pictures

Updated: March 28, 2024, 9:47 AM