Crisis-hit MSU bows to students' demands

Students at Michigan State University's UAE outpost are promised freeze on fees and a return flight home each year if they relocate to the US.

DUBAI // Students at Michigan State University's UAE outpost have been promised a freeze on fees and a complimentary return flight home each year if they relocate to the US campus following the closure of all undergraduate courses in Dubai. University chiefs bowed to student pressure and granted concessions on fees and flights home yesterday after negotiations with the students' association.

More than 100 students are enrolled on the Dubai campus's five departments, which include child and youth development and construction project management. After hearing of the closure via e-mail, students gathered at the university's Dubai International Academic City branch to discuss their future. Many will not be able to transfer to the US campus in East Lansing, Michigan. Abdallah Janeer, 20, has spent two years studying construction management and said yesterday he felt it was all for nothing. With his family living in Saudi Arabia, it was simply too far to move to the US, he said. "Plan B" would now see him enroll either at the American University of Dubai or at its Canadian counterpart.

He said he was devastated at having to start from scratch. "This course isn't offered anywhere else in the region so I have to do a new bachelor's degree. I don't want to be so far from my family. It feels like all the work I've done is for nothing." Students at the US campus pay US$11,500 (Dh42,240) a year if they are Michigan residents, and US$28,000 (Dh102,846) for those from outside the state.

At MSU Dubai, fees are just Dh58,000. Those who do not transfer, along with new enrollees, will be refunded next term's fees. Many of the students enrolled for next semester are currently on holiday or in their home countries. "We thought they'd at least give us until spring," said Mr Janeer. "Many universities have already closed their enrollments for the next semester so this just doesn't give us any time."

Dale Murphy, a professor at the Dubai School of Government, said it underlined that universities conducted feasibility studies before opening branch campuses. The past five years have seen universities expand worldwide and it remained to be seen how many were viable, he added. The economic downturn created a spike in demand for university places as workers sought to retrain amid an increasingly tough job market, he said.

MSU said it would work with the US consulate to ensure the transition was as smooth as possible. Each student will meet with a diplomat at the consulate in Dubai, to ensure they can afford to move, said the US consul, Sean Cooper, promising that the crisis was by no means a "show stopper" for students. "We always want more students to come to the US, regardless of where they're from," said Mr Cooper. One student, who preferred not to be named, said her mother's ill health meant she could not travel to the US, while her chosen course, child and youth development, was not offered anywhere else in the region.

Aisha al Mafri, 18, from Jordan, who has just completed her first year in human development and family studies, said she had not planned to study in the US, at least in the coming two years. "We're all still in shock that this has happened," she said. "Moving will cost me a lot more money. They should have given us at least another semester's notice. Like this, we have no choice but to continue in the US if we want all of our courses to get counted."