Universities can grow overseas student population by selling whole UAE package: experts

Study reveals only 4 per cent of prospective international students consider the UAE as an option but with a wealth of institutions, hassle-free visas and great lifestyle, student recruitment company says country is a great option that needs further marketing

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - October 18th, 2017: L-R Rupert Merrick, Director of Marketing at BMI. The announcement that Dubai International Academic City (DIAC) partnered with BMI Media to launch a market research study, identifying transnational student mobility trends and future employment preferences across a wide selection of developing countries. Wednesday, October 18th, 2017 at Crowne Plaza Hotel, Sheikh Zayed Road, Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National
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When it comes to attracting international students, the UAE ticks many of the boxes that could make it a top destination for higher education: it’s sunny, simultaneously exciting and safe, and offers visas relatively hassle-free.

Yet, in a survey of 2,700 students between the ages of 17 and 25 who are considering studying abroad, only 4 per cent selected the Emirates as their preferred country for post-secondary education, according to the findings of Transnational Student Mobility and Future Employment Trends questionnaire presented on Wednesday by the Dubai International Academic City (DIAC) and BMI Media.

The usual suspects – the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Germany and Australia – rounded up the top five most popular higher education destinations coveted by prospective students. But toughening visa and immigration policies in the US and UK offer the UAE an opportunity to capitalise in a growing market, said Samir Zaveri, CEO of BMI, a UK company specialising in international student recruitment.

“The UK, Australia and the United States have made it more difficult for students to get visas and more difficult for them to work, so these are all things that the UAE can offer that the others are reducing, so it is an ideal time for them to go out and use this opportunity to attract students from other countries,” he said.

“They have the right climate, they have the right quality of education, they have world-class institutions that have branch campuses here and I think there is a great opportunity for the UAE to attract a lot of international students. They need to go out and promote not only their institutions but also the destination.”

Dubai is home to 27 international branch campuses of universities from 12 countries. But, 92 per cent of all students studying in the emirate’s international private institutes of higher learning are UAE residents, which leaves a lot of room for growth, especially from non-traditional markets for the UAE such as South America and China, said Rupert Merrick, director of marketing for BMI, who presented the findings.


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“They all have rising middle classes and, in general, have youthful populations, their educational institutions are generally of low quality and the good institutions they do have are oversubscribed,” Mr Merrick said of the developing nations.

“International qualifications are highly prized by employers in these countries. So, all of this means that these students, whose families are wealthy enough, tend to look beyond their borders for quality education opportunities.”

A majority of the survey’s participants cited quality of education as the top reason for studying abroad. Employability, adventure/life experience, independence and tourism or cultural reasons were also identified as important factors for selecting a country.

“Adventure, independence, tourism - these opportunities are available in the UAE in spades and they play well to the UAE’s global positioning as a vibrant culture and tourism hub,” said Mr Merrick.

The costs of studying abroad and obtaining a visa were listed as the top two obstacles for international students.

“I think this plays well to the UAE, due to the ease of obtaining student visas here,” said Mr Merrick. “Local UAE institutions should make this known when communicating with prospective students, as this is not always the case for the top five destination countries. Their process is often more arduous.”

The survey’s findings were presented to coincide with the launch of the inaugural UAE International Education Week organised by DIAC and BMI, which features workshops and student recruitment fairs in Dubai and Abu Dhabi on Monday.