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Arab Relations

A Gulf in Student Numbers

Tara Smith

Education experts agree there are complex reasons why more Australian students are studying in the UAE than Emiratis studying in Australia.

There are at least four Australian universities operating in the UAE but this has failed to translate into higher enrolments of Emiratis in Australia.

The reasons may include a lack of student incentives, weak marketing in Australia and the fluctuating Australian dollar, according to several industry observers.

Austrade reports that 1133 Australian students are currently studying in the UAE, while the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) records that only 700 Emiratis studied in Australia in 2014.

The University of Wollongong (UOW) has strong connections with the UAE and established the first western university in the region over 20 years ago.

Speaking from Wollongong’s Australian campus, the Director for International Student Engagement and Coordination, Peter Day, says almost no Emirati students transfer to Australia during their studies.

Students of the UAE Photo courtesy of University of Wollongong Dubai

Students of the UAE Photo courtesy of University of Wollongong Dubai

He says the inconsistency of the dollar is a contributing factor.

“With all the ups and downs of the Australian dollar we’ve never had many Emirati students transferring from our campus to Australia”.

Day says Australia also fails to attract any of the many students from the subcontinent – such as India, Pakistan and Bangladesh - who study at the Dubai campus.

He says access to free education in the UAE, coupled with state-of-the-art local facilities, may deter Emirati students from transferring to Australia to study.

“We’ve never pushed them to transfer because from our point of view it’s very much the choice of the student,” he says.

The Australian Ambassador to the UAE, Mr Pablo Kang, attributes low enrolments of Emiratis at Australian universities to the UAE’s concentration on local education.

“I think that number is not going to go much higher because the focus now is on building up the local capacity of universities in this country,” he said.

While 15% of Emiratis who study overseas study in Australia, it’s a low number in comparison to Australians studying in the UAE.

“There is a greater awareness of the UAE for Australian students but it’s nowhere near the same levels the other way, so certainly that needs to be addressed,” Kang says.

“We would also like to see Australian schools coming to Dubai and Abu Dhabi which hasn’t quite happened yet.”

Australian students in the UAE are spread between Australian and private international institutions, with around 100 students studying at the UOW Dubai campus.

Many tertiary students are expatriates with family based in Dubai, as well as those wishing to travel with Dubai as their starting point. With English spoken widely in the UAE, it’s easier for Australian students to adapt to the lifestyle.

However, they are faced with the barrier of paying upfront tuition fees, as Australian students are ineligible to apply for a HECS/HELP loan when studying in the UAE.