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Why might UAE university applications spike in the wake of global pandemic?

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By Daleen Hassan, Rebecca McLaughlin-Eastham and Salim Essaid
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The UAE’s e-learning programme, which has been in place since March, will come to an end with the resumption of the academic year on August 30, according to the Ministry of Education.


The UAE’s e-learning programme, which has been in place since March, will come to an end with the resumption of the academic year on August 30, according to the Ministry of Education.

Affected will be local higher education institutions, like Khalifa University of Science & Technology in Abu Dhabi, which was recently ranked amongst the best 250 centres globally, in the respected QS World University Rankings 2021.

The UAE’s largest applied higher education institution is the Higher Colleges of Technology, which was founded in 1988. Around 23,000 students attend its bases across the emirates from Abu Dhabi and Dubai to Sharjah and Fujairah.

HCT’s President & CEO told Inspire Middle East’s anchor Rebecca McLaughlin-Eastham how his colleges were continuing to operate during the pandemic.

“The use of technology has already been ongoing for a long time within our education system. That’s what made the transformation system, with COVID-19 and the lockdown, easier and smooth,” said Dr. Abdullatif Al Shamsi. “We have the e-teachers certification, in collaboration with Blackboard International, to award our faculty. We’ve been investing in this for this for the past two years.”

Technology college tactics

Dr. Abdullatif Al Shamsi speaks to Inspire Middle East

Given that technology is advancing quicker than education globally, Dr. Al Shamsi said HCT’s business was quickly adapting too.

“Our faculty needs to be engaged every six months, with the new trends of technology, but what COVID-19 has provided us with is a golden opportunity – as educators - to accelerate,” he says. “In a sense, what we’ve been advocating more of are simulations, animations and different Apps, as part of the pedagogy of delivery of instructions.”

Last year the organsation launched “HCT 4.0”, a strategic plan to help students fulfil their career ambitions, post-college. The long-term goal is for the objective to contribute to the UAE’s economy and wealth creation, according to Dr. Al Shamsi.

“The kind of graduates we’re aiming for, the persona of 4.0, consists of three things: the digital persona, the professional persona & the entrepreneurial persona. The entrepreneurial skills to establish small and medium companies, to bring our students to the right skills and competencies to be able to run their own companies.”

Sorbonne Abu Dhabi

International academic institutions with a footprint in the Middle East region include Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi, the namesake of the world-famous seat of learning in Paris.

Established in 2006, thousands of students from more than 90 countries, have enrolled for the university’s arts, humanities and science degrees.

Whilst its Vice Chancellor, Professor Silvia Serrano, says the organization has had to rapidly adapt to the COVID-19 crisis, she doesn’t see it radically overhauling the university’s curriculum or campus operations any time soon.

Silvia Serrano speaks to Inspire Middle East

The pandemic has offered up key lessons, she says, in the importance of human interaction in education.

“Face-to-face classes, face-to-face courses & personal relations to the professor is absolutely mandatory,” she says. “We cannot succeed in providing good education without this personal contact. The process of teaching and learning is a very comprehensive and complex process that involves, not only, bringing and delivering knowledge and receiving knowledge. There’s also something about getting the attention of the students, getting that interest & emotion, in what you’re talking about.”

Local market upside

One lasting legacy of lockdown for academia, says Professor Serrano, is time-saving strategies that have come about thanks to digital tools.


“PhD students, and sometimes masters students, used to take a plane to go to the other side of the world to attend a conference,” she told Euronews. “But now, the conferences are online, and it works well.

Another potential upside for the UAE higher education sector, in particular, she adds, could be a surge in applications for the coming academic years:

“For high school students considering in enrolling university right now, probably even those who considered in enrolling in universities abroad. They would probably more now consider studying in a local university.”


Lebanese graduate Jad celebrated a “drive-through-graduation” with his peers and family.

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anything but ordinary 🍾

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With contributions from Nancy Sarkis, Arthur de Oliveira and Nicolas Tabbal.

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