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Dubai sees upswell in foreign education partners

Dubai’s stature as an international education hub was reinforced this month, after data showed overall growth of 24% at its Dubai Knowledge Village (DKV) and Dubai International Academic City (DIAC) education “business parks”.

Dubai's International Academic City now caters to 20,000 students

DKV and DIAC were established as the world’s only higher education “free zones”

In 2012, a further 80 partners signed up to the parks, which offer foreign operators 100% ownership, tax-free operations, and 100% repatriation of profits as perks – although the number that were actual educators is unclear. Still, it compares well with 61 new partners in 2011 and brings the total to 564.

A further 80 human resources and education institutes signed up to the parks

Dr Ayoub Kazim, Managing Director of TECOM’s Education Cluster which incorporates Dubai Knowledge Village and Dubai International Academic City, said: “We are delighted to welcome our new partners into the fold as we continue to support the development of a diversified knowledge-based economy.”

DKV was established in 2003 as a training and human resource management hub, and DIAC in 2007 with a focus on higher education (it know has some 20,000 students). Both are the world’s only higher education “free zones” – clustering foreign education institutions together, and allowing them to operate subject to their own accreditation rules, not those of the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Demand has subsequently soared due to skills shortages and the burgeoning expat population in the region. A recent report by DIAC and Deloitte found 64 skills shortages in a range of sectors, including tourism and telecoms.

TECOM – a private firm in which Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai, has a majority stake – said the parks had welcomed an influx of new partners. These include recruitment firm Carmichael Fisher MEA, business etiquette school Protocol School of Washington, and human resources association SHRM MEA.

Existing partners such as Australia’s University of Wollongong, Dubai, and Britain’s Middlesex University also increased their student numbers.

However, said, Kazim: “Whilst 2012 has been a very good year for us, we are not resting on our laurels as there is still plenty of work to do – particularly in addressing some of the skills gaps identified across the region.

“Our focus for the next few years is to work closely with our existing and new partners to provide academic and training programmes that cater to the demands of the regional workforce.”

“There is still plenty of work to do – particularly in addressing some of the skills gaps identified across the region”

Despite UAE’s promise of “effortless visa and licensing issuance procedures”, there have been barriers to foreign entry of late.  In February, London School of Economics lecturer Kristian Coates Ulrichsen was barred entry after arriving in Dubai to participate in an event. UAE said it was concerned about views in his work “de-legitimising the Bahraini monarchy”, as Bahrain grapples with almost daily pro-democracy protests.

The UAE also closed a number of international research firms and thinks-tanks promoting democracy last year, including Germany’s Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS), which has close ties with Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union party. Analysts say it is worried about political instability developing on its own patch.

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