Dubai university figures show nearly half study business degrees, as science lags behind

Enrolment in engineering courses is much stronger, amid a government push for more technically-trained young people

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Close to half of Dubai's university students are studying business administration degrees - and less than 1 per cent are on science courses, according to new figures.

New data showed 24,463 of the 55,820 students in the city enrolled on business courses in 2017-18 - about 44 per cent. That compares to 334 studying natural and physical sciences.

The number of young people starting engineering degrees is much higher at 9,088 or 16 per cent of the student population.

The Dubai Statistics Centre figures were released to shed light on trends and come amid an ongoing government drive to produce a generation of scientists and engineers.

It also found more Emirati women study at university than Emirati men - in line with a broader trend across the country.

Many of the students are planning on starting their own business or taking a role in family businesses upon graduation

Figures showed the majority of the student population is Emirati and Asian - 34.2 per cent and 36.2 per cent respectively. The report showed 1,621 study foundation courses, which is for students whose English needs more work before they can begin first year.

Media and design degrees were an attractive choice for female students at 11.5 per cent, followed by humanities at 11.1 per cent.

Business degrees have come under scrutiny in the United States, where it remains the most popular college degree, but often leaves graduates with generic skills and underemployed.

It is also seen as the gateway to jobs that could be lost to artificial intelligence.

But university deans here said the degrees are in high demand and teach students technical skills like accountancy, and not just softer skills like marketing. Business degrees are also asked for in many good government jobs, and are pursued by those entering the family business.

"Dubai is one of the most entrepreneurial cities in the world and it makes sense that business would be extremely popular," said Professor John Evans, vice chancellor of Australia's Curtin University Dubai, which opened less than two years ago and offers a business and commerce degree.

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, May 23, 2016:    Graduates throw their caps after being confirmed during the New York University Abu Dhabi 2016 Commencement Exercises at New York University on Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi on May 23, 2016. Christopher Pike / The National

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"Many students are planning on starting their own business or taking a role in family businesses upon graduation. Business administration is future proof as much as any discipline can be. Business degrees prepare students to do things that artificial intelligence cannot currently do well and will not be able to do well for the foreseeable future."

He also said engineering and computer science are also "great future proof careers".

In January, a Ministry of Education survey found engineering graduates were the most in demand, followed by computer science and IT students, reinforcing the need for technical skills in the workplace of the future. It canvassed opinion from 80 per cent of the country's private and public universities.

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nw2905 enrolled pupils

Education graduates found work faster than any other professional, largely due to a shortage of homegrown teachers, particularly in science and maths.

Prof Evans also attributed low medicine and science student numbers to a lack of established courses rather than a lack of interest.

"As Dubai continues to grow... there is a need to create additional capacity in medical education," he said.

Nujood Alkhloofi, director of communications at Mohammed bin Rashid University in Dubai's Healthcare City, which offers a degree in medicine, predicted demand will grow.

It does not matter which discipline millennials focus on as long as they are good at what they do. Do what you love, be passionate about it

She also said 75 per cent of their applicants are women.

"We are building an innovative curriculum and from year-one our medical students are exposed to the clinical setup. In a traditional medical school, they are in class for three years," she said.

"We try to teach them creative solutions. What needs to be looked into is the return on investment for these students.

"We are a three-year-old university and perhaps the word is not out there yet."

Marko Selakovic, director of student recruitment at S P Jain School of Global Management, was not convinced by claims that artificial intelligence could cost commerce and management jobs.

"Artificial intelligence can help, but business will always be done by the people," he said.

"More emphasis needs to be put towards soft skills, leadership and usage of technology. We have already adjusted our curriculum accordingly: instead of chalk and board, there are hundreds of case studies, simulations, industry experiences and global immersion projects."

Some academics believe too much emphasis is being placed on studying the 'right' degree, and of warnings about the skills of the future.

“There is an overemphasis on blockchain, robotics, and artificial intelligence now," said Professor Martin Spraggon, associate dean at the Mohammed bin Rashid School of Government.

"This is a trap we get into. Blockchain has been around for many years in different ways but has become a buzzword and a trend now.

"It does not matter which discipline millennials focus on as long as they are good at what they do and they try to integrate technology into it.

"Do what you love, be passionate about it and try to disrupt it by introducing different disciplines into what you do."