Michigan State University shuts most of its Dubai campus

Undergraduate classes with more than 100 students are closed, leaving only a dozen students in one master's programme.

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DUBAI // Michigan State University's (MSU) branch campus in Dubai International Academic City (DIAC) says it is terminating all of its undergraduate programmes immediately, after losing millions of dollars since opening two years ago.

The move affects more than 100 undergraduate students and 24 staff and faculty in five subjects including business, media management and research, and computer and electrical engineering. The sole master's programme, in human resources and labour relations, will be maintained for its dozen students. The Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) and the University Quality Assurance International Board received the proposal to close all undergraduate facilities this week, and yesterday held meetings to discuss the future of the institution.

Last night Shafaq Mirza, a second-year student who has been studying child and youth development, said: "I don't know anything about this. I don't want to comment until I hear this from the university." Although the campus was recently accredited by the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, a feasibility survey carried out by the university itself pinpointed areas of weakness, including low student recruitment.

MSU Dubai had used the same financial model as its home campus in East Lansing, which was founded in 1855 and has some 46,000 students. Jeffrey Riedinger, the school's dean of international studies, said the project lost millions of dollars, partly due to its birth in the midst of a global economic downturn. He said high fees had also perhaps deterred students. "Our [financial] model was predicated on a greater number of students," he noted.

In contrast, Heriot-Watt University, the DIAC branch of a university that is based in Edinburgh, Scotland, took on about 800 new students last autumn, bringing total enrolment to 1,500. Its tuition fees, at Dh39,500 to Dh45,000 a year, are lower than Michigan State's full annual fees of about Dh58,000. Mr Riedinger said the university was committed to a future in Dubai, and despite plans to cut the undergraduate programmes was intending on staying in the city to deliver executive education and develop its research in the region.

Last year the US State Department gave the campus a $40,000 (Dh147,000) grant to advance its English-language teaching, addressing the biggest barrier for students studying at foreign universities in the UAE, where classes are delivered in English. Sources at the KHDA said a decision will be made in the coming days about what will happen to students and faculty members. Mr Riedinger said the first choice is for students to move to MSU's American campus, but details are yet to be finalised. Those not wishing to move to the US would be able to transfer their existing credits elsewhere.

Bashar Abdo, 19, said many students will be unhappy at the idea of moving to the US. Mr Abdo, who has just completed his first year in construction management, said he had planned to transfer to the East Lansing campus in January, so is happy to make the move ahead of schedule. Many of the faculty had transferred to Dubai from the US. The MSU campus has been struggling financially. Last year it had hoped to lure 100 students from other institutions by offering half-price tuition fees, but from 200 applications found only 20 people who met entry standards.

The university hoped it could have between 750 and 1,000 students after four years of operation. Prof Kim Wilcox, the provost and vice-president of MSU, said that in the current climate many students and parents were not keen on the idea of studying in the US. In 2008, he said: "I don't know what the finances are going to work out to, but the financial side is only a small part. The bigger return is the visibility. We want to be associated with a winner, and Dubai is a winner."