Life On An American Campus In The UAE The United Arab Emirates has attracted a slew of U.S. schools that are eager to scoop students who want an American degree. Michigan State in Dubai has about 100 students who come from all over South Asia and the Arab world. And in Abu Dhabi, an NYU outpost could change the definition of an overseas campus.
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Life On An American Campus In The UAE

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Life On An American Campus In The UAE

Life On An American Campus In The UAE

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

We heard yesterday about how the Persian Gulf nation of Qatar is attracting top American and other Western universities to set up satellite campuses. Well, nearby in the United Arab Emirates, the boom is even bigger. The country has 40 branch campuses from all over the world. It's a huge undertaking to set up these sites. And schools are learning the challenges of bringing the American college experience to the Middle East.

NPR's Larry Abramson has the second of two reports.

LARRY ABRAMSON: In Dubai International Academic City in the United Arab Emirates, a typical group of students is sitting and chatting in a common area.

ABRAMSON: Where are you guys from?

Unidentified Woman #1: Pakistan and Tunis.

ABRAMSON: And you?

Unidentified Man #1: Iran.

Unidentified Man #2: From India.

Unidentified Man #3: Kyrgyzstan.

Unidentified Woman #2: I was born and raised here, but I'm a Pakistani by original.

ABRAMSON: Students come from all over South Asia and the Arab world, drawn by the chance to attend Western universities while living at home with family in Dubai. Noncitizens here cannot attend local universities and since 70 percent of the population is foreign born, the demand is huge.

Brendan Mullan, dean of Michigan State University in Dubai, says the benefit for students is pretty clear.

Mr. BRENDAN MULLAN (Dean, Michigan State University in Dubai): We are a major American university. The students are admitted to Michigan State University. The parents and indeed the students see a very viable advantage in being able to capitalize upon an unrestrained American education locally.

ABRAMSON: Mullan, who originally hails from Northern Ireland, used to teach at the East Lansing campus of Michigan State where many of the 47,000 students live on campus. Here there are only about 100 students and only 20 of them live in dorms that are located half an hour away in an anonymous housing block. So, in addition to setting up this campus and luring faculty to this part of the world, Brendan Mullan has to create some social glue here.

Mr. MULLAN: We don't want to be a commuter school. We want the students to engage in a student activity. We already have established student athletic teams. We have a football team. We have an aspiring cricket team.

ABRAMSON: Michigan State also faces huge competition. There are 28 schools based in countries from Pakistan to Australia that have branch campuses in this facility alone. So this Midwestern school has to differentiate itself.

Mr. MIKE DEVEREUX (President, Middle East Operations, General Motors): More than half of our sales now come outside the United States. The U.S. only accounts for about 35 percent of our unit volume.

ABRAMSON: That's Mike Devereux, president of Middle East operations for General Motors. He came to speak to students recently about GM's stake in the region. Dean Brendan Mullan says MSU's roots in a struggling manufacturing state make it even more important for the school to expand overseas.

Mr. DEVEREUX: Over the last two years I have received numerous delegation visits from Michigan, all of whom see the long-term advantage in being engaged in the global economic stage.

ABRAMSON: This school has itself been hit by the downturn, which slowed expected enrollment here. But Michigan State says this is the place to be. The school hopes one day to accommodate 800 students in Dubai. As bold as that plan may be, just up the road, a rival U.S. school is working on something even grander.

(Soundbite of birds)

ABRAMSON: Birds chirp amid construction cranes in downtown Abu Dhabi, one emerit over from Dubai. They are enjoying the green space of the exquisitely groomed and generously watered garden belonging to New York University Abu Dhabi. Starting in the fall, Vice Chancellor Al Bloom says that this will be the site not of a branch campus, but of a full-fledged global university.

Mr. AL BLOOM (Vice Chancellor, New York University Abu Dhabi): It will be connected to NYU New York and NYU's other 15 sites around the world.

This will be our faculty offices and dean offices and a lot of the deans and faculty are in New York right now.

ABRAMSON: Bloom shows me around this brand new facility built and paid for by the local emir. And these are just temporary digs until the government here builds an even more splendid home on Saadiyat Island, where the neighbors will be local versions of the Guggenheim and Louvre museums. As an example of the potential of New York University's global connections, Bloom points to the professor who designed the garden for the new campus.

Mr. BLOOM: She's actually taking one of our January term courses next year. It will be the study of gardens and she's taking a group of students to India to compare sort of universal conceptions of gardens, Arabic conceptions of gardens and Indian conception of gardens.

ABRAMSON: For all of the doors this location opens up, it closes some as well. Bloom says students and faculty from Israel will still face the difficulty of getting a visa to the UAE.

Mr. BLOOM: This is a difficult issue and we are recruiting around the world, but the students have to meet the requirements for obtaining a visa and for entry into the UAE.

ABRAMSON: The loud noise of NYU's landing might be enough to scare away competitors with less money, and that might be wise. Many American schools moved into Japan in the 1980s. Most failed and had to fly back home. And just last year, George Mason University abandoned an effort in the United Arab Emirates.

So, while the Middle East remains fertile ground for these experiments, the risk of failure is still high.

Larry Abramson, NPR News, Washington.

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