The UAE has been named one of the best countries when it comes to its support of international higher education, according to a study recently published by the British Council.
It came second in the quality assurance and degree recognition category and fifth for openness and mobility.
“It is really impressive, actually, for such a small country,” said Sally Ward, regional manager, higher education for the British Council.
“They have made this very conscious decision to be open, to make this an area of focus, to promote the UAE as a destination of choice, to provide a wide variety of universities and courses and to find ways to encourage students to come to a stable community where they know they are going to get a high-quality education.”
In the second volume of the Shape of global higher education report published this month, the British Council analysed international higher education policies across 38 countries.
The researchers measured the countries’ support for international higher education in three areas: openness of higher education systems, access and sustainability and quality assurance and recognition of international qualifications.
The UAE came second in the quality assurance and degree recognition category, which measured indicators such as selection criteria for international students, monitoring and accrediting the cross-border activities of foreign institutions and recognition of foreign degrees and transnational education qualifications. Australia ranked first in this category.
“One of the areas that the UAE has done really well at is this area of quality assurance,” said Ms Ward. “They have worked very actively with the UK, with Malaysia and with several other international providers to look at ways in which they can provide better quality assurance for the branch campuses that are here in the UAE and to communicate that to students, to basically put their mind at rest: you are going to get the equivalent qualification if you study at a UK university in the UAE as you would in a UK university in the UK.”
Dubai boasts the highest concentration of international branch campuses in the world. During the 2016-2017 academic year, the emirate was home to 27 international branch campuses from 12 countries. Twenty-three per cent of students enrolled in Dubai’s institutions of higher learning were international students, excluding resident expatriates, according to the Knowledge and Human Development Authority.
The UAE was fifth in openness and mobility, which assessed the country’s international higher education strategy, bilateral agreements, student visas procedures, living and working environment for international students and clarity and application of regulations for foreign institutions.
Peter Clack, director of international relations at the University of Birmingham, which will be the first global top 100 ranked institution to open a branch campus in Dubai, said the report validates his own positive assessment of the emirate.
“I was pleased to see that people looked at it the same way we did and that they rank the factors that we thought were important around accessibility and government support in the same way that we did,” said Mr Clack.
“We were looking particularly for environments that are supportive and conducive to setting up a branch campus, governments that are sympathetic and encouraging. When you look at all the factors, I think that’s what put Dubai at the top of our list.
"The government, in the form of the KHDA, goes to great lengths to encourage UK and other international universities to consider setting up a branch campus there. There is a real vision for Dubai as a global education hub – as there is for health and for other areas.”
In the access and sustainability category, the UAE ranked 18th. This section gauged the country’s scholarship programmes and student loans for foreign students, funding of international research, funding programmes for teachers and researchers to undertake posts abroad and anti-displacement policies that actively seek to avoid the displacement of low-income or marginalised domestic students.