UK universities are missing a "golden opportunity" to set up campuses in the Middle East's Gulf states, according to an expert on higher education there.
Chris Davidson is concerned that UK universities are not making the most of a massive opportunity to move into the region's growing higher education market for fee-paying students and says the UK needs to act quickly if it is to capitalise on the market ahead of the US.
"There is a golden opportunity inextricably linked to very fresh demands for a knowledge economy," said Dr Davidson, a lecturer at Durham's School of Government and International Affairs who has acted as a consultant for the Dubai Government.
Speaking to The Times Higher ahead of a conference to be held on higher education in the Gulf Co-operation Council States (Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia) in London next week, Dr Davidson highlighted opportunities in the UAE capital - Dubai - and Qatar, which have both built large dedicated education zones for foreign universities to operate in.
He said that, although Middlesex and Heriot-Watt universities had opened campuses in the Dubai Government-backed "Knowledge Village" and "Academic City", none of Britain's top universities had taken up the challenge. "It needs to be done as soon as possible if the UK is not to lose out. There will be a major US university in the UAE within one to two years, maximum," Dr Davidson said.
Meanwhile, the Qatar Government-backed "Education City" on the outskirts of the capital Doha includes five US university campuses but no British presence.
Dr Davidson said Gulf countries were keen to position themselves as knowledge economies in the post-oil future and so wanted more of their citizens educated to degree level in traditional subjects. "It is all the degree subjects you would associate with a classical education in Britain," he said. They are also keen to attract "education tourists" from North Africa and Asia who had a cultural affinity with the Gulf, he added.
But Dr Davidson warned that universities should also "do their homework" because there were significant risks. He said they needed to get financial plans right and research what courses would be best.
Ruth Moir, head of Heriot-Watt's University of Dubai campus, said the university was focusing its courses on what the Government said it wanted for the region: "It is challenging to set up a campus in another country, both organisationally and culturally, but Dubai is an excellent location."
She added that the campus would accommodate 650 international paying students in the 2007-08 academic year and was expecting the venture to be profitable in the long term.
Conference on Higher Education in the Gulf Cooperation Council States, November 13, London Middle East Institute, www.lmei.soas.ac.uk
UK AND US CAMPUSES IN THE GULF
Qatar Education City:
Virginia Commonwealth University (1998);
Weill Cornell Medical College (2001);
Carnegie Mellon (2004);
Texas A&M (2003);
Georgetown University School of Foreign Service (2005).
Dubai Knowledge Village/Academic City: