UAE final-year pupils tell how pandemic shaped their university plans

Teenagers said they did not want to spend tens of thousands of dollars on degrees, only to study online

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Final-year school pupils in UAE said Covid-19 had influenced their university plans, with many choosing institutes close to home or in cities where they had family.

Pupils were reluctant to spend tens of thousands of dirhams on university education only to be forced to study online.

Many teenagers who enrolled at universities in the United States and the United Kingdom were unable to attend in-person lectures during the past year as the rise of the pandemic led to travel restrictions and remote learning came into operation.

Some teenagers decided against taking gap years to travel the world because of concerns over strict entry requirements in place in many nations.

The National met six 17-year-old final-year pupils across the UAE, to ask them about their future ambitions and how big a role the coronavirus outbreak played in their decisions.

Lara Jarrar: swapped NYU for NYUAD

Lara Jarrar, a 17-year-old pupil at Raha International School Abu Dhabi, hopes to study Biology at NYU Abu Dhabi. Courtesy: Lara Jarrar

Lara Jarrar, a pupil at Abu Dhabi's Raha International School, will graduate in May, and was planning to pursue her bachelor's degree in biology at New York University's main campus in the US.

The Palestinian Australian teenager had to alter her career plans because of the pandemic.

“My plan was to study at New York University in the US, but it’s difficult as classes could be held online," she said.

“It would be quite a large fee to pay for an online education."

Undergraduate students at New York University pay close to $50,000 in tuition annually.

Lara, who hopes to work in health and nutrition in the future, said the campus experience was a big part of what students were looking for.

“I like NYUAD a lot, and it has great transfer-abroad opportunities," she said.

The teenager grew up in Australia and considered returning for higher studies, but decided to stay closer to home.

“The pandemic was one of the primary reasons. My brothers have been in Australia since the beginning of Covid-19 and we have not been able to meet,” she said.

Rohaan Gulamani: still hopeful of Canadian adventure

Rohaan Gulamani, a 12-th grader at Uptown International School, intends to move to Canada to pursue Business studies. Courtesy:  Rohaan Gulamani

Rohaan Gulamani, who studies at Uptown International School in Dubai, said he was hoping to study business in Toronto, Canada.

The Kenyan-Australian teenager picked Toronto because he liked the Canadian education system.

“I have family in Toronto in case I need any support,” said Rohaan.

“Also, I would find it difficult if I had to do the first year of study online.

“If the pandemic situation gets worse in Canada, I would consider staying back in Dubai, maybe attending Middlesex University Dubai or the University of Birmingham.”

Rohaan started his first company, Nomadic Caravans, which specialised in event photography and videography, when he was only 15.

He was considering attending University of Toronto, University of Waterloo, Queen's University and McMaster University.

“The pandemic made me realise the importance of being near family and staying in touch,” he said.

Durga Chandrashekhar: chose Sharjah over India

Durga Chandrashekhar, an IB diploma pupil in Dubai, plans to study Chemistry in the UAE and train to be an astrochemist. Courtesy: Durga Chandrashekhar

Durga Chandrashekhar, a final-year pupil at Uptown International School, was looking forward to pursuing chemistry at American University of Sharjah (AUS) or University of Sharjah.

“I wanted to stay closer to home with my parents and my 11-year-old sister," she said.

She said many professors in the UAE were involved in research and she hoped to work with them.

For the Indian teenager, returning to her country to study was an option, but she decided she did not want to travel during the pandemic.

“I want to stay here in the UAE but would consider travelling for postgraduate studies.”

The pupil said the pandemic forced her to think ahead and be prepared for anything.

Santhana Gopalakrishnan: medicine degree in India

Santhana Gopalakrishnan, a 12th grader in Abu Dhabi, wants to pursue higher studies in India to train as a doctor. Courtesy: Santhana Gopalakrishnan

Santhana Gopalakrishnan, an Indian Grade 12 pupil at Bright Riders School in Mohamed bin Zayed City, Abu Dhabi, said he hoped to secure a seat in an Indian medical college.

The aspiring cardiologist said distance learning during the Covid-19 pandemic gave him extra time to focus on studies.

He said he wanted to study in the Indian state of Maharashtra where his grandparents, uncles and aunts lived.

“I chose to study medicine as I wanted to do something for people and help society," said Santhana.

The pupil has a keen interest in history and archaeology, and becoming an archaeologist was his back-up plan.

Ayesha Alkhayyat: offers from three top British universities

Ayesha Khayyat, an Emirati 12th grader at American Academy for Girls, will be graduating in June and hopes to study Economics in the UAE or abroad. Courtesy: Ayesha Khayyat

Ayesha Alkhayyat, an Emirati pupil at American Academy for Girls in Dubai, said she was concerned about her future after some scholarships she intended to apply were suspended during the pandemic.

“I always thought that I would have opportunities to get scholarships to study abroad," she said.

“I was planning to go to the UK or US to study economics but many scholarships closed down because of the pandemic. This forced me to re-evaluate my choices.

“I wanted to study abroad and come back and help improve our society and economy.”

In the absence of scholarships, Ayesha applied to universities in the UAE including Khalifa University and New York University Abu Dhabi as well as options further afield such as Kings College London, London School of Economics, and Columbia University.

She has already been offered a place by Kings College London, City University and Manchester University.