Ah, university! Often touted as the best four years of your life. The place and time where you made friends, where you discovered your passions, where you really became an adult. And one of the most loved parts of university life has to be the dorm experience (or halls of residence or hostels, depending on where you’re from).
Thanks to countless movies and TV shows, dorm life in other parts of the world is well-documented, in fact, you can close your eyes and picture the historic formality of an English hall of residence or the posters and personalisable nature of an American one. But is there a need or even a demand for student housing and accommodation in Dubai?
Higher education in Dubai
According to a 2017 report on Higher Education in Dubai by the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA), Dubai is home to 62 institutions offering higher education programmes – a massive leap from the three that were there 30 years ago. While the majority of these courses are at the undergraduate level, they stem from all over the world, like India, the USA, UK and Australia to name a few, with an equally diverse student population.
The reason for this is hardly surprising, given Dubai’s premier place on the world’s stage and the fact that you can get to most places in the world in under eight hours by plane. This easy accessibility is reflected in the fact that despite the UAE’s higher education industry is far younger than its international counterparts, 56% of incoming students in 2015 – 2016 were expats.
While there is much literature on the courses that are available to students, one issue that may concern incoming students (and their parents) is what actually living in a fast-paced and rapidly growing city would be like – especially as for the majority, it will be their first time away from home.
What is student housing in Dubai?
Several of Dubai’s universities such as Heriot-Watt, Middlesex, University of Wollongong, Emirates Academy and Manipal offer student housing, both on campus (such as the dormitories at Heriot-Watt) and off campus in various locations. For example, students at Middlesex choose from a room in one of 20 luxurious Al Barsha villas; Wollongong students are in Jebel Ali Gardens (or in a serviced TECOM apartment once the former is fully booked) while students at Emirates Academy have residences just off Jumeirah Beach Road, with fabulous views of the Burj Al Arab.
The majority of these residences also come with their fair share of amenities, like sports courts, gyms and swimming pools, wifi, transport to and from campus and in some cases, even airport transfers. While amenities differ slightly, most of the actual rooms are the same, with male and female students occupying different areas. Each student can usually expect to share a room with another student of the same sex (and can request to be with a friend of theirs), and not have to worry about round the clock security or basic furniture such as a bed, desk and chair and in many cases, a kitchenette. What they do have to bring though, is linens, towels and kitchen utensils.
What are the benefits of student housing?
So while the infrastructure looks good on paper, what does life in student housing actually entail?
We spoke to Rayya Al Barazi, Housing Manager at The American University Dubai (AUD), to find out. Having been in the position for 12 years, she is uniquely placed to explain how AUD’s campus accommodation benefits her students. “There are so many advantages living in a community instead of living on their own,” she tells us. Chief amongst these is the fact that there are people to take care of the students – from sophomore, junior and senior Resident Assistants (RAs) living on each floor of the four accommodation buildings, nurses, housing controllers and of course Rayya herself who is hands-on when it comes to resolving any issues that a student might have. As she tells us, some of these issues even include solving roommate disputes – even those arising from long-time friends who have asked to live together!
According to Rayya, the university takes great care to provide plenty of recreational activities for students to enjoy during their time at AUD. RAs frequently organise cultural and other types of events for resident students to really create a healthy community, to provide students with a support network that ultimately results in a beneficial environment that “fosters learning.”
CAMPUS v off-campus
However, with a plethora of housing opportunities in Dubai, surely several students must want to not live in student-specific housing? From her experience, Rayya explains that this is not the case. While she is sometimes approached by students who want to eschew university accommodation (and she does provide them with credible and verified options for apartments and villas in Barsha, Dubai Marina & flats in JLT, many choose to stay on campus – it’s also the closest place to their classes!
The majority of students also choose to stay in student housing for the duration of their programmes. Some have left, but as Rayya says, “they usually come back to us.” As we’ve mentioned before, living on campus gives students a support network that they just wouldn’t get if they were to move off-campus, barring the pastoral care already provided by the university to all students. Student housing and its associated programmes “gives students a chance to be integrated into the community and they’re less likely to drop out” elaborates Rayya.
Interestingly, student housing in Dubai is not just limited to students that are based outside the UAE. “Many of our students come from Abu Dhabi, Sharjah and other emirates” she reveals, adding that the number includes those who live on the outskirts of Dubai and find the commute to campus too long.
As the UAE continues to build on Vision 2021, namely in terms of having a first-rate education system at all levels – from pre-school to higher education – we can only expect that more institutions will offer dedicated student accommodation, while existing providers will seek to up their offering to keep up with the demand. For more information on existing higher education providers in Dubai, we recommend visiting Edarabia for unbiased community reviews and information.