Opportunity knocks: The entry of international universities is boosting competition


In 2016 the University of Salford became the first British higher education institution to partner with the government of Bahrain, when it announced that it would begin offering degrees through a new campus in Janabiyah. The university expects to enrol its first 100 students in September 2017. Meanwhile, Bahrain’s Applied Science University (ASU) announced in December 2015 that it is set to partner with London’s South Bank University and Cardiff Metropolitan University to offer courses in Bahrain. These developments could spell the beginning of a more active involvement of foreign universities in the kingdom.

OPPORTUNITIES: Relations already exist between Bahrain and higher education institutions from around the world. In 2014 the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland opened a medical school in the kingdom, the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland Medical University Bahrain (RCSI-MUB), while the Bahrain Institute of Banking and Finance (BIBF), which is focused on the training and development needs of the banking sector, offers master’s degree programmes in partnership with US-based DePaul University. “Working with foreign universities is exciting because we are able to combine our expertise to develop new curricula that are uniquely Bahraini,” Solveig Nicklos, Director of BIBF, told OBG.

However, with the expected rise in the number of people attending higher education institutions in Bahrain – the number of students enrolled in post-secondary education is expected to rise by 20,000 by 2025 – there are clear opportunities for foreign players.

Its British College of Bahrain will deliver a range of undergraduate degree programmes on a new purpose-built campus, with courses specifically selected to address skill shortages in Bahrain. Courses on offer will include computer science, engineering management, petroleum and mechanical engineering, and civil engineering. “This is a fantastic opportunity to give young people in Bahrain and the Middle East the benefit of a world-class education and knowledge that the University of Salford can provide,” Helen Marshall, the University of Salford’s vice-chancellor, said in July 2016.

Meanwhile, ASU is partnering with London South Bank University to set up a new college of engineering to offer joint-degree courses in mechanical, electrical and civil engineering, construction and architectural design. Their partnership with Cardiff Metropolitan University will bring two of its accredited courses to ASU in management and business studies, and banking and finance. All the new international courses are set to begin in January 2017, and will be taught in English. “We have approval from the Higher Education Council. This really is going in the right direction. This will be the start of bringing students from every where – from Africa, Asia and India, as well as from the Arab region,” Assem Al Hajj, vice-president for academic affairs and development at ASU, told OBG.

WELCOME COMPETITION: Rather than be concerned about the arrival of foreign universities, Bahraini higher education institutions appear open to this growth. “Well-known universities are coming to Bahrain, which is definitely good for the country. It will actually take pressure off us. We will have a benchmark to compete against the best, so we can be better,” Abdulrahim Fakhro, the corporate and commercial development manager at Bahrain Polytechnic, told OBG. “Current universities that have National Authority of Qualifications and Quality Assurance for Education and Training validation and focus on delivering a quality education to the student have nothing to fear, when new universities come they also have to show they are of the right quality, and get accredited,” he added.

DIFFERENT MODELS: “International universities are coming to Bahrain using different business models to establish partnerships, or as individual institutions setting up their own branch campus,” Al Hajj told OBG. “The next five years will be critical to understand which models are working and to build on that success. Bahrain can become a regional higher education centre.”