>Gulf bid to buy in Western schools doomed to fail – ArabianBusiness.com

Posted on February 3, 2011 by



The Gulf’s model of luring elite Western colleges to the region is fundamentally flawed as universities are failing to match their courses and costs to the local market, an expert has said.
Robert Lytle, co-head of US consultancy Parthenon Group’s Education Centre of Excellence, said state-backed education cities – such as those seen in Dubai, Qatar and Saudi Arabia – were “vanity projects” with little real relevance to local employment needs.
 “Knowledge cities become a prestige initiative for governments and they look for brand names to come in that are not connected with the degree offerings that the local market place has,” he said in an interview in Dubai.
“These are very difficult schools to get into. It’s a very academically focused, intellectual experience, [and] many people aren’t seeking that experience. Many are seeking real employability skills training, things they can take and immediately use and get on with.”
The Gulf has seen a marked rise in the export of western education in recent years. Today, the region is home to a string of top-ranked foreign schools including Ivy League colleges Weill Cornell and Georgetown University in Qatar.
Lytle said universities may be tempted by hefty funding packages and fail to think through the implications of setting up an overseas campus.
“They get a lot of funding upfront. Eventually, though the funding starts to tail away,” he said. “The host university back in the home country sees the finances bleeding year-after-year, they see it failing to achieve the scale and attracting a student body that would make them feel uncomfortable and eventually they shut down.”
The UAE has seen a number of foreign schools shut down after failing to attract enough students and funding.
Michigan State University closed its Dubai campus in July after losing millions of dollars over its two year stint, while George Mason University shut its Ras Al Khaimah campus in 2009.
More universities are likely to follow suit, said Lytle, as schools struggle to attract students.
“They [universities] don’t often pay enough fundamental attention to supply-demand… and they don’t really get what the right offering and right price point is,” he said.  
The comparison would be opening a hotel without confirming there was enough demand to fulfil the rooms, he said.
Instead, Gulf government should focus on buying in midmarket colleges that offer lower-priced degrees better matched to the local marketplace.
Homegrown universities also have a role to play in tailoring their courses to the employment needs of the local economy, Lytle said.
“Within the region, there are too many elite institutions and they require continuous support. There’s probably a decent balance of the next tier foreign universities, maybe a few more [could be introduced], but not too much,” he said.
“The real task is probably going to have to come off the back of the local universities.”


Posted in: Middle East