RAS AL KHAIMAH // British and American colleges and universities are being lured to Ras al Khaimah's free zone in a bid to attract more students. Low rents for universities and lower fees for students will encourage the growth of the higher education sector in the northern emirates, the chief executive of the RAK free trade zone said.
"We do not want to bring schools that are not internationally recognised," Oussama El Omari said. "People recognise the British curriculum as one with high standards." The free zone is looking for about five British and American institutions and have accepted applications for review. The University of Bolton, from Britain, is the largest private university in RAK since it opened two years ago, with 300 students. The facility's academic director, Zubair Hanslot, said the British curriculum attracted students.
The courses on offer were in demand locally, including mechanical engineering, and the lower fees made it a more viable option for many people in the northern emirates, Mr Hanslot said. "It's a much quieter, more focused study environment," he added. The free zone wants two universities and three training centres, with more vocational courses on offer at the centres such as management and IT to help equip students with the basics for working in RAK's growing industries.
"The airline industry is booming in Dubai and Abu Dhabi and we hope in time, this will pass on to our own airport in Ras al Khaimah. We want to produce more airline engineers who can help to grow this booming UAE business," Mr El Omari said. "We will choose the best British universities which specialise in areas such as airline engineering to ensure the students get the best possible training." The free zone has also added the French hotel and tourism school, Vatel, to its repertoire. Students will undertake internships at local hotels such as Banyan Tree and the Hilton Ras Al Khaimah.
"We need more skilled manpower in RAK, for the existing industries, and to those we're attracting. It was Bolton University's shipping and logistics programmes that made it a very appealing university to bring here as it fits in so well with the local economy, " Mr El Omari said. RAK is trying to serve the whole community including Ajman, UAQ and Fujairah, as many students still travel to Dubai and Sharjah.
"Parents want to send their kids to RAK. It's closer to home and there are less distractions. They will pay for a quality British or American university as they see it as value for money," Mr El Omari said. Fees at Bolton University are about Dh30,000 per year, compared with the equivalent UK universities in Dubai, such as Middlesex, which costs Dh46,000 per year. There are about 1,000 full-time students at the six institutions in RAK's free zone and 300 part-time. Ten per cent are Emiratis.
Mr El Omari added that he hopes to steer local high school drop-outs to more vocational careers. "We're trying to capture these people with short courses ... to equip them with skills for the workplace such as English, technical and communication skills," he said. "We don't want to import manpower from overseas. We also want to be employing Emiratis. We want the skills people learn at the universities and colleges here to be transferred back into the local economy."