UAE universities target UK students – and downplay human rights concerns

10% rise in UK students studying in the UAE since 2016, official figures show

The numbers of UK students studying at UAE universities has risen by 10% according to new data from the UAE Ministry of Education.

There are more than 250 university students from the UK now studying in the UAE, according to the latest data. This does not include visiting students.

The new data was released as the UAE ministry of education visited the UK to promote its ‘Study in UAE’ campaign at educational technology trade show Bett this week.

Dr. Sheikh Ammar Al Mualla, director of the department of educational organisations and external relations, said: “The trend in UK students coming to take advantage of what our universities have to offer looks set to continue.

“We’d love to see more students from the UK and the wider international community follow in their peers’ footsteps and study here to get a taste for UAE life and open the door not only to a new, exciting culture but to exciting and lucrative career prospects.”

We believe that UK universities are great – Dr Sheikh Ammar Al Mualla

During BETT, the UAE ministry of education presented its Advanced Skills Strategy, which aims to instil students, new graduates and “experienced individuals” with skills including “scientific literacy, tech literacy, financial literacy, critical thinking, creativity, communication, collaboration, adaptability, leadership, social and cultural awareness, empathy and growth mindset”.

Speaking to University Business through a translator/media advisor, Dr Sheikh Ammar Al Mualla said the UAE was not setting out in “direct head to head competition” with the UK over students. “We believe that UK universities are great.”

Gay, female and politically active students

With regard to global concerns over human rights in the UAE, he said UK students would be expected to respect the culture of their new home. Questioned about why a UAE university might appeal to a gay student from the UK, he said:

“As long as someone […] respects the people around them and does not force or try to influence the people around him with his own beliefs, his own sexual directions, he is more than welcome to stay and live and study.

“We have 200 nationalities. We believe everyone has to […] keep their beliefs for themselves, to respect others, because if you open that door, you might be offending the other 200 nationalities and the different beliefs of that melting pot.”

Asked what he would say to female prospective students from the UK who were concerned about the UAE attitude towards women, he said the majority of students at Zayed University and United Arab Emirates University (UAEU) were women.

Student political activism, Dr Sheikh Ammar Al Mualla added, was not encouraged in the UAE. “We push [students] to focus on education. We are very keen about ensuring the youth are putting their energy, in our opinion, where it matters the most – in their education, in the future.”

UAE-based HE providers including UAE University, HCT, Zayed University, Khalifa University, Ajman University and Hamdan Bin Mohammed Smart University joined the UAE Ministry of Education at Bett.

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