Almost 6 in 10 respondents (58%) to the survey, which was completed by students, educators and parents, believe that not enough is being done to help students make the transition to life away from home.
Topping the list of areas where students are thought to be unprepared include "basic life skills" (76% of those who think students are unprepared), and the "freedom in self-planning" (75%). One out of two respondents think students do not have the essential study skills for university, and 46% believe fresh UAE students are unprepared for the academic rigors of university courses.
The need for greater preparation for students in their jump from school to university life has been recognized in most parts of the world and is not specifically a UAE issue.
Reports in the UK, Australia, the US, Canada... (we could go on) have regularly noted the shortcomings of first year students within university, both academically (particularly in sciences), and in the sudden life freedoms that university students enjoy.
However, it is widely accepted, by UAE parents at least, that the UAE, as one of the world's safest countries, does make the transition to international campus life significantly more of a leap.
Students: Misplaced Confidence?
Drilling into the numbers does reveal an anomaly however: One of the four groups polled (parents, educators, students preparing to go to university and students actually at university) is an exception to the thinking that students are unprepared - UAE students at university.
UAE students already at university are the most confident of those polled, and the only group where a majority (55.6%) believing they do actually have the life and academic skills for university life.
The least confident group are those students preparing to go, with 75% thinking they do not.
The second most confident group are parents, who seem to place more trust in their children than educators who either send the students, or who receive them.
In total, 70% of educators believe students are unprepared for their first year of university life.
Closing the gap?
Asking schools to take responsibility for basic life skills is perhaps a stretch too far, no matter the school fees parents in the UAE pay.
This responsibility falls squarely on the shoulders of parents themselves, as this article by Agnes Holly argues. The article also provides some helpful tips on how you can prepare your son or daughter for their first taste of real independence. Clearly it is just the starting point, but we think a good one to get you going.
Academically, UAE schools have a greater role to play. The real issue here is the skills necessary to pass school examinations do not necessarily include the critical reasoning skills demanded by Year 1 of university.
In this regard, A Levels (SATs, CBSE, etc) need an overhaul and this has been recognized. Changes to A’ Levels, for example, have been recommended, and include the addition of specific academic skills such as researching, essay-writing and referencing, and the wider skills of problem solving, analysis and critical thinking.
Before these changes are made (changes to A' Levels will start to be introduced in 2015), schools can of course choose to take a higher ground, and not just to be exam factories.
This is actually harder than it sounds with everyone (including WhichSchoolAdvisor.com) trying to determine performance of schools 'objectively'. It is even harder in the UAE which lacks a "value added" metric.
It is moreover completely understandable that schools want to do well by their students (and themselves) in external examinations, are pressured into this by parents and students alike, and that exam technique and past paper work is key to this.
However schools ultimately exist to teach children not what to think, but how to think. In the final analysis, it is up to them to impart the one piece of knowledge they can give that will last long after details of the periodic table have been forgotten.
Note: Some syllabus claim to be significantly better at developing critical reasoning and organisational skills than others. IB, for example, very much puts out its stall here...
UAE Universities Fail to Make the Grade
Students Failed Before Arrival at University?
UAE Schools Fall Short on University Guidance
University, and Parent Fears
University: Parent's Pay, But Don't Decide
About the Survey
WhichSchoolAdvisor.com ran its University survey through the month of February, and collected just under 250 responses from educators, students and parents.
WhichSchoolAdvisor's research team runs surveys regularly on its web site. If you have an idea for a survey you would like us to consider, please contact [email protected].