UAE universities aim to forge more ties with overseas institutions

But academics warn that the universities must not compromise on their standards in doing so.


DUBAI // Universities in the Emirates are increasingly looking to tie-ups with institutions abroad as they try to appeal to a wider audience.

But academics warn that UAE universities must not compromise on their standards in doing so.

The Emirates Academy of Hospitality Management just signed an agreement with the University of Hong Kong under which students and academics at both institutions will take part in exchanges.

Ron Hilvert, the college's managing director, said such collaboration is especially important for hospitality and tourism courses.

"We can build on each others' strengths and expertise," he said. "This is useful given that our students have a very high likelihood of embarking on an international career."

Universities regulated by the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research's Commission for Academic Accreditation - which include 70 institutions in across the country - have to submit proposed partnerships for approval.

Partnerships must be with home campuses, not branches, said Dr Badr Aboul-Ela, head of the CAA. "The main campus would be more mature, have better facilities and be of a higher quality.

"We examine the quality and the reputation, a university's accreditation, and advise accordingly.

"The partner institution should be of equal or better quality or else there is no benefit for the students."

He believes students can benefit greatly from a term or more at a foreign university, as they have at universities such as the American University in Dubai, the University of Sharjah and Abu Dhabi University. "It's exposing students to a new culture and environment," said Dr Aboul-Ela.

He said such placements are becoming more popular with universities everywhere, particular for those studying international business.

Al Ghurair University already has agreements with several universities including Murray State University and Valpraiso University in the US, and is looking for further tie-ups in UK and Australia.

It plans to offer courses that allow students to spend either two years in Dubai and two abroad, or three in Dubai and their final year abroad.

Dr Abdurahim Al Ameen, Al Ghurair's president, is also keen to offer courses that give students a degree from both his university and an overseas partner, while allowing them to study entirely in the UAE.

He says the university "does its homework to find good universities with a good reputation".

And it is important, he says, for students to be "furnished with all the information" about an institution - such as making sure they are aware that Birmingham City University, with which Al Ghurair is in talks, is a former polytechnic college and not the more prestigious Birmingham University.

Years abroad can be expensive, though, as many institutions look to foreign students to boost their coffers with higher fees.

A year of tuition, books, board and food at Murray State University costs Dh102,000, plus visa costs, while in the UK, fees for foreign undergraduates start at about Dh60,000 a year - similar to UAE fees.

"We don't benefit financially from these agreements," said Dr Al Ameen, Al Ghurair a non-profit institution. "Two or three years abroad is still less of a burden to the student than a three or four-year course."

The extra cost is worth it, he says, for the benefit of a qualification that is more internationally recognised.

The British University in Dubai has agreements with some of the UK's top institutions, including the universities of Manchester and Birmingham.

While the degrees are issued in the UAE, accredited by the Ministry of Higher Education, they are also recognised by the UK's qualifications equivalency body.