High Cost of Learning: Education at a price
By Mahmood Saberi and Mariam M. Al Serkal
It's that time of year again when students surf the Net and attend counselling
sessions, while parents talk to deans and scour advertisements to choose the right
university or college for their child. Cost is just one factor in the search for quality
education. Some wonder why tuition fee at private universities is almost as high as
those abroad, or even higher, although the newly-opened local institutions do not
offer the broad range of courses available at foreign universities. There is also the
question of accreditation. Mahmood Saberi and Mariam M. Al Serkal report.
Higher education in the UAE comes at a price. Tuition fee for a B.Sc. in engineering,
for instance, is about Dh30,000 per year at Sharjah University. Just next door at the
American University of Sharjah (AUS), the tuition fee comes to around Dh45,000.
The total annual cost of a student in the AUS may well exceed Dh80,000 including
books, food, transportation and accommodation for those coming from abroad.
Majdi Mohra, managing director of "uniAdmission", which represents about 100
universities and colleges in the UK, says the tuition fee for university courses either
here or abroad is roughly the same. But you also have to take into account the cost
of living away from your family.
Stephanie Evans, Education Promotion Manager at the British Council, said some of
the students also go abroad as it gives them a much wider international experience.
"They develop independence and learn about new cultures and life skills, such as
managing one's own finances." She said the other reason is that options are limited
locally. There are limited specialisations, such as bio-medical engineering.
Every year there is keen competition among universities in the US, Canada, the UK,
Australia and New Zealand to attract students from this region.
On the second floor of Block 2A of the Knowledge Village are agencies whose sole
purpose is to counsel, guide and help students study in universities abroad.
There are many agencies which are not accredited and do not provide accurate
information, according to Younes Ringa, business development manager of
"Education Zone", an agency. "These 'coffee shop' agencies tell students that they
will get scholarships, but it is actually discounts on fees they are talking about," he
Mohra said these agencies charge the students for these services and promise faster
visa approval. Many students do not know these services are free and that student
visas are easily approved if their papers are in order, he said.
According to Evans, there are about 4,000 students – both expatriates and nationals
– from the UAE studying in the UK. According to estimates, at least 20,000 students
leave the UAE annually to study in foreign universities.
These students believe a degree from an international university is more prestigious
and that it opens more doors to jobs.
The UAE, meanwhile, is striving to become the education hub of the region. It aims
to attract 4,000 students both from within the country and neighbouring countries.
It already has about 2,500 students studying at branches of the seven leading
universities from Australia, India, Iran, Pakistan and the UK, based at the Knowledge
Village. There are plans to set up more international universities here.
Dr Abdullah Al Karam, Director of the Knowledge Village, says the other objective is
to retain talent, which would help the growth of information and communications
yechnology, media and the finance sectors.
"Only when the link between the corporate sector and academia becomes stronger
will scientific research and development opportunities come to the region and shift us
to a more productive era," he said at last April's Gulf Education and Training
Exhibition (GETX) in Dubai.
Ten years after opening up the higher education sector to players from various parts
of the world, the UAE has become a popular hub for education with fierce
competition among them to gain a bigger share of the market. This forces them to
offer incentives in terms of discounts on fees.
About 30km away in the northern Emirates, the admissions officer at the Sharjah
University Women's College is swamped with applications from students, many of
whom have come from other Gulf states.
"This is my daily work," he said, pointing to the stack of light green and pink folders,
as students and parents kept streaming into his office. His phone never stopped
ringing the whole time Gulf News tried talking to him.
The deadline for applications to this university is August 4.
Away from family
Lebanese expatriate Kamal Kafaraani, a resident of Abu Dhabi, was registering his
daughter Sawsan at the university. She wants to study accounting. "This is the best
that's available," he said, referring to Sharjah University. "We know private
education is all the same everywhere. It is commercialised."
He explained that he had decided to register his daughter here not because it is
cheaper or because the education is better, but because sending his daughter back
to Lebanon was out of the question as she cannot live far from her family.
Suad Al Halwachi, managing director of Education Zone, expresses the frustration of
many expatriates whose children plan to enter a university here.
"The option of joining a local university is not the best because the majority of higher
education institutions are not yet considered mature."
Pointing out that there are no scientists from this region, she says many local
universities offer only one or two programmes in the sciences.
"In New Zealand you have at least 23 branches of computer science," she said,
pointing to an educational brochure.
Other educationists also feel that there is a surfeit of higher education institutes
here. They feel that the emphasis should be on quality education.
Mohra says there is tough competition for jobs. A Masters degree or a Ph.D. is
essential today. He also points to the confusion over accreditation of local colleges
and universities. Many parents are understandably worried.
"It is a big issue. What does accreditation mean? And what is the status of foreign
Another agency representative also voiced this concern, saying that anyone can open
a university here. She also said there is no direction for students, no career
counselling, or anyone to show them what to study and what's available.
Mohammad Sha Mow-lawi Beeram, an Indian expatriate from Saudi Arabia, does not
have any doubts about the quality of higher education institutes in the UAE.
He was thinking of enrolling his son for a bachelor's in business administration at the
AUS. "We are also looking at colleges at the Knowledge Village," he said. His
daughter is studying at the Gulf Medical College in Ajman.
"This is the best that's available," he said, speaking about t