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Dubai focuses on student wellbeing at OBHE’s Global Forum

When transnational education provision and international branch campuses are mentioned, it’s rarely long before someone mentions Dubai. The huge investment in the sector, with two ‘free zones’ easing administration and delivery, and benevolent local authorities have created this image.

The student panel at the Global Forum aimed to set discussion apart from other conferences. Photo The PIE News

The conference focused on student success and how the UAE has championed happiness and mental wellbeing

Partnering with the Knowledge and Human Development Authority, the Observatory for Borderless Higher Education held its annual Global Forum in the desert city, confirming that Dubai remains at the forefront of global education conversations.

“84% of the students in Dubai are happy most of the time”

Organised in conjunction with i-graduate and the KHDA, the two-day thought leadership conference focused on student success and how the UAE has championed happiness and mental wellbeing, alongside strong education and business growth.

As well as taking a broad look at the global international education outlook, including changes and growth over the past 15 years, the conference targeted a discussion and strategy on improving the international student experience. To facilitate this, several students currently enrolled on Dubai campuses of various institutions attended, and were often asked to contribute, and had one panel dedicated to their views.

The topics discussed were slightly different to the usual international education conference, with barely a mention of recruitment, but mindfulness, stretching and even yoga prominent on the schedule.

Amna Raisi of the KHDA began one session of breathing exercises, and keynote speaker Anthony Seldon, the vice-chancellor of the private University of Buckingham, continuing the trend before explaining how under his guidance the HEI  has changed its focus to the holistic care of students and paying attention to who they are, as well as what they can achieve.

Proof of the importance of wellbeing to the Emirati authorities was pointed out throughout the event, with Abdulla Al Karam, director general of KHDA, mentioning the UAE’s minister for happiness and wellbeing on several occasions.

Although he admitted that the issues of mental health cannot be dealt with “just by thinking about it”, it does seem that statistics back up his message and method.

According to a survey by KHDA, “84% of the students [in Dubai] are happy, most of the time,” Al Karam told delegates.

And the recent UK Quality Assurance Agency review of UK TNE delivery in Dubai and Singapore revealed that students are “generally satisfied” with their education – though there are recommendations for improvements, too.

To improve the student experience in UK-Dubai TNE, QAA suggests “primarily [giving] an experience more comparable to that of students studying at the home campus in the UK, including the broad range of student services and extra-curricular activities,” explained Fabrizio Trifiro, QAA’s manager of international projects.

Although student responses to questions on learning environment and assessment showed the strength of Dubai TNE over delivery in Singapore, when the two were compared, a weakness was identified in the relationships between IBC’s and the base campus in the UK.

Students in Dubai are 13% less likely to report satisfaction with the communications between their Dubai campus and the home base institution campus. They also complain of a lack of understanding from the HEIs, culminating in a perceived inability to feedback to the institution.

John Sawkins, pro-vice-chancellor of Heriot-Watt University added: “It gives us and other universities with partnerships in Dubai and Singapore, a better understanding of how transnational students more generally perceive UK higher education, and some of the changes we might want to consider to improve their experience.”

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