Students fail to meet admissions standards

Dubai's secondary schools are falling behind acceptable levels of achievement, according to senior figure at American university.

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DUBAI // Students applying for places at the Dubai branch of an American university have inadequate skills in some subjects and the country must raise its education standards, the university's chief academic officer said. Prof Kim Wilcox, provost of Michigan State University (MSU), said students were leaving secondary school in the UAE with weak mathematics and English skills. Speaking on a visit to the MSU's recently opened Dubai campus, Prof Wilcox suggested that the emirate's educational achievements did not match its image worldwide.

"It's unfortunate that in everything that Dubai represents, it is graduating a number of students from secondary education with such weak mathematic skills," he said. "To an extent, the US is in the same situation, and we're falling further and further behind and we have to raise the bar. It's not finger-pointing. "If I was a citizen of Dubai, I would want my education to be great - students with the English and maths standards to attend a world-class university."

Prof Brendan Mullan, executive director of MSU Dubai, said the university would not lower its entry standards to let in more students. "We came to Dubai with a predetermined set of standards and we're applying those standards and we're not wavering with the students we're admitting," he said. The comments by the two university chiefs coincided with a Ministry of Education announcement that it would introduce sweeping reforms aimed at improving standards in government schools.

As reported in The National yesterday, state schools will focus on problem-solving and creative thinking, in place of memorisation. English lessons will be introduced in kindergartens. Performance standards will be brought in for each stage of the educational process, specifying, for example, the mathematical abilities students should have at each grade. MSU, originally an agricultural college, is the eighth-largest university in the US with 46,000 students. This year, it ranked 83rd in the Academic Ranking of World Universities compiled by Shanghai Jiao Tong University.

It is the first US university to open a full branch in Dubai that will award degrees based on work carried out here. The Dubai campus has so far admitted 54 students, many of them Emiratis. More are expected to join in the current academic year. Prof Wilcox said his remarks were not aimed specifically at private or public schools, although there had been concern that standards in government schools have fallen, causing more than 40 per cent of Emiratis to be educated privately.

Prof Wilcox said the university had a "commitment to the Government" to maintain academic quality here. "It would be easy to have a bigger class by simply changing the programme expectations, reducing the course expectations. We're not going to do that," he said. The fact that the university had enrolled more than 50 students after imposing "a pretty high bar" was "important for the nation". "If Dubai is going to move ahead, we have got to raise the standards. Not just having a university here, but bringing a non-wavering set of expectations is crucial.

"People need to take high school preparation seriously. If you're not adept at maths, that will not just impact on your study, but your ability to attend a leading university."