Investing in Education

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As a part of efforts to improve private education in the emirate, Abu Dhabi is investing in international educational and research venues. This week, Professor Jean-Robert Pitte, president of France's Sorbonne University, visited Abu Dhabi ahead of the October opening of the Sorbonne Abu Dhabi campus in the emirate.

Professor Pitte chaired a meeting of the board of directors, during which they discussed preparations for the opening of the Abu Dhabi campus.

The Sorbonne Abu Dhabi campus will initially be home to 200 students rising to 1500 within 3 years. The Sorbonne, the only university in France dedicated exclusively to the humanities, will offer a range of courses in Abu Dhabi including archaeology, comparative literature and history. The institution will also provide intensive French language courses for students not fluent in the language.

This is the first international campus of its kind for the university, which was founded in 1253. The venture is reputed to be costing Abu Dhabi between $20m and $30m, according to al-Jazeera. It is also reported that studying at the university will cost around $20,000 per year.

The move follows the arrival of other internationally renowned educational and research institutions in Abu Dhabi. Aldar properties recently completed the construction of the Imperial College London Diabetes Centre in Abu Dhabi, a joint project between London University and the Mubadala Development Company. The centre aims to treat diabetes sufferers, provide cutting edge research in the fight against diabetes in the UAE, and improve specialised medical care.

These projects are part of a wider policy of creating a world-class research and higher education infrastructure in the country.

Meanwhile, the British University in Dubai (BUiD) has signed an memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the UAE Academy, a subsidiary of the Abu Dhabi Chamber of Commerce, to work together to provide research, consulting and professional development services in the emirate. David Lock, the registrar and acting CEO of the BUiD, told AME Info that, "International experience shows that the development of partnerships between the government, public and private sectors, industry and academic institutions have created the platform for the sustainable development of the country. The university today is at the heart of the productive economy and, therefore, a significant culture change in the relationship between universities and industry is needed."

These projects will allow Emiratis to continue their studies in Abu Dhabi rather than having to travel abroad. They are also seen as a means of equipping nationals with the right tools to thrive in international institutions and providing them with an opportunity to pursue careers in the private sector.

Sandra Sovago-Royal, marketing co-ordinator of the UAE Academy, told OBG that the aim of the academy and its projects is to give students choice, noting that the education market, in general, is becoming more competitive and offers greater choice.

The academy offers courses that are internationally recognised and certified both in the UK and the US. Sovago-Royal also stressed that the educational mandate of the academy centres on supporting the Emiratisation drive in the country. She noted, "Our courses are aimed at facilitating the entry and re-entry of nationals into the job market."

Education is seen as an increasingly important sector in the development of Abu Dhabi, as it has the potential to equip a workforce capable of dealing with the demands of a growing and diversified economy. According to UNESCO's Statistical Office, public expenditure on education accounts for 1.6% of GDP and 22.5% of the government's overall expenditure in the UAE. Only 3% of this was distributed towards tertiary education, but gross enrolments in tertiary education are slightly above the regional average of 21%, with 23% progressing to this stage from secondary education. However, only 40% of females and 13% of males reach this stage.

These new developments signal progress in the emirate's educational policy. Abu Dhabi and the UAE have always been committed to education, a fact reflected in the constitutional clause providing for free and compulsory schooling for all UAE nationals. However, these moves illustrate a greater commitment to higher education and the growing trend for diversification, which is replicated in many sectors. There is also a greater focus on specialisation in educational institutions, which is seen as a vital part of the emirate's desire to equip graduates with relevant skills for different facets of the private sector.

There is a renewed drive to promote education and research and a desire to partner with international institutions that can invest heavily in providing quality higher education in Abu Dhabi. The emirate is therefore embarking on an ambitious plan to create a diverse and competitive education sector that can produce a skilled workforce for the future.

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