Covid-19: Universities in UAE reshape admissions process for pupils who couldn't take exams

Privately-run universities are gearing up for a flood of applications from prospective students who did not sit their finals

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Universities in the UAE have overhauled their admissions process following the widespread cancellation of secondary school exams.

Campuses are now acquiring data on other predictors of academic success, such as mock grades, performance and extracurricular activities.

The cancellation of all Grade 12 CBSE, iGCSEs and A-Level exams in the UAE this summer means pupils will be graded by teachers, based on their coursework and school performance over the past three years.

In response, universities have assuaged pupils’ concerns about admissions, reassuring them their criteria has been adapted.

We understand it's much harder to apply to university now, with the future impact of the ongoing pandemic still uncertain

However, the pandemic disruption, albeit unwelcome for schools and students, has created an opportunity for universities to make their admissions processes more fair, rigorous and well-rounded.

At Heriot-Watt University in Dubai, Michael Lawson, regional director of student recruitment, said the recent “unprecedented times call for change”.

During the start of the year, the university announced it would make admissions based on school-assessed grades and predicted scores.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - April 17, 2019: Dr Cedwyn Fernandes, pro-vice chancellor Director at Middlesex University Dubai during day one of GETEX. Wednesday the 17th of April 2019. World Trade Centre, Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National

“We believe these are a good indicator of student performance, based on which we are able to make an informed decision,” he said.

“In fact, we have already admitted several students through this process and will continue to do so. Student interviews will be conducted with our faculty where appropriate.

“We have also introduced alternative English language proficiency assessment tests like Pearson Versant and DuoLingo, where applicable.”

The university has also established a Covid-19 relief scholarships programme for students from India.

It will offer all students enrolling from their home country a reduced fee of Dh8,000 for the September 2021 intake.

Dr Vikas Batheja, co-founder and director of Capital University College, a business and design school in Sharjah, said it has been a particularly difficult year for high school pupils looking to enter university.

“There is so much uncertainty lurking around,” he said.

“Now, with the cancellation of CBSE Grade 12 board exams, pupils need our support more than ever.

“We are currently working on developing a new admissions route: Aspire, Apply, Admit and this new system will potentially ease the application process.

“We are hoping to offer admissions based on their provisional results and hand out offer letters. Along with this, we are streamlining a process where we will be conducting face-to-face or virtual meetings with parents and students to extend the support they require during such challenging times.”

Mr Batheja said hopeful pupils could also strengthen their application with “certifications and extracurricular activities relevant to the programme” they are applying for.

At Middlesex University in Dubai, the campus has adapted its entry requirements to take into account the cancellation of school exit exams. “If a student’s exams are postponed or cancelled, they can receive a conditional offer letter or complete their enrolment based on their predicted grades,” said Cedwyn Fernandes, director of Middlesex University Dubai.

“We can also consider more than their qualifications in case these results are not as expected.

“We understand it’s much harder to apply to university now, with the future impact of the ongoing pandemic still uncertain.”

Prabhjeet Singh, chief executive of Glinks International, an education consultancy that helps pupils find places abroad, said universities in many countries have taken similar steps.

“The majority of the universities [we are linked to] in Canada have decided to waive off the condition of submitting the final grades and provide an unconditional letter of acceptance to the students,” said Mr Singh.

"The offer of admission is not impacted by the cancellation of CBSE final exams, as the universities are going to use the predicted grades of grade 12 issued by the schools.

“We hope this recent announcement will ease concerns and help students start their university study journey, without any further interruption.”

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