THE BLOG

Why the West Wants to Invest in Education in the UAE

10/08/2015 10:11 BST | Updated 06/08/2016 10:59 BST

Having the seventh largest oil-reserves in the world, UAE was guided into its quintessential element by the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan - the man responsible for putting together the United Arab Emirates after the UAE's independence from the United Kingdom in 1971. Sheikh Zayed ensured that the oil revenues were invested heavily into the sectors of education, healthcare, and infrastructure. He often said, "Youth is the real wealth of the nation" and wanted to make sure they were educated to the best extent possible.

Before the world was able to spot oil in the bellies of the UAE, the region did not have basic education systems. When the first commercial oil production began in 1962 in Abu Dhabi, there were only 20 schools with less than 4000 students, most of whom were boys. And after the independence from the British, education was a privilege found and cherished only in the urban caches of the UAE. By 1971, there were about 28,000 students in the UAE. Post secondary education, for those students who wanted to pursue further education had to go abroad. Primarily, to the United Kingdom or the United States.

For this, the student's expenses were undertaken by the government. A not-so-viable economic option.

Some time before the British left, in 1953, they built the first school in Sharjah that offered a comprehensive Western-built curriculum. Consecutively, by 1958, they had built many schools in Abu Dhabi, Ras Al Khaimah, and Khawr Fakkan, including two speciality schools. One was for agriculture in Ras Al Khaimah. The other was a technical school in Sharjah.

Today, Ras Al Khaimah, the northmost emirate of the UAE, ruled by Sheikh Saud Bin Saqr Al Qasim, has its own American University of Ras Al Khaimah (a public non-profit co-education institution of higher education that integrates American-style education with local indigenous cultures). There is also the Ras Al Khaimah Centre for Advanced Materials (RAK- CAM), a flagship for advanced Material Science research in the Middle East that focuses on alternate energy sources, better models of construction, enhanced water purification, and other innovative and effective protocols for real environmental protection.

If that is the excerpt of just one emirate, the rest of the UAE also has a positive tale to tell. What used to be an exclusive access to the upper class in the middle east, schools are now seen in every village of the region, with a majority of secondary schools providing boarding facilities to increase the literacy percentage. Over 50,000 students have graduated from the UAE University, the first University in the United Arab Emirates, since its opening in 1977 in Al Ain.

From an arid, inhospitable dry land to evolving as one of the most sought-after infrastructure jungles, UAE has a come long way. It was able to do this because of its import structure. Offering attractive investment and employment opportunities, it was able to bring in a vast pool of quality talent for positions in the highest management to house maids, construction, and daily wage workers. With a ratio of 9 expatriates to one emirati, it became important to have an in-house education system. 20 years ago, the majority of the middle-class expatriates settled in any of the seven emirates had to send their daughters and sons to foreign countries like Canada, Australia, India, USA, or UK for higher education.

Though the UAE, since over half a century, has been making its billion dollar petrodollar transactions with the western civilisations, the official language in the internal administrations are strictly Arabic.

An Alpen report states that UAE's population is set to reach 9.9 million by 2016, out of which the expatriate interference will conquer the stage at 88%. This prominent chunk of demographics will be waiting in line to enrol for primary, secondary, and tertiary education.

Since the last decade, reputable universities and coveted institutes like University of Strathclyde Business School UAE, Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) - Dubai, Dubai Harvard Foundation for Medical Research, French Fashion University Esmod, NYIT Abu Dhabi from the USA, UK, Canada, have tied up with universities in the UAE to offer specialised and comprehensive curriculum in technology, science, business, fashion, and hospitality.

The partnership between foreign universities and the educational kernels of the UAE enhance the constitution of educational policies in the emirates. This also includes the rendering of strategic services and support to pack internal and external capabilities in the education and public sector by combining the solidarity of communities, collaboration, and shared motto. The intricate cultural connections from the western collaborations is not only nurturing and heightening sensible associations with individuals and organisations in the UAE, but it is also cultivating progressive, educated, and ready-to-deploy world-class citizens from its own womb.