Why Students Join Dubai International Universities


In the effort of developing the talent pool and making Dubai a knowledge-driven economy, the city has taken several positive initiatives. Among them is the setting up of Dubai Knowledge Village (DKV), in 2003. Because Dubai’s populations mostly consist of foreigners and about 90% of the workforce in the private sector comes from this group, the policymakers saw they needed to develop a strategic plan that would foster global learning excellence. In 2006 its population grew by 292,000. This indicated that about 24,333 foreigners come into the city every month either seeking opportunities in employment and/or education. Thus in the same year, the city launched the Dubai International Academic City (DIAC), which aimed at making it a global academic destination. Dubai takes education very seriously and considers it to be a key element in developing the talent pool and making its working force more efficient. This is portrayed in its strategic plan for 2015, whereby education and education institutions are among the fundamental considerations (Rodrigues & Jayashree 2009).

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Such effort- the setting up of DKV and DIAK-coupled with the encouraging economic growth in the region and the Government commitment towards linking the developed talent and skill to the employers, has induced a substantial investment in the education sectors by both local and foreign investors. World-class universities from countries such as the U.S.A, Pakistan, Australia, the U.K, and India have recently set up institutions in Dubai. Figures from DIAC indicate, the population of the student has grown to 9,480 in 2008 from 1950 in 2003 and it is expected by 2015 to hit 38,410. Consequently, the number of universities has grown to 18 in 2008 from 4 in 2003 and is likely by 2015 to be 37 (Rodrigues &Jayashree 2009).

With the entire infrastructure and accommodative learning environment, the question therefore that begs; is what factors influence the decision of the student to join the international university in Dubai. Establishing the answer to this question would be very beneficial keeping in mind that already there are several world-class international universities competing for students.

Conceptual Framework

Academic researchers have proposed various theories, which aim at elaborating the college choice decision-making process. Despite the fact that the issue has been considered multifaceted and outright complicated, the existing theories have been able to categorize the factors into 3 models, namely the economic, psychology or sociology, and finally the combined model. However, it is important to note that, despite them being categorized so, they do not operate independently but rather, they are interdependent and in almost all cases assumed the combined model to explain the university/college choice process (Mavondo, Qiu & Lu 2009). One of the earliest models was the one proposed by Chapman in 1981.

According to Chapman (1981), there is a number of psychological factors that affect the choice of college made by a student, the current traits, background, and the family of the student playing the major role. For are a student to prefer one institution over the other, the relationship between the characteristic of the institution and that of the student should be positive. His works in regards to the significant influence external forces, such as family members and friends have on the chosen university is evident among the students in international universities in Dubai. A study conducted by Rodrigues & Jayashree (2009) concluded that family expectation plays a big role in the choice of academic course when the student depends on the parents for financial support. Also in cases whereby the community perceives foreign degrees as more valuable, the family will exert pressure on the selection of the student. By doing so, the family expects its social standing in the community to rise (Rodrigues & Jayashree 2009).

Hanson & Litten (1982) further attributed the dynamism of the influence played by the parent in the student college choice. In their bid to explain the 5-step process a student undergoes in his/her college choice, they made an important conclusion, which explained that, the education level of the parent influence the choice of the student to a greater extent than aspects such as gender and/or race. As clearly portrayed by Rodrigues & Jayashree (2009). Ethnicity in international university at Dubai, play a minor role in choice making. The study concluded that ethnicity in most of these universities is unique and diverse. As matter of fact, the majority of the students are foreigners with about 40% being from Asia, 35 percent from MENA countries, and only a minor 6.1 percent hailing from the U.A.E. Stage & Hossler (1988) added weight to the notion of family role in the choice made. In their study, they explained that important family attributes such as the income level and parents’ education influenced heavily the decision of the student. If the father is more educated he is likely to control the postsecondary plan of his child.

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Despite the fact that some of the earlier suggested models were based on findings from students in the westernized countries, recently there have been positive developments whereby studies have been conducted on students from another part of the world. A more recent study conducted on a student from the Asian community established that the financial ability of a student’s family played a different role across the different ethnic groups (Mavondo, Qiu & Lu 2009). In agreement with earlier studies, Pimpa (2003) denotes that financial support from the family is one of the greatest influences of choice. The financial muscle of the parent determines the choice of the university, the course undertaken, and the decision to either study locally or abroad.

