AL GHARBIA // Zayed University is in talks with the Higher Colleges of Technology and the Western Region Development Council to expand into Al Gharbia in a bid to give students in the area more educational opportunities.
Only HCT and the Vocational Education and Training Institute (Veti) serve the population in Ruwais and Madinat Zayed at present.
The move would make more degree courses available to students in the region, many of whom have to travel or move to Abu Dhabi to take the courses they want. Many families of girls, in particular, are reluctant to allow this.
"If we talk about expansion, we must first look to the Western Region," said Dr Sulaiman Al Jassim, the vice chancellor of Zayed University. "It's a very important part of the Emirates and it's a national responsibility. A lot of people there want to go to university."
The new Zayed campus will be part of Education City, a new development of universities and vocational educational institutions in Madinat Zayed, which is being planned by the Western Region Development Council (WRDC).
This year, HCT has begun to issue only bachelor's degrees; previously, it offered higher diploma qualifications in mainly vocational subjects.
Dr Larry Wilson, Zayed University's provost, says the university will complement the courses already available at HCT.
"It's a huge geographic region and many people there still don't have access to higher education," he said. "We don't want to duplicate what HCT is doing but will work closely with them. Not everything on offer in Abu Dhabi will be on offer there, but those courses which best fit that region."
With the country's first microchip and nuclear plants due to open there in the coming years, Al Gharbia has already been earmarked for much industrial and economic growth.
"There are a lot of plans for that region and it is important to think how Zayed University can help meet the needs of these plans by offering new programmes," added Dr Al Jassim.
More universities will be vital to an area that is home to about 16,500 Emiratis, spread over 60,000 square kilometres - more than four-fifths of the total area of Abu Dhabi emirate.
Dr Phil Quirke, the director of the Al Gharbia HCT colleges, said the collaboration with Zayed University would provide important opportunities.
"Since we opened five years ago, we've seen it's not just about stopping students leaving for the city, but providing for those who can't leave," he said.
"Around 70 per cent of our female students would have no education possibilities if we weren't there. The key is to give them as much choice as possible."
Al Gharbia harbours the country's richest oil and gas reserves, generating Dh115 billion annually - 40 per cent of the emirate's gross domestic product.
Abu Dhabi University, the emirate's largest private institution, is also in the early stages of planning a presence in Madinat Zayed.
With the help of the WRDC, which is assessing what courses would most help local employers, such as the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company and the municipality, they hope to come up with a plan to meet the region's needs.
Fatima Al Marzouqi, one of the team leaders at WRDC, had previously spoken of the region's shortage of educational opportunities and expected the biggest demand to be for engineering degrees for the big companies such as Emirates Nuclear Energy Company and Adnoc.
Dr Nabil Ibrahim, ADU's chancellor, said it might initially share facilities with other institutions, such as HCT. It is also considering offering distance learning for some postgraduate courses.
In February, Fatima College of Health Science began offering diplomas in medical laboratory analysis and medical services in Madinat Zayed. It currently has space for 40 students.
The college, based in Abu Dhabi, offers free education to Emiratis, but does not yet have its own campus in Al Gharbia, instead using space in Veti. It launched degree courses in September.