Dubai education regulator tightening up application process

As Dubai readies for Expo 2020, the education regulator moves to make sure institutions do not improperly cash in.

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DUBAI // The Knowledge and Human Development Authority, Dubai’s education regulator, is tightening up its application process for institutions that want to cash in on Expo 2020 and hope to launch in the emirate.

“We expect a lot of proposals for schools and universities,” said Dr Warren Fox, head of higher education at KHDA. “Things will probably come pretty quickly. There’s a lot of expectations of quick growth between now and 2020, which means we need to be really cautious about proposals for new institutions.”

He said in the long run, quality must come above any notions of education being simply a means of making money.

“With all the excitement of 2020 there are expectations of money to be made within higher education, but in the long term it’s about the quality of the institution, how it serves the needs of the students and how it serves the needs of Dubai.”

Though the KHDA already has stringent standards, Dr Fox said they will get tighter.

“We are implementing a very rigorous review system for new proposals and we are prepared to be firm in our review decisions,” he said. “It’s in the interest of existing institutions and current and future students that we do this.

“We are for quality and consumer protection.”

Prof Ammar Kaka, head of campus for the Scottish university, Heriot Watt, which has a branch campus in Academic City, is relieved standards will be tightened. Heriot Watt first came to Dubai in 2005 and has since built up a student body of 3,600 students on a state-of-the-art campus.

“An attempt to earn a quick buck in education is never a good idea, even for business reasons, aside from the moral and ethics aspects for a minute,” Prof Kaka said. “Education only makes money after a number of years and for an institution to survive in the longer term, it needs to offer quality education and for a cost that is perceived to be value for money.

“The aspiration here should be to grow the Dubai education hub for the long term. So far there has been significant growth and successes here from the free zone branch campuses and any further significant growth I expect will have to come from attracting international students.”

Prof Raed Awamleh, director of Middlesex University in Dubai, a UK branch campus, agreed that 2020 will spur more interest in the emirate.

“International universities have always been attracted to set up branches in Dubai, and then with the Expo, more interest will certainly develop.”

Staying open, however, is quite different from setting up and a long-term strategy is vital, he said. Michigan State University, from the US, closed all undergraduate offerings at its branch campus in 2010 after just two years.

“To succeed, a branch campus must become an integral part of its local community, schools, industry and corporate sector,” Prof Awamleh said. “This takes time, resources, strategy, stamina and follow-through. The experiences of current universities in Dubai demonstrate this point. Economic viability and sustainability are not automatic, they take a huge deal of effort.”

He said parents, students and professionals have high expectations of universities and the good reputation of its home campus is not enough.

“High-quality delivery on the ground is what makes a university campus successful,” he said. “While I am confident that KHDA will continue to be rigorous in its screening of new university applications, I am not concerned about potential new providers who may enter the higher education market because I believe that this will only apply positive pressure on everyone to get better.

“This applies to all universities, including the non-branch campuses.”