Growing Demand for Education Hubs Creating Regional Destinations

There is little doubt that the UAE’s unerring commitment to innovation was one of the highlights of 2015. But the year will also be remembered as one when Educational tourism rose to prominence.

The evolution of the transnational student – those who are willing to travel abroad in order to pursue higher education degrees and aren’t bound by geographical borders – has resulted in many cities vying aggressively for international placements.

The transnational student market in Dubai is among the fastest growing in the world, expanding by 15% in the last few years, with revenues reaching $148 million, according to research from the Parthenon Group.

A recent development in the higher education sector has been the introduction of Education Hubs, centres where groups of multi-tiered universities from multiple nationalities are located. These hubs encourage the sharing of expertise, stimulate student and staff exchange, and promote research and development practices.

A great example in this context is Dubai International Academic City, a hub with 25 universities from 9 different nationalities and over 25,000 students. Since its inception in 2007, South Korea and Malaysia have followed suit with their own Education Zones, catering to the needs of the surrounding markets.

These Education Hubs are pivotal in establishing attractive destinations for transnational students and the resulting economic benefit for entire regions can be significant. A recent development in this area has been the noticeable shift towards emerging markets, away from the traditional “Big 4” of Higher Education locations like the UK, US, Australia and Canada.  Transnational Students are now able to attend an international university without travelling to the university’s home campus. This is a critical piece of the puzzle in terms of establishing an Education Hub.

Making your education destination one that is desirable to the transnational student demands a fresh an innovative approach that makes your particular hub stand out from the crowd. Regions must learn how to attract and retain students by providing affordable housing, a lower cost of living, as well as ensuring ease of visa issuance. Providing infrastructure that supports these hubs is also important in generating interest with transnational students.

In short, we must remove the barriers to entry for higher education.

The growing number of transnational students are being prepared for the modern business environment. Upon graduation, these students will have gained precious international exposure, while also generating real life international business experience. Students today are increasingly looking abroad for an education experience that stretches beyond the classroom, one that widens horizons and improves their employment prospects on their return home.

Responding to the needs of industry is essential in ensuring that all students enter the workforce with the necessary skills to support a country’s development and economic growth. For the UAE, a good guide are the seven national priorities of the country’s National Innovation Strategy: Renewable energy, transportation, education, health, technology, water and space. Large-scale events such as Dubai Expo 2020 will require thousands of workers from a wide range of industries such as tourism and hospitality, construction, and transport and logistics. Dubai’s quest to become the centre of the Islamic economy will also necessitate a growing number of financial service industry professionals.

Establishing an Education hub is just the beginning of the journey. Promoting and supporting these learning centres is a collaborative effort and requires buy-in from not just students and Universities, but also the wider business community and government.

Ultimately Education hubs, no matter where they are, must be innovative in order to be successful. Today’s ever increasingly globalised world where students can chose any number of countries to study in makes this so. Transnational students will represent the benchmarks for innovation – global students who travel around the world and from a young age are already experienced in international business. The future of education starts here.