RAS AL KHAIMAH // Emirati men continue to shun higher education due to bad experiences at school and the ready availability of government jobs, research shows.
The education and career of his father is also a major influence on a man's choices, according to a study by the Al Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research, jointly funded by the Emirates Foundation.
Researchers asked 350 male students at the Higher Colleges of Technology (HCT) to rate their experience of school.
Three in five said it had been "OK", while 24 per cent "didn't like it at all". Fewer than one in five (18pc) "liked it a lot".
Many showed a lack of career focus, with a third (30pc) saying they did not know what they wanted to do by the age of 30. A fifth (21pc) wanted to be a generic "manager" and one in six (16pc) hoped for a career in uniform.
Plenty of men are offered places at university but only half take them up, according to the National Admissions and Placement Office.
The rest go into government jobs, mainly in the police or army, which demand minimal academic qualifications from applicants.
The low entry requirements were a problem, said Dr Dave Pelham, the director of HCT's Fujairah colleges.
"Since the recruiting season for police and army begins after our classes start, we have male students who begin classes just in case they don't get one of these jobs," he said. "We often see our entering class of male students reduced by 30 per cent or more during their first semester."
The project is being led by Natasha Ridge, the head of research at the foundation.
"The role of the father, which in much of the international literature is marginalised, seems to be of great importance in the UAE context," she said.
While studies from other parts of the world emphasise the importance of a mother's education, in the UAE an educated father is equally important.
"The importance of the father in light of the high percentage of male Emirati high school dropouts and the small number of male Emiratis continuing on to higher education should be a focus of policy makers in the UAE," said Dr Ridge. "While it is important to educate women, having a well-educated mother does not necessarily translate to the son doing well in school, thus it is equally critical that the next generation of men be well educated, too."
But Dr Pelham stresses the importance of individual family dynamics, saying both parents need to be actively involved in their sons' upbringing.
"Absentee parents, regardless of gender, are probably not going to be particularly influential in their child's later decisions about education or much else," he said. "A parent who establishes a close relationship with their child early and maintains that relationship will have great influence, regardless of the gender of the parent or child."
According to the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, 79 per cent of Emirati girls apply to university, but just 54 per cent of boys do so.
The result is that just 30 per cent of students at the three federal universities - HCT, UAE University and Zayed University - are male.
Of the men who took part in the study - most of whom were taking remedial foundation courses to prepare them for their degrees - 14 per cent said their mothers had no formal education. Less than 10 per cent had a bachelor degree or higher, while 40 per cent held a secondary school diploma.
Their fathers were more educated. Twenty per cent had a bachelor's degree, 35 per cent a high school diploma and just 11 per cent had no formal education.
Dr Ridge said: "This trend could reasonably be expected to reverse itself if the current number of males dropping out from school persists."
Thirty per cent of the students' fathers worked in the police or army, while 32 per cent were retired and 10 per cent unemployed.
The students' aspirations closely mirrored their fathers' paths, particularly if he worked in the police, army or the private sector.
Half those surveyed (52pc) had fewer than 50 books in their home, while only 39 per cent took a daily newspaper. More than two thirds (70pc) rarely or never visited the college library.
"The absence of good reading models and encouragement of reading for pleasure or learning has a potentially highly detrimental impact upon students once they reach higher education," said Dr Ridge. "It makes university course reading lists difficult and researching assignments arduous.
"A lack of fluency in reading in general adds a tremendous burden to the workload at the tertiary level."