Student groups offer lessons for life

Students say extra-curricular groups add a dimension to their education that can't be found on campus.

Members of student group The Republic, from left, Deepan Gandhi, Shamla Gandhi, Hassanain Anwar, Rahul, Shaikh Saleh and Niveda Natrajan chat to a blood donor and a medic at the Heriot-Watt University campus at Dubai International Academic City.
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DUBAI // Students at universities across the UAE are learning that extra-curricular groups offer an education you cannot get in a lecture hall.

Shaikh Saleh, 19, an information technology student, says the experiences he has gained from his student association could lead him to a career in an entirely different field.

Mr Saleh, who attends Middlesex University at Knowledge Village, is a member of The Republic, an inter-varsity group that brings together students from 27 of Dubai's 53 colleges.

They tackle social responsibility projects, run events and take extra-curricular courses in topics such as public speaking.

"If I don't go into IT, I still have the scope and experience to go into other things later," Mr Saleh said yesterday at a blood drive organised by the group.

Hassanain Anver, who founded The Republic two years ago, said the idea behind the organisation was two-fold - to create a platform for socialising and giving back to the community.

"Campus life here was lacking something before this started," he said. "There was a gap to fill in terms of bringing the diverse array of students here together."

Mr Anver also believed it was important to expose students to the social issues around them.

"Students here are very sheltered," he said. "It's important that we make them more aware of humanity and real-world issues. Employers don't just want qualifications, they want to see extra-curricular activity, too."

Mr Anver named the group The Republic not as a political statement, but because he wanted students to feel it was not an organisation with a strict command structure but rather a group of friends with the freedom to express themselves as they would among family.

Dubai is not the only emirate with increasing student activity outside the lecture halls.

The student council at the University of Sharjah plans to form a body to help advise current and prospective students about what to study.

"Many people are forced by their parents to choose a major, which is a big problem as it affects their future career," said Ali Lootah, a medical student and the vice president of the student council.

Students at Abu Dhabi University elected a representative student council last month that is getting more involved in campus life than most.

"Our role is to be the connection between the students and upper management," said Raed Al Mesbahi, who was elected president.

Improving campus life was top of the priority list when the council was formed.

"We need activities and improvements in the services provided by the university," added Mr Al Mesbahi.

The council has unprecedented access to confidential board meetings and can vote in the decision-making process - unheard of at other institutions around the country.

"In any organisation in the world, even if you meet the highest level, there is always room for improvement," said Mr Al Mesbahi.