Many factors drive desire for overseas education

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Abu Dhabi: The majority of students in the UAE who can afford to go abroad for an education do so, a top industry expert said.

Such a trend can only change if longer-term residency options and visa flexibility is offered to expatriate students, said Peter Davos, founder of educational consultancy, Hale Education Group.

“[Financial considerations greatly influence where students choose to study], as most students who can afford to study abroad do so. They are also looking at securing their future earning potential, as well as a future somewhere with a pathway to citizenship or permanent residency,” Davos explained.

He said that families in the UAE look at the three Rs when choosing a university namely: Ranking, Reputation and Return on investment.

“We live in a global world in which consumers of higher education — the students — are increasingly considering several countries when thinking about where to study abroad. Global rankings and university reputation play a dominant role in many parents and students’ consideration,” Davos said.

Given that the UAE dirham is pegged to the US dollar, and with the dollar being particularly strong at the moment, parents here have greater purchasing power to be able to afford ‘a foreign education’ for their children.

The return on investment is also a major consideration.

“Many global universities, particularly those in the United States, have deep pockets to fund talented students, regardless of their ability to pay, even up to the total cost of education. This not only mitigates cost, but starting salaries in hot sectors such as biomedical engineering or computer science start at very high base levels, providing an excellent return on investment. For example, the average starting salary of an MIT (Masachussetts Institute of Technology) graduate is over Dh315,000 per year,” Davos said.

Davos believes that this preference for an education abroad is likely to continue.

“One has to take a long-term view. Traditionally, the UAE is a destination for expatriate employees who have five or more years of experience, not fresh graduates. And students are drawn to programmes in countries where they can secure high-paying jobs immediately after graduation,” he said.

The development of longer-term residency options [such as the 10-year visa for exceptional students in the UAE] as well as more opportunities for graduates to stay invested in the country, are trends that will help to change, Davos added.

“There is a phenomenal growth in in-country admissions in UAE’: Rema Menon, Director Counselling Point, Training and Development, Dubai

“Students are increasingly opting to enrol in institutions within the country. The earlier trend was that more than 75 to 80 per cent students returned to their home countries to pursue higher plans. Although I see a phenomenal growth in in-country admissions, why is it that some students seek opportunities in other countries? For one, the UAE still does not offer courses like Animal Sciences and Marine life/Sciences. Veterinary Medicine, for example, is only available in UAEU; similarly, Library Sciences, Sports Science, AI at undergrad level and a host of other degrees also need to be made available. There are many courses that are yet to be introduced in the UAE. Although there has been exponential growth over the last two decades, there is scope for further improvement especially in areas like vocational education.

“Also, the country offers talented students 10-year visas but just how many of them would be eligible for that distinction? Students from here seek out countries that will allow them to become permanent residents.

“Another area to consider: offering school students the chance to work as interns and industry visits. Most universities in the UAE offer internships but this should be implemented from the school stage, allowing students to explore various careers and become more self-aware before going on to choose a major.

“Another missing element in most schools is career counselling. Many students decide on a career path only after they get their grade 12 results. Parents often ask me, is it better to retain the young adults in the UAE for undergrad studies and send them overseas after the basic degree? In my opinion, a lot of factors come into play while making this crucial decision: the maturity level of the student, the academic preparedness, proficiency in English, and the financial capability of the family, to name a few. Some students who leave UAE to embark on a journey of discovery abroad come back unable to handle independent living. The sheltered upbringing makes them inadequately prepared for the competition, the responsibility that comes with freedom and a host of other factors.”

— Malavika Kamaraju, Features Editor

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