Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 26 November 2020

Coronavirus: Fewer scholarships for students going abroad to study, UAE analysts forecast

Financial aid could be replaced by merit-based scholarships and subsidies

Education experts in the UAE have predicted fewer scholarships and less financial aid for students who want to go abroad for higher studies.

Sally Jeffery, partner and Middle East education leader at PricewaterhouseCoopers, a consulting firm, said getting scholarships will get difficult now as authorities are becoming selective while choosing candidates.

In past years, students could get a scholarship if they got an entry at a university in the top 200 in the world. But, that’s not the case now in the UAE or the Gulf countries.

Sally Jeffery

“We have already seen a reduction in the number of students travelling overseas and the degrees that qualify for scholarships are changing,” she said.

Every year, tens of thousands of students from the Middle East travel overseas for education on partial or full government bursaries.

Regional governments have become selective in giving out such grants as they want more students to study in local universities.

The coronavirus pandemic has put additional pressure on local governments to cut back on their overseas educational bills after heavily investing in setting up local universities and colleges.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation estimates show close to 11,500 students from the UAE studied abroad in 2017.

The UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain offer financial aid to eligible native candidates to study abroad.

Scholarships are given to residents and citizens in these countries to study in local universities.

Sally Jeffery of PricewaterhouseCoopers, advised graduates to use their time doing meaningful projects. Courtesy: PWC Middle East
Sally Jeffery of PricewaterhouseCoopers, said getting scholarships will get difficult now as authorities are becoming selective while choosing candidates. Courtesy: PWC Middle East

​In the academic year 2016-2017, there were 92,470 students from the Middle East enrolled in American universities in the US, down from 100,926 the year before, according to the Open Doors Report on the International Educational Exchange.

These numbers are likely to dip further, said experts.

"In past years, students could get a scholarship if they got an entry at a university in the top 200 in the world,” said Ms Jeffery.

"But, that’s not the case now in the UAE or the Gulf countries. There is a much narrower list and Covid will probably accelerate this even further.

“They [governments in the GCC] have invested a lot in national education systems.

"Why would they fund students going overseas when there is a perfectly good programme run by one of those top-ranked universities locally?"

The liberal financial aid could be replaced by merit-based scholarships and subsidies, innovative and flexible funding models, said experts.

Maya El Hachem, managing director and partner at Boston Consulting Group, said the downward pressure on scholarships for overseas studies will continue.

"Governments themselves are facing difficulties and they cannot fund the full journey of students," she said.

Updated: November 1, 2020 11:31 AM

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