According to Mavondo, Qiu & Lu (2009), the decision to study abroad, among Asians is usually a family-based decision. In most cases, the choice of the student will be widely affected by the recommendation of family members, relatives, and friends. Rodrigues (2009) sites that the influence will be weightier in cases whereby the person recommending an institution graduated from it and enjoyed the experience. The finding of Mavondo, Qiu & Lu (2009) is evident among a substantial number of students in international universities in Dubai. The majority of the student who joined these universities did so as a result of family pressure (Rodrigues & Jayashree 2009).

Like in most parts of the world the cost of higher learning can be relatively expensive especially when one is a self-sponsored student. It is for this reason that many students consider higher learning to be an investment and therefore choose the option they feel will derive maximum return. This decision-making process is considered rational by many academic researchers and is described as the economic model of college choice (Wagner & Fard 2009). Under this model, it is generally assumed that a student will use a range of methods to gauge a college and is the ability to deliver the returns he or she is seeking. The availability of financial aid within a university and its tuition cost is an example of some of the factors a student considers. Students from low-income families will react differently, in regards to cost associated with higher learning, as compared to their counterparts from a high-income earning (Dhesi 2008). According to Dhesi (2008), the economic background of a student will determine the type of activities he or she engages in while in secondary school and therefore impact his/ her post-high school education plans.

However, the decision of students to join the university in Dubai is to acquire skills that will increase their chance of proper employment regardless of their financial background (Rodrigues & Jayashree 2009). But on the other side, most students in these institutions seemed to support Dhesi’s (2008) finding. It is observed that majority of the student who undertakes education as an investment mostly originated from middle-upper class and the rich income group. This according to Wagner, Karl & Fard (2009) might be due to the fact that family plays a major role in setting the expectation of students in terms of appealing opportunities in their careers and relatively attractive income gain after the completion of a college education.

The student’s age is a major influence on the decision-making process, this is particularly evident when the student has to travel from a different nation. Since age is closely connected to the influence the family or friend has, the education level to be undertaken and the source of funding, its implications are varied (Mavondo, Qiu & Lu 2009). Mavondo, Qiu & Lu (2009) elaborated that the age of the international student in universities differs depending on the country of study but mostly ranges between 20 and 30 years. It was also noted that the younger the student is, the harder it becomes to break the psychological and emotional barrier that is associated with the family letting the student travel in pursuit of higher education.

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Research Gap

Exhaustive studies on the source of influence affecting the decision of a student to further their studies in a university have been performed and categorized under the three major theoretical models, namely the economic, sociology and combine model (Wagner, Karl & Fard 2009). However, it is evident that very little such kind of study has been performed on students based at the international universities in Dubai. Most data available on the subject seemed to originate from the west and despite them being signed to a certain extent, it cannot be fully concluded that they address the current situation in the United Arab Emirates.

As mentioned earlier, the number of international universities in Dubai has been on the rise in the recent past (Rodrigues & Jayashree 2009). The commitment of the Government towards education is very encouraging and is expected to continue spurring growth in the sector. Notwithstanding the attractiveness of Dubai as a global destination of learning excellence and thus an influx of international students, the higher learning environment is becoming more and more competitive. This has called for a range of innovative recruitment strategies by the various institutions all in a bid to outdo each other and hence attract more students (Wagner, Karl & Fard 2009).

Mavondo, Qiu & Lu’s (2009) study had suggested that most international students’ choice of university is greatly affected by the means of communication used. They pointed out that despite the international students having diverse means of receiving communication, including newspapers, education agencies, government sources, Internet among others; they still lacked adequate information to make prudent decisions vis-à-vis the choice of course and future employment prospects.

Keeping in mind the high quality of higher learning in Dubai, and the fact that Dubai international universities will have to not only compete against each other but also with the institution in the reputable country, are more detailed research needs to be carried out. One of its kind and very reputable study based on Dubai students is that of Rodrigues & Jayashree (2009). Even though the study was very conclusive in its findings that identified family, relative, and peers group, as the major influence in college choice decision, additional knowledge is needed.

This particular study had focused on the impact of socio-demographic factors. However, as observed from the literature review there are quite a number of factors affecting the decision-making process. It will be therefore beneficial to pretty a number of stakeholders if a study is conducted to address how economic, sociological, and combined factors influence the decision of a student to join an international university with a meticulous focus on Dubai.

Research Methodology

In order to ensure that the data collected is valid and reliable, the proposed research will involve collecting data from a population of global students enrolled in international universities in Dubai. The advantage of doing so is that it will be achievable to gauge whether prior pressure had the final say in the choice of institution the student enrolled in. Necessary data will be collected through the use of a questionnaire. This is due to the fact that this kind of research requires a larger number of respondents to be investigated, therefore making the methodology the best option. Another benefit of using questionnaires is that they are the cheapest option for collecting data. Again the data collected can be easily quantified. On the part of the respondent, their precious time will be saved since the questionnaires will be designed in a way that makes them quick to answer.


Since access to the entire student population is an expensive affair and nearly impossible, it will be prudent to cautiously pick a sample that will derive a credible result. It is expected that this result will reflect the position of the entire population with near 100 percent accuracy. The population comprised of freshman foreign students in 3 reputable international universities in Dubai. From each institution, 150 students will be randomly selected to feature in the sample size. As result, every freshman of the chosen institution has an equal likelihood of being integrated into the sample size.

Data collection method

As pointed out, the proposed research will utilize the primary data collection method mainly focusing on the utilization of questionnaires. A total of 450 questionnaires will be dispatched, 150 going to each of the 3 universities. It is expected that at least 80 percent of the subject will respond to the questionnaire with all the information required. In the worst-case scenario, the response rate is anticipated to be 66.7 percent, which is equivalent to 300 responses. An exclusion allowance of about 150 subjects is maintained in order to caution the researcher against the possibility of the subject either; failing to respond to the information, responding with missing critical information, or with any other mistakes that hinder its value for the purpose of the research.

Since the main purpose of the study is to investigate the factors that influence the decision of the students to join the international university in Dubai. The questionnaire will be designed in 4 parts. The first part will be to determine the personal information of the respondent. Age, gender, country of origin, background education, and institution currently in, among others, will be the type of issues addressed in this part. Subsequently, each of the following parts will measure whether the student’s final decision-making process was incoherent with the suggested models of college choice. This second part of the questionnaire will aim to establish whether, in the process, the factors suggested in the economic model of choice come to play. The following part shall mainly focus on determining the impact on choice status attainment model or those embedded in the sociology and psychology aspects of life, has on the student. Finally, the last part will measure whether it is the factors suggested by the proponent of the combined model that has relatively extra influence.

Data Analysis

For the purpose of scrutiny, the variables will be coded in a way that it would be easy to carry out the data analysis. For example, the independent variable in each of the models will be measured on a scale of one to four. A case in point is whereby a student is asked whether the future employment prospect was the reason as to why he choose to study in the particular university, he is expected to tick in either of the options which include strongly agree, agree, disagree, and strongly disagree. Number one strongly disagrees and number four strongly agrees.

The final data analysis will be conducted in a four-stage process. The initial stage will comprise conducting are descriptive analysis. This will involve describing the distribution and response range of each variable, and also establishing the data skewness. After doing so, the data will be categorized into suitable groups. By recording the data into the four classes namely; age, gender, country of origin, background education, and current institution, it will be much simpler to statically compare the different subgroups. The bivariate analysis will be the next step of data analysis. The main goal of doing so is to critically evaluate whether there is any trend that might suggest an existing relationship between variables. Finally, to certify the research findings, and outdo any discrepancy that might be resulting from a third variable that was not taken into account during the bivariate analysis, Multivariate analysis is conducted. The result derived from this analysis will be more accurate because, unlike the bivariate analysis, it is able to simultaneously analyze more than two variables.


Obviously, there are several factors determining the final decision of the student to enroll in an international university. Previous studies have clearly outlined them, however, there is a very little study based on the Dubai scenario. Therefore, the proposed research will serve a great deal of good to the university, government, education agencies, and all other stakeholders who wish either to increase the number of students enrolled in international universities in Dubai or for any other beneficial purpose.

Reference List

Chapman, D. W. (1981). ‘Student Choice Model,’ Journal of Higher learning Education, pp 495-500.

Dhesi, A. S. (2008). Post–school choice in India. Journal of Education, pp 