Students in Dubai face university challenge to make new friends


Dubai’s education authority says efforts are being made to address the wellbeing of students.

[Mohamed Shajith, of Manipal University, and Fiona Li, of University of Birmingham, have called for support to improve student wellbeing in Dubai. Antonie Robertson/The National]
Students in Dubai are facing a university challenge to build lives outside of the lecture halls and say more support is needed to improve the well-being of learners.

University-goers who have moved to the UAE to study are calling for more to be done to help students make new friends and feel more at home in the city.

The plea has been echoed by learners who already have roots in the emirate, but would to like broaden their experiences at university.

Some students say they have little opportunity to mix with peers who are not enrolled in the same studies as themselves – and believe more ‘integration” of the university community is required.

The issue was high on the agenda at the Global Education Forum, organised by The Observatory on Borderless Higher Education and the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA), held in Dubai on Sunday.

Mohamed Shajith, a final year student completing his bachelors in technology in computer science and engineering at Manipal University in Dubai, admits he struggles to make friends and socialise with peers outside of his department.

“I have studied here since I was a child and I have made friends through my old friends,” he said.

“If I was a new student who came to UAE, I would make friends through the people I knew in my classes. Apart from that, there wouldn’t be any options.”

“We should have some venues or options where students can interact more with each other than just doing theory or lab work together,” said the Indian resident.

The student said he engages with peers only for studies and lab activities, where the primary goal is to learn and prepare for an examination.

“I am an engineering student and if I wish to interact with a business student there are no options or links for me.

“I don’t want to be limited to just meeting people from an engineering background. It would be good if we had the option of meeting peers from various departments in another setting or environment.”

Fiona Li, from Hong Kong, is completing her MSc in computer science at University of Birmingham Dubai.

Ms Li has been studying abroad since she was 16, having attended high school in the US.

She says university life in Dubai does not compare favourably with that in America.

“I joined the campus halfway through the year,” she said.

“The faculties in the US paired us with several buddies who got us through the day. There were a whole host of activities every single weekend or every single day. Here, there aren’t so many of these activities.”

The student said she would relish the opportunity of taking part in sports activities to help forge friendships across the university campus.

A sports enthusiast, she would engage in sports activities every day in high school which helped her build strong bonds with teammates.

She believes a survey to measure well-being “wouldn’t really help because well-being can’t be seen on paper.”

American Victoria Landa-Steinau chose to study at Hult International Business School because she wanted to embrace a fresh challenge overseas.

“I was excited about this school as it was an American accredited degree that would allow me to study overseas,” she said.

“I was born in the US and lived there my whole life till my last year of university when I studied abroad.

The Utah-born student moved to Dubai a few months ago.

“I would love to have meet-ups with other students and meet people from other parts of Dubai.”

She believes well-being of students should be a bigger priority.

“There could be more integration of happiness in my university, it would help to know that wellbeing is a priority here for the university.

“It doesn’t happen now. I haven’t noticed it.”

The student believes a survey might help to measure levels of happiness of students, and tackle any issues that are highlighted.

“It would be good to ask students what can be done to improve their happiness.”

Dr Warren Fox, head of higher education at Dubai’s education regulator, said they are broadening their student survey to focus on well-being and happiness.

“We are currently making changes to the survey to focus more on student well-being, student happiness and positivity. We are working on that now. We want to ask more of these questions. We haven’t done it before but we will be running it as soon as this spring,” said Dr Fox.

Dr Fox said the authority encourages universities to take a greater interest in their students’ lives away from lesson time.

“Not all are as interested in happiness and well-being. But, some of the universities are moving forward rapidly,” he said.

“Many of our universities are improving activities for students,” he said adding that universities differ in their methods.

“We encourage our campuses to be concerned about student well-being.”

Source: The National