In the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks on US soil, the number of UAE students heading to the US and the UK dropped off dramatically. Visa requirements became more stringent, perception toward the Middle East changed, and students felt vulnerable. During this time, Australia became a positive alternative for UAE students requiring a high standard university education.
International student numbers have since bounced back in the US and UK, but the interim years have seen Australia rise as a popular study destination for students from the Middle East. Multicultural Australia is home to large Muslim populations in our major cities, and students from Arab countries are finding a warm welcome conducive to study.
The steady rise in UAE student numbers
According to Gerard Seeber, Senior Trade Commissioner based at the Australian Embassy in Dubai, there are approximately 1,000 students from the UAE currently studying in Australia. The numbers are increasing due in no small part to Australian university rankings. Struan Robertson, the Swinburne University South East Asia and Middle East regional relations manager agrees.
“We continually have more and more universities creeping up to the top end of the rankings and I think that’s becoming more and more recognised among Middle Eastern students,” Robertson said.
Since late 2013, Robertson has visited the UAE six times to meet with representatives of local colleges, with links often leading to exchange and joint degree opportunities. Several Australian universities currently have a presence in th UAE, providing benefits for Australia at home and abroad, with many students choosing to graduate at the UAE based Australian campuses.
In 1993, The University of Wollongong pioneered the establishment of a university campus presence in Dubai, with an initial intake of just seven students. This year there are 4,000 students enrolled, following in the footsteps of 7,000 alumni, many of whom are now employed in senior government and industry positions in the UAE.
Australia becoming a desirable partner
The University of Wollongong in Dubai (UOWD) has created a bond between Australia and the UAE, according to the acting UOWD president, Mohammed Salem.
“The fact that the university has that many alumni has given us a very strong presence in the picture here in the UAE. These people know the Australian system through the university and they are really looking at Australia as a strong partner,” Salem said.
The UOWD external advisory board includes important players in the Dubai economy, including the Chief Executive of Abu Dhabi Ports Company, The CEO of Dubai Trade FZE, and the Chief Executive of International Humanitarian City. Salem is encouraged by the degree that local officials desire collaborations with Australia.
The Jain Global School of Management, a campus with Australian legal status, has also had a presence in Dubai since 2004. The MBA course offering coincided with Dubai’s ambition to become an education hub in the region, and according to Christopher Abraham, head of the Dubai SP Jain campus, the course is a big hit. The campus has since flourished and now includes branches in Sydney (2009) and Singapore (2006), offering a multi-city MBA program.
“Dubai, Sydney, Singapore – all these three cities, for all the right reasons, are on a growth tangent…they are growing economies with great opportunities…we are crafting global business leaders,” Abraham said.