Finding affordable higher education options in Dubai seems increasingly difficult with private universities cashing in on a growing demand in the region.
Most private universities in Dubai start offering courses at an annual price of Dh35,000. The course fee varies from university to university, with bigger universities having dedicated branch campuses charging a higher price for degrees offered here.
Universities fear speaking out against the rental policies of the education free zones and most are willing to only provide ‘off-the-record’ information citing cases of rental dispute with the free zone as an example.
Amity University is among the few universities expanding aggressively in Dubai. The group which has campuses in London, Singapore, Mauritius and India believes being in Dubai has its advantages.
Atul Chauhan, president — Amity Education Group, said, “Dubai is an extraordinary city but the manpower and rental costs are very high. It is even higher than London when it comes to these costs. Both rental and human resources contribute to a significant chunk of our operating costs.”
Higher education in Dubai’s education free zones  is regulated by the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA). Their message for universities and higher education institutions is clear.
Higher Education executive director of the KHDA Dr Warren Fox said: “We do not monitor fees as this is regulated by the market forces. However, we require institutions to list their fees with the KHDA so that they can be published on the KHDA website. Unlike schooling, higher education is not mandatory and is decided upon by the consumer.”
While the government policy provides a mandate for universities to operate in a free-market economy, students have no choice but to comply with fee requirements of universities, even if course fees are increased annually.
Universities are quick to blame rents in education free zones like Dubai International Academic City (DIAC) and Dubai Knowledge Village (DKV) as a reason for the increased cost of education. When contacted, TECOM Education cluster which manages the education free zones, refused to divulge any information on exact rental charges for universities.
A spokesperson from TECOM Education cluster said, “Our rental rates vary, and depend on the individual needs of our business partners and the type of activities and programmes being delivered by that institution.”
While clear information on rents was not made available, the spokesperson hinted rental rates at Academic City were lesser when compared to business parks like Dubai Knowledge Village, Dubai Media City and Dubai Internet City.
“Like in any other real estate market anywhere in the world, prices are dictated by supply and demand of that market,” added the spokesperson.
In a place where universities are deemed ‘business partners’ and students are treated as a commodity, Dubai’s attempt to position itself as a regional education hub could be jeopardised if measures aren’t taken to regulate the higher education market.