Ireland a popular place to study for UAE medical students

The US and the UK have long been popular destinations for Emiratis studying abroad, but Ireland is becoming a draw for medical students.

Mohammed Alshehhi, Sarah Al Motawa, Abdulla Alfzari and Reem Abdulla are among the Emiratis studying medicine in Ireland. Courtesy Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland
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DUBAI // Ireland is becoming an attractive study destination for Emirati medical students.

During the last academic year, 269 Emirati students were enrolled at the country’s higher-education institutions, mainly medical schools including the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI).

The UK and US have long been popular places to study, but the director of Education Ireland, Terry McParland, admitted his country only started marketing efforts in 2000.

Before then, being a country with a large young population, it had been difficult to offer many places to international students at the six medical schools. But Mr McParland said economics and international rankings had made it essential.

“All higher education institutions need to be internationalised so home students get exposed to people from different backgrounds, religions and cultures. They need to have an international outlook,” he said.

But “there is no doubt a revenue aspect to this”, he admitted.

For international rankings, an international student body is vital.

“At the moment, 12 per cent of our students are international,” Mr McParland said, although he is hoping to increase that number.

Abdulla Alfzari, 19, from Abu Dhabi, is in his pre-medical year at the Royal College.

Like most Emiratis in Ireland, he has a scholarship from the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research.

He said Ireland was a destination of choice for medicine, and the lack of distractions made it ideal for study. “The system of their medical schools helps to get into medicine easier than in other countries,” he said.

People considering other careers such as engineering or business might “consider other countries like the US or the UK to be the destination for their higher education”, he said, as he did not believe Ireland could rival those countries in those fields.

Mohammed Ahmed Almahboobi Alshehhi, 21, from Ras Al Khaimah, said Emirati students in Ireland mostly focused on medicine, with a few studying business.

“I can’t say that studying in Ireland is easier than in another English-speaking country at any scale, but it could be easier for medical students because there is a big number of them here and they can help each other as an integrated family throughout their studying journey,” he said.

Sarah Al Motawa, 20, from Fujairah, is also taking the pre-medicine course at the RCSI on a ministry scholarship.

“Studying in Ireland was a challenging adventure academically and personally,” she said. “I had the opportunity to travel with my friends. The good things are developing my critical thinking, problem solving, independence and self-confidence, teamwork and communication.”

She believes many more Emiratis will go to Ireland, especially as more look to study medicine.

“Some students come to Ireland to be with their sisters or brothers so they can study in the same country,” she said. “In recent years many Emirati students have started choosing Ireland to study in, so other students feel comfortable when they know that many students from their nationality are studying in the same country.”

Reem Abdullah Aman, 20, from Dubai, is in her second year of medical school at the RCSI.

Safety was a big factor in her parents’ decision to allow her to study abroad and her ending up in Ireland. Her three years there have not been without challenges.

“It was all about accommodating to great levels of change,” she said. “This in turn has built in me a defined sense of maturity and taught me the true meaning of independence and responsibility.

“Coming from Dubai, adjusting to Ireland and its lifestyle was quite challenging. If a person is used to and prefers a busy and a fast-moving country, Ireland perhaps might not be the ideal destination. However, Ireland provides a low level of distraction, making it the right country for students with a focused goal and aim.”

She said more young Emiratis were considering Ireland as a study destination, although when it came to tourism, Ireland was not on the radar of Emirati travellers.

“It is clear that students enjoy their time in Ireland and once done, they would recommend the experience to their siblings and friends,” she said. “Recently the UAE launched its embassy in Dublin, which is focused on gathering students around Ireland and facilitating communication between them, thus making students feel more at home.”

She also enjoys the support of fellow GCC students, not least at times such as Eid.

“It does reduce homesickness,” she said.