Dubai’s abundance of international big-name universities offering high quality education, coupled with the UAE’s National Strategy for Higher Education 2030 and plenty of scholarships on offer, have positioned the city as an ideal spot for Pakistanis who want an international university experience close to home.
The country’s strategy, launched in 2017, includes the Expanded Professional Experience initiative to provide a variety of career training programmes to students such as on-campus work, job shadowing, joint ventures and vocational trainings.
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The Investment in Knowledge initiative was designed to increase the number of Ph.D. students by increasing support for postgraduate funding and creating incentives to pursue higher education by ensuring attractive job opportunities.
“In the plans of the UAE towards 2030, it wants to become the number one destination for excellence in education,” said Dr Cedwyn Fernandes, Pro Vice-Chancellor and Director, Middlesex University Dubai.
Speaking to Business Recorder, he said the Dubai government’s Knowledge & Human Development Authority (KHDA) ensures quality of education is delivered that matches student expectations. It provides infrastructure and support, and its laws are not bureaucratic but rather practical and flexible.
“If we want to introduce a new programme, for example an MSc in cybersecurity or something related to artificial intelligence (AI), the government and the regulators know you need to move fast and they provide a knowledge base for that area.”
Middlesex University Dubai, which has some 500 Pakistani students currently studying there across its undergrad and postgrad programmes, is directly linked to the one in the UK.
In fact, Dr Fernandes said some students do a year in Dubai and use it as a springboard to move on to the London campus.
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“The great thing is if you’re a student at one campus, you’re a student at all campuses. We are all one university.”
Dubai is home to international branch campuses of universities from the UK, the US, Australia and France.
Other than Middlesex, Dubai also has campuses for University of Wollongong, Bayes Business school (formerly Cass Business School), Curtin University and University of Birmingham, among many others.
“Students are able to earn a degree from these universities without the associated costs of living in those countries,” said, Dr Abdulla Al Karam, Director General of KHDA, adding that “Dubai’s strategic location also means that the majority of international students are never more than a short flight away from home”.
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Dr Fernandes said other than government support, it is Dubai’s high employability opportunities that make it an ideal spot for higher education, along with the city’s safety and security.
“The great thing about Dubai is also that because the economy is booming and expanding and they are always looking for employees,” he said. Along with this, Middlesex has a “very aggressive employment and career centre. They prepare students to be 100% employable”.
Aryaan Asad, who is studying law at the university, said the centre offers exclusive job opportunities for students and he has managed to secure several internships through it.
Middlesex offers full time and part time options, as well as evening classes and flexible payment plans.
Another option open to Dubai students is the government’s ‘Earn While You Learn’ programme.
“The initiative was launched in Dubai in 2016 … students are able to gain valuable work experience in their chosen field while studying,” explained Dr Al Karam.
“For many students, this gives them invaluable insights on their future career trajectory. Students are also able to gain vital contacts in their field to help them secure employment after graduation.”
He added that having relevant work experience prior to graduation helps improves students’ employment prospects. In addition, earning a salary while studying helps students to better manage and plan their finances.
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Dr Fernandes said student visas are very flexible as they allow students to intern at various organisations and “because talent is quite scarce”, once a student gets in as an intern, the company is likely to sponsor their work visa once they graduate.
“If they find, say, a data scientist who is really good the company will give them a visa because they don’t want to lose this talent”.
In fact, he says there is a real fight for talent.
“In the tech sector, there is a shortage of talent because in the last five years, Dubai has been positioning itself as a tech and innovation centre in robotics, AI and data science.”
He also said that Pakistanis who come from the UK education system and have competed their O and A Levels “are excellent students because of their rigorous academic background and find integrating into the university very easy.”
For those unsure about being away from home, Maryam Farooq, who did her BA International Tourism Management from Middlesex and is now an Admissions Counsellor there, has some advice: “Dubai is very close to Pakistan so you’re closer to home not only in terms of distance but also in terms of the culture and environment. We have a wide range of south Asian students over here”
“So even though you are coming abroad to study you are still in a comfortable environment and it doesn’t feel that drastic a change.”
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Copyright Business Recorder, 2022