The higher education sector in the UAE has seen an accelerated rate of growth over the past one decade with the mushrooming of universities that are either offshore branches of foreign institutions or are accredited by one. With the country teeming with academic organizations, course options are many. That said, skyrocketing college fees, indecision about choosing the right program and education being the best return on investment factor in especially during college enrollment.
Generally speaking, deciding a course or a college program varies for both men and women, particularly belonging to the Asian demographics. While female students can easily opt for non-vocational studies, there is a pressure on their male counterparts to choose career-oriented courses. Mum of three college going students, UAE-based Soofia Mansoor opined: “Although I want my children to follow their heart, we did encourage our son to opt for a path that would help him in his career and thus give him stability in life. He wanted to pursue music academically. But my husband and I urged him to go for a vocation-based education and take up short courses on music at a later point in time. But yes it was quite different for my girls who were able to choose subjects of their liking.”
While female students can easily opt for non-vocational studies, there is a pressure on their male counterparts to choose career-oriented courses.
Another major issue pertaining to deciding especially undergraduate programs is the lack of proper student counselling in high schools. Although in September 2013, it was reported that the Ministry of Education would be adding a career counselling class for grade 10, much is still needed to fully address this issue. “There is one problem that most of us parents are facing these days. Upon completing grade 10, my daughter was indecisive about choosing the right course. And when after a lot of research and visiting a number of universities, she decided to go for a program on gaming software development, we found out she couldn’t really choose the subject as she the lacked the right educational background. I feel schools should play a more active role by guiding 10 graders to decide the right path as well as in keeping them informed. Had my daughter chosen the right course in school or given proper advice, she could have gone for this program,” Soofia Mansoor added.
Universities across the UAE are offering a number of interesting vocational and non-vocational studies with the average cost of education in the country for international student, according to a HSBC report, being Dh100, 000, including university fees and living expenses. The report further stated: “In the USA, the most expensive country for international students, the average cost is $35,000 (Dh130, 000) a year rising to $58,760 for students at Ivy League universities.”
Paying for higher education is indeed considered a potential future investment, which is why more emphasis is put on students to make the ‘right’ decision. According to the HSBC report: “About 84 percent of the students in the UAE prefer to choose a vocational degree. In the developed economies of the UK, U.S. and Canada, this figure stands at 60 percent. Although law, business and engineering degrees are among the most expensive degrees, they remain a popular choice for UAE students. Compared to other non-vocational courses, these degrees offer the best return on investment.”
Choosing a vocation based education is perhaps the right thing to do, but it can also lead to dissatisfaction and disappointment in the long run. In his commencement speech at the Stanford University in 2005, former Apple CEO, the late Steve Jobs iconically talks about choosing the right job and this does hold true when opting for the right education as well. He said: “The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.”
Findings suggest that nearly nine out of 10 parents want their children to have a university degree for not only is it the best return on investment, it also nurtures their ability to compete powerfully in the workplace. The bigger question here is whether schools and colleges especially n the UAE and across the MENA region are really equipped in enabling students to make the right decision, empowering them to becoming multidimensional, multifaceted individuals and thereby contributing to the global economy?