1. Accreditation & recognition
Check for accreditation and recognition. Many institutions have gained accreditation from the UAE Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research (MOHESR) . Some institutions choose not to seek MOHESR accreditation but may be accredited by overseas bodies or organisations. If you plan to work for the UAE government, then you should choose an institution that has MOHESR accreditation. Private companies in the UAE usually do not look for MOHESR accreditation but if you intend to pursue a postgraduate degree at a MOHESR accredited university, then you need to ensure that your bachelor’s degree is also from a MOHESR accredited university.
2. Location/campus size/facilities
Make sure the location of the university is suitable for you in terms of transport and timings. For instance, in Dubai, some universities are in Knowledge Village and others in Dubai International Academic City. There are others scattered around the city. Also, check the campus size and facilities. Websites may use words like ‘vast’, ‘sophisticated’, modern, ‘updated’ etc. and then you will find that the institution is housed in one floor of a building. So visit universities, make sure its location and size are to your satisfaction and then also look at the kind of facilities they have. Insist on visiting classrooms, computer labs, library etc.
Sometimes you may end up choosing a university that is in another emirate or far away from where you live. In this case, if you don’t have your own transport or public transport is not an option for you, find out if the university provides transport. Many universities have buses serving specific areas. If you are from another emirate or another country, ask about accommodation facilities. Even if the university does not have its own hostel, it may well have arrangements to share accommodation with other institutions or help you to find something suitable nearby. A pertinent question would be about visa. Most universities in the UAE should be able to process a student visa. Again, inquire about required documentation, cost and time involved in obtaining a student visa.
4. Check the age of the university.
The longer the university has been established in the UAE, the better. Although new universities may be attractive in terms of variety of courses, or facilities, it is better to choose a university that has a research tradition. Faculties that have been actively conducting research and contributing to academic publications would inevitably add to the high standards of teaching and learning in any institution.
5. Who are the faculty members?
For whatever course you are interested in, check out the faculty members. Check their educational backgrounds and previous professional experiences. If any university website does not make this information readily available, then you need to reconsider. Information about faculties should be accessible.
6. Variety of courses
Look at the range of courses offered by any university. Large universities (with more than 3000 students) may offer a whole array of courses to choose from. Be wary of smaller institutions (around 500 students) offering too many courses. Sometimes, this has meant that a course/module will not be offered in a particular semester because there are too few students enrolled in it. Find out this information before proceeding to enroll in any course. Ask specific questions about schedules because you may find out later that your classes are at night!
7. Look at annual enrollment figures.
It’s important to check out enrollment numbers. For instance, if you see that the university had an enrollment of 1500 students in 2010, then cross-reference to see how many of those graduated in 2013 or 2014. If graduating numbers are significantly lower, this could indicate that the university has a high dropout rate. As the UAE is multi-cultural, check the student population. Some might prefer to attend a university that has a similar ethnic make-up while others might prefer a more multi-cultural environment.
8. Check out university websites.
Is there up to date information about fees, additional costs, entry requirement, course/module content, credit transfer etc. A comprehensive and informative website strongly suggests an efficient and ‘transparent’ application system which should ease your application and enrollment process.
9. Response time to enquiries.
If a pop-up window appears on the website, use it to ask questions. If there is no pop-up window, send an email to the university’s general email and see how long it takes for them respond. A quick response again suggests efficient staff and systems that will help make your application and period of study smooth with minimal stress.
10. Alumni association.
Check to see if the university has an alumni association which is active. Find out how alumni members contribute to the university and in what capacity. Active and involved alumni suggest a university that cares about its ‘community’ and vice versa.
11. Internships and work experiences.
Internships and work experience are crucial demands made by companies nowadays. Check to see if the university organizes internships during study. Which companies is the university partnered with in doing this? Are there jobs available on campus? Does the university have a careers and guidance counsellor?
Explore whether the university offers scholarships. Sometimes websites claim to offer scholarships but then they might only be 20% off tuition fees. Look into types of scholarships, application process, documents and references required. Be wary of institutions that ask you to enroll and pay upfront first and then apply later for a scholarship. If you end up being rejected for a scholarship, you will be stuck paying out of your own pocket. Larger/well known institutions are safer bets in terms of scholarships.
13. Branch campuses – same/different
There are several institutions here which are branch campuses of well-known universities in the UK, Australia and the USA. Do not assume that a branch campus automatically has equal standards to its parent institution. Although, they may claim to offer the same courses and the same teaching and learning standards, you still need to check out branch campuses. Some branch campuses have lower entry requirements compared to their parent universities; locally-recruited faculty with no experience of working at the parent institution; different grading systems; very different completion requirements; limited access to parent university resources/databases.
14. Foundation/general studies
Many institutions here have embraced the American model of Foundation/General studies. Although you may have excellent grades in Mathematics and English, you might be forced to take a Foundation course merely because it is compulsory for all students. You could waste up to two semesters doing subjects that are of little value to you. Some universities ‘persuade’ students to leave school at Grade 11 and join a Foundation year. Be warned that if you do this, you might suffer the consequences later when you want to pursue a postgraduate degree in the west. You might be asked to prove that you have completed 12 years of schooling.
15. Academic support/writing centre
Many new undergraduate students and parents alike tend to overlook this essential aspect. Explore the level of support the university offers to new students. Are workshops on academic skills, using the library efficiently, time management skills etc.? Is there a writing centre at the university? Who manages it? An institution that has a writing centre with peer tutoring usually indicates that it has a tradition of supporting students throughout their studies. Visit the Writing Centre and look at the layout, location, arrangement etc.
16. Policy sharing
Apart from admission requirements and course information, are the student handbook and particular policies on academic honesty etc. readily available on the university website? Transparent policies strongly indicate efficiency in student management systems. For example, it might help to find out if the university has a minimum attendance policy, changing courses or requesting for extensions for assignments. Although student policies seem mundane, they are actually powerful in protecting the rights of individual students.
17. Social media – facebook/twitter activities, university events
Check any university’s facebook/twitter page. It is important to check if the institution is keeping up with the current social media trends. An institution that has a FB page that only contains graduation photos from 2 years ago implies that it is short-staffed or has a limited budget allocated for marketing or PR. This may not affect quality of courses but for some students, it is important to go to a well-known university and not one that has never been heard of. Additionally, it will be interesting to see if there is a ‘conversation’ between students and staff and what this conversation is mostly about!
This may seem petty but it is important to see who the Chancellor, Vice-Chancellor, Registrar/Bursar, Deans are as this information reflects the leadership quality of the institution. High turnover of staff at management level could suggest that there are serious problems with leadership which could impact the general learning environment and indirectly affect students. As most people are on contracts in the UAE, you need to ensure that you are not in a place where lecturers/professors leave mid-semester to join another institution or return to their home countries.
19. Employment rate
Most universities in the UAE are proud of the employment rate of their graduates and use that information to market programmes on their respective websites. Check to see graduates from which courses/programmes are being employed, with which companies and at what levels. Sometimes universities just give statistical information like 80% employment rate but if no other information is available, then tread carefully. Sometimes, this % includes graduates who were already employed when they joined the university as they could have been working and studying!
20. Technology/online learning
Again, many students only bother to find this out after enrollment. It is important to find out what learning management system is being used by the university and to what capacity. Are there online courses available? Are assignments submitted and graded online? Is there an online learing support unit at the university? Without a proper support unit, no staff will be readily available for help if you have problems with the learning management system and this could affect your grades.