Universities will benefit from greater scrutiny

In order for the Emirates' educational growth to continue in the right direction, oversight is needed to provide prospective students with the information they need.

Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

There are some university degrees that are not worth the paper they are printed on. At one end of the spectrum, the online diploma mills - "a degree without studying!" flash the advertisements - offer an important lesson to students: bogus credentials on one's CV are worse than none at all. More so than primary and secondary schools, institutions of higher education should be largely self-regulating and responsive to market forces. In the Emirates, however, the educational sector has undergone massive expansion in recent years. In order for that growth to continue in the right direction, oversight is needed to provide prospective students with the information they need to make their own decisions about where to enroll.
The review of 24 branch campuses in Dubai's educational free zone is welcome news, particularly because inspections are backed up by the real prospect of licences being revoked for substandard institutions. But that may not be enough. While free zones in general are laudable because they cut down on the bureaucratic costs and hassles for a business, education cannot be treated as a run-of-the-mill enterprise.
These branch campuses are not held to the same licensing requirements as other educational institutions in the country based on the premise that they will offer the same quality of education - and maintain the same admissions standards - as their home campuses. The University Quality Assurance International Board is now assessing not only the campuses, but whether that system is working. There has been considerable incentive to fudge standards, particularly in admissions. The explosion in the number of for-profit universities in the country has created fierce competition for fee-paying students.
But the issue of maintaining the same standards at these schools begs an important question about the branch campus system as a whole: is an exact copy of the education offered abroad suitable for the UAE? Would, for example, curricula that also focused on language, Arabic as well as English, be more suitable? In the long run these questions will be answered not just by regulatory bodies, but by the institutions and the students themselves. In more established educational markets, universities are largely self-monitoring; as the UAE develops the sector, government authorities need to provide the right metrics to judge performance. Some institutions will fail to pass the test, while some will surely excel. The overall quality of the higher education system relies on students having the tools to tell the difference.