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Cash incentives for university students

Melanie Swan

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ABU DHABI // As the number of universities continues to grow, some institutions are turning to cash incentives to try to attract the best students.

At Abu Dhabi Polytechnic, which launched in September with courses including nuclear and semiconductor technology, monthly allowances proved invaluable in attracting its first batch of students.

The polytechnic hasabout 150 trainee technicians and offers all students Dh4,000 a month for the first six months. Whether they continue to receive the grant after that depends on their grades. A-grade students with a grade-point average (GPA) of 3.7 or higher, will receive Dh5,000 a month, while those at the bottom get Dh2,500.

The polytechnic's director, Dr Ahmed Alawar, hopes the incentive will encourage students to study hard and improve the current C-grade average.

"We are competing for students with the local and private universities, so in order to secure them, we needed to give them an incentive to come to us."

In the longer term, he hopes the polytechnic will be able to sell itself on its unique courses and guaranteed jobs after graduation.

A similar scheme has long been used at the Petroleum Institute, which trains staff for the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (Adnoc). Since the 1970s, Adnoc has awarded scholarships to top students at universities around the world, paying their living costs and tuition fees, to help them study specialist subjects key to the oil and gas industry.

Similar schemes are also offered by the Abu Dhabi Education Council (Adec), the Ministry of Presidential Affairs and the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority.

For those travelling abroad, benefits include cash grants - up to Dh22,000 a month with the Ministry of Presidential Affairs - as well as extras such as flights home.

In return, graduates are obliged to work for a certain number of years for a related government entity after finishing their course.

Khalifa University's master's students in nuclear engineering are sponsored by the Emirates Nuclear Energy Company. They too receive living costs, rent, tuition fees and a stipend. Dr Philip Beeley, the head of the programme, said this had been earmarked back in 2008, in a fund supported by the Abu Dhabi Government, in preparation for the opening of the emirate's nuclear plants, which are due to begin operation in 2017.

"It's not a case of us having to compete with other universities, in or out of the UAE, but the main challenge in the UAE is that there's a small pool of people and we all want them," he said.

"We want the best students as well. Our entry requirements are very tough so we're only looking at a certain percentage of the population who could even achieve the grades required for entry."

Both Emirati and foreign students at the Masdar Institute receive monthly grants, housing and have their tuition paid. "We wanted the best and the brightest," said its provost, Professor Joseph Cecchi. "That was part of the incentive to do that."

Such incentives need to come direct from universities, says Prof Cecchi, because the UAE lacks the funding institutes available to postgraduate students in the US.

The overarching aim, according to Dr Nabil Ibrahim, the chancellor of Abu Dhabi University, is to encourage more Emiratis to pursue education in areas such as engineering, applied sciences and medicine. "It is an experiment that other countries use to build national capacity and meet the workforce needs for economic development," he said.

But Dr Natasha Ridge, the head of research at the Al Qassimi Foundation For Policy Research in Ras Al Khaimah, warns that incentives are not a long-term solution, as they fail to address the root problems.

Boys are a particular concern, she said, as many are lured from school into well-paid jobs in the army and police, discouraging them from education. In federal institutions, only 30 per cent of students are male.

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