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NYU Abu Dhabi Hopes to Attract More Emiratis

Melanie Swan, The National
September 18, 2012

New York University’s Abu Dhabi campus has nearly doubled its intake of Emirati students in the past year – from nine to 17.

In all, 11 percent of new students at NYU are UAE nationals, up from 4 percent in 2010, its first year.

NYU is hoping to continue increasing its local enrolment in future years. “As a UAE institution, we believe that Emirati enrolment and participation is essential throughout the university,” said Lisa Taylor, assistant dean for admissions.

“While we recognise that we won’t always be able to see the same percentage growth each year that we have for the past three years, we do expect their representation to continue to grow in the years ahead.”

Dr. Natasha Ridge, head of research at the Al Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research in Ras Al Khaimah, said that like any UAE branch of an overseas university, NYUAD needed to ensure it was not “disconnected from the country or state in which they have chosen to set up shop.”

“Branch campuses in the UAE have a unique opportunity to be able to bridge countries and cultures,” she said. “It is important that they attract Emirati students and offer courses for their other students which focus on UAE society and culture.”

Peter Hatherley-Greene, a former Higher Colleges opf Technology academic now studying cross-border education, said it was important for private universities to take on more Emirati students.

“It lays down a gauntlet [to the state education system] to vastly improve the quality . . . or face the growing tide of Emirati parents forsaking free government education in favour of private schools,” he said.

Shamma Al Mazrui was one of the six Emiratis who started at NYUAD in 2010. She agreed that competition from NYU would force federal universities to lift their game.

“I think NYU is acting as a role model for government universities to improve and begin focusing not only on enhancing and strengthening their university courses and programmes, but also on career development and how important it is to make a student apply what he or she learns in class to the workplace.”

Aisha Al Hajri, 17, has spent most of her time in education in American institutions, both in the UAE and the US, where her father worked at the UAE Embassy in Washington D.C.

But when Ms. Al Hajri moved back to the UAE from the US nine years ago, she was at first enrolled in a government school.

She found that jarring and left after just two years because she felt “different” to her classmates.

Still, she was expecting to find more fellow Emiratis during her orientation week for her new life at NYUAD. “There are a lot less Emiratis than I expected,” Ms Al Hajri said. “I was shocked by how few local students there were.

“I like the variety of cultures but when we move to the Saadiyat campus [a larger campus which will be due for opening in 2014] there should be a lot more. Right now though, the ratio seems decent.”

Maitha Al Mansouri, 17, came from the American International School.

She says having Emirati classmates is vital, but will take time. “It’s a question of awareness,” she said. “People here are only just starting to know what the university is.”

Most of the two girls’ Emirati friends have gone to either the federal Zayed University or the private American University of Sharjah.

Ahmed Al Amery, 18, who went to the private Rashid School for Boys in Dubai, wanted to study in New York, but his parents insisted on him studying closer to home. They suggested the UK, but when he was accepted at NYUAD he decided to stay in the UAE.

He admits he had hoped for more Emirati classmates. “I wanted to see more Emiratis here,” he said, although he added that studying with fellow Emiratis is not as easy as with foreign students.

He hopes that having an Emirati roommate will help him settle into a new emirate as well as into university.

“Every now and then you need it. My roommate understands my culture, my religion. It gives you that sense of home.”