Men break gender barrier at Zayed University's campus in Dubai

The first 100 students at the university's new male campus began classes this week, marking another change at an institution founded exclusively for female Emiratis.

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DUBAI // The first students at Zayed University's new male campus began classes this week, marking another big change at an institution founded 13 years ago exclusively for female Emiratis. Dubai opened its doors to more than 100 male students - final numbers will be determined at the end of the week - two years after a similar male campus opened in Abu Dhabi. The move opens up a wider range of higher-education opportunities for young men in Dubai and the northern emirates.

Although the university sent out 400 letters offering places, the administration believed only a fraction of the recipients would accept, knowing that there are many other options available to Emirati males including sponsorships to study abroad and attractive jobs with Government companies, the police or armed forces. "Of those coming, we expected having around 125 to open our first year," said Dominic Bending, the assistant dean of student affairs. "We wanted to start off fairly small."

Peter Tall, the academic supervisor for the academic bridge programme, said higher-education opportunities for young Emirati men have been limited. "There's only one choice here in Dubai for a federal institution and that's the Higher Colleges of Technology (HCT), otherwise they only have the private universities," he said. "Not every Emirati in Dubai or the northern emirates is rich and can afford private education. HCT is more practical while Zayed is more academic."

While a small number of the men come from abroad, including Kuwait, Qatar and Swaziland, most are from within the UAE. It is hoped that in time foreign students of both genders will become a vital source of revenue for Zayed, which, like its counterparts, faces increasing pressure to compete for enrollment-based funding. Zayed's fees of Dh75,000 per year for non-Emiratis - Emiratis attend for free - are higher than foreign private universities in the emirate.

At the UK's Heriot-Watt University, fees start at Dh34,000, while Middlesex University charges Dh46,000 for all its undergraduate programmes. Finance was a major factor for Rashid Binjarn, a 17-year-old Emirati student. "As opposed to a lot of other students, we are less financially stable," he said. "My parents told me that I had to apply to a free university unless I chose a private university and worked to pay for my studies."

One of the 21 students to qualify for direct entry, Rashid was offered places at other institutions he applied to including the American University of Sharjah, Middlesex University and the University of Wollongong in Dubai. He chose Zayed instead as it is free, even though men and women study separately, and hopes to travel abroad to pursue a master's degree. "It's too bad it's not mixed," he said. "Mixing with other people is part of life and it's what makes university fun, but I sacrificed that for this because I think it's worth it.

"If the thousands of girls here get the opportunities that they do, study trips abroad, things they don't get at other universities, just think what a class of 200 boys will get." He is the first of six siblings to attend university. "My parents are proud," he smiled. Mr Bending said he is "greatly encouraged" by the number of first cohort students, such as Rashid, taking direct entry into the bachelor programmes. They will go on to major at the university's five colleges including information technology, education, and arts and sciences.

The remainder must complete the academic bridge programme within two years to achieve a level of English proficiency necessary to begin degree studies, which are taught in English. Both direct-entry and bridge programme students take general studies courses for one year in subjects including Arabic, English composition and global studies.