DUBAI—International branch campuses in Dubai, which has one of the world’s largest collections of such university outposts, face an uncertain future in the wake of Covid-19.
With high rents and reduced enrollment rates, the universities are being forced to offer students financial incentives, while also showing flexibility on entry standards for secondary-school graduates who had their examinations canceled this year.
A large share of the 17 university branch campuses’ student base comes from the United Arab Emirates, often as high as 90 percent, but a significant number of students still come from other countries in the region, especially India and Pakistan, though increasingly from the former Soviet states and Africa too.
The number of campuses had already dwindled in recent years, from a high once over 25. Many of the campuses concentrate on a limited number of academic offerings, including an over-supply of business programs.
Branch campuses such as India’s Amity University, Scotland’s Heriot-Watt University and Australia’s Murdoch University mostly attract students who cannot afford to study abroad or whose families prefer to keep them close to home in Dubai. They are often the children of expatriate workers from India and Pakistan, many of whom now find themselves in a precarious financial situation following the widespread salary cuts and job losses that Covid-19 has caused in the emirates.
Extra Costs for Campuses
Murdoch University has been operating in Dubai for eight years, but instruction has been online only since early March, when the U.A.E. government ordered schools, colleges and universities to close their campuses to students. It had just four days to transition to online programming.
The university recently spent several million dollars setting up a new campus in Dubai’s Knowledge Park, a more central location than its previous base at Academic City on the city’s borders. That huge investment is now sitting empty and might remain so for some time while the government draws up new teaching regulations. In the meantime, the university has its usual expenses and is having to spend more on online learning, IT infrastructure and bandwidth.