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UNITED ARAB EMIRATES: Education is latest addition to Abu Dhabi's master plan

July 21, 2009 |  9:28 am

Downtown.rendering_smAbu Dhabi is looking to bolster its educational credentials, opening New York University's newest campus next fall alongside cultural landmarks such as the Louvre Abu Dhabi and a new Guggenheim on Saadiyat Island.

NYU Abu Dhabi is one of several ambitious projects that the emirate has funded as part of its  2030 Initiative, a multibillion dollar plan to put itself at the forefront of several industries. Abu Dhabi has been propelling its profile more than its neighboring emirate Dubai, a glittery symbol of oil-funded development in recent years. 

Currently Qatar leads the Gulf States in educational ventures. A development outside Doha dubbed Education City is home to several  American universities including elite private universities such as Georgetown and Northwestern and public universities such as Virginia Commonwealth and Texas A&M.

The gulf universities are touting themselves as equals of their home campuses rather than franchises or affiliates abroad. Both curriculum and diplomas are identical to the main campuses. Schools that open in  the emirate are required to grant diplomas equivalent to those received by American students. NYU President John Sexton went so far as to say that students will be free to move among NYU’s schools in Manhattan and abroad.

But reproducing selective schools in the gulf is not without its difficulties, as the Abu Dhabi-based newspaper the National reports. Average test scores for accepted students tend to be lower than their American counterparts. George Mason and Yale both abandoned plans to open schools in the Emirates, citing they could not meet the government's requirements to open a branches there. In Connecticut, Yale President Richard Levin said, “We don’t want to offer degrees unless we can essentially staff the courses with a faculty that is of the same quality and distinction as the one here in New Haven.” 

In New York, students raised several concerns about the new campus. Worker rights, rights for gay and lesbian students and intellectual freedom were among a host of issues students expressed doubts about. The issue of worker rights was also brought up by Human Rights Watch, mentioning NYU by name.

Sexton assured students that it is NYU that has the leverage. “NYU isn’t spending a nickel. … Once we’re in, it would be a nightmare to them if we pulled out.”

-- Jahd Khalil in Beirut 

Photo: A rendering of NYU Abu Dhabi's campus Credit: NYU website