India is on track to overtake China as the country providing the most international students in the next three years - with the UAE in prime position to become a bigger academic attraction.
The findings were revealed in a research study identifying global mobility trends and growth market for students carried out by the Dubai International Academic City (DIAC) and BMI Media.
The report covers 104 universities in 41 countries, with most institutions based in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and the UAE.
While China currently tops the list of nations with students travelling internationally for higher education, educational institutions surveyed expect India to become the fastest-growing student market, a position dominated by China for the past decade.
Universities across the world said over the next year they would target student recruitment efforts in India, China, Brazil, Colombia and South Korea.
More than three million Indians already live in the UAE and a think tank chief believes the country can be a major driver of the Indian economy.
Reuben Abraham, the chief executive of the IDFC, a leading Indian think tank, told The National Future Forum in May that there is a great opportunity for stronger links to be forged between the two nations.
Experts said UAE universities can gain insights from the Transnational Student Mobility and University Trends in 2018 report released in Dubai on Tuesday in order to bolster their student recruitment strategies.
“By using the outcome of this survey, universities can look into which market they need to concentrate on,” said Mohammad Abdullah, managing director of DIAC, which manages 27 universities from nine countries, with 27,000 students spanning 150 nationalities.
“Universities here need to look out for trends in programmes being studied globally because there may be new courses that better cater to changes in the work environment.”
Experts believe the UAE offers a cost-effective world-class education for students looking for flexible visas and the opportunity to find work after graduation.
Most universities surveyed cited government policy as the biggest obstacle to growth. This is true for the US with tough visa regulations affecting foreign student numbers and UK's Brexit uncertainty hurting students ability to find work after they complete university.
UAE universities were in a strong position to increase enrolment due to supportive government policies, Mr Abdullah said.
“Students earlier needed to leave after the fourth year when they finished their studies but now the five-year visa will give students the opportunity to interact with employers during their project work and internship.
“A work opportunity is definitely an added value for students given that the two major markets are India and China.”
The country will benefit from strong bilateral economic and commercial ties between the UAE and India across areas including trade, investment, energy, artificial intelligence and space.
Rupert Merrick, director at BMI Media and an expert in international student recruitment, highlighted other key findings such as 80 per cent of UAE universities reflecting a growth in transnational students that included international fee paying and exchange students.
He highlighted diversity on campus as a key requirement.
“There is a three-tier market UAE universities should be focusing on outside of the immediate GCC with India as the biggest opportunity and China, a market the UAE is in the early stages of tapping into,” he said.
“The UAE must also look at other markets like countries in Central Asia and in Africa to provide a true international experience for students.
“There is nothing an international student likes less than travelling all around the world to sit in a classroom full of people from their own country.”
Mr Merrick said the UAE is in a great position to promote itself as an academic destination.
“Now is the time to really promote the UAE overseas. The UAE has a lot of great things that students are looking for because it is cost-effective compared to the traditional countries,” he said.
“Students are not just looking at the big Anglo-Saxon countries. We are seeing more countries getting active in student recruitment - Indian universities are going to Africa, Chinese universities are going to Latin America.”
The study will be available for free download from Wednesday on www.diacedu.ae