Top London college eyes prospect of campus in capital

Imperial, which specialises in in science and technology and is regularly ranked among the top institutions in the UK, is holding preliminary and 'tentative talks' with the Abu Dhabi Education Council

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ABU DHABI // One of the world's leading universities, Imperial College London, has expressed an interest in opening a campus in the capital. Prof Sir Roy Anderson, its rector, said the university was considering both the UAE and Qatar as locations. The news comes as New York University (NYU) prepares to launch undergraduate programmes in Abu Dhabi next year and building work continues on the Paris-Sorbonne University - Abu Dhabi permanent campus.

Following the model of the two institutions' local branches, any new campus would probably be funded by the emirate. As Imperial College specialises in science and technology, its presence here would complement NYU Abu Dhabi, which will be a liberal arts college. Prof Jim Mienczakowski, head of higher education for Abu Dhabi Education Council (Adec), confirmed talks with Imperial had taken place. A senior official from the London university recently visited the Adec's higher education department and several other government entities.

Prof Mienczakowski said discussions centred on "the potential extension of their activities in Abu Dhabi" and while cautioning that they were "tentative, very general opening conversations", added that further talks would be welcomed. "Obviously Imperial is a world-class leading university and has many, many strengths. In terms of the research and the training and the good quality of education they could provide, any interest expressed by a university of that standing would be of interest to Abu Dhabi, which is establishing a cutting-edge profile for higher education."

Imperial College already has strong links to Abu Dhabi, having opened a diabetes centre that carries out treatment, research and training in 2006. Speaking to the London newspaper The Independent, Prof Anderson said that creating a new campus of the university in the Gulf was "a 50-year project, not a five-year one". "We would have to control the entry of students," he said, while acknowledging a certain percentage of them would have to be local.

He also said opening in the Gulf would provide a cash surplus to invest in Imperial's operations in England. If it opened here, Imperial College would be the highest-ranked university in the country, having been placed sixth in the world in The Times Higher Education Supplement league table. The world rankings published by Shanghai Jiao Tong University put Imperial College 27th. NYU, the most highly ranked university committed to opening in the UAE, was placed 40th by the supplement and 31st by Shanghai Jiao Tong.

Yale University, another top-ranked institution, held talks with Abu Dhabi over opening a branch campus here, but pulled out as it did not want to set up a campus that awarded degrees. Institutions such as Imperial College that have strong reputations but lack the global recognition of universities such as Oxford or Cambridge are keener to open overseas to improve their profile and gain financial benefits.

In turn, Gulf states such as the UAE and Qatar fund the opening of overseas universities as a way of fast-tracking their higher education sector to international standards, while at the same time investing in improving indigenous institutions. While Abu Dhabi has paid for branch campuses, in Dubai and Ras al Khaimah most offshoots of foreign universities have opened in free zones as self-funding institutions.

Imperial College, based in South Kensington, is officially called the Imperial College of Science Technology and Medicine and until 2007 was a part of the University of London. It is regularly ranked among the UK's top three universities. In Qatar, Imperial College is looking at joining Education City, a government-funded complex of six branch campuses. Imperial would be the first non-American university to open there, but would probably open only a single department, in keeping with Education City's policy of having a series of specialised mini-universities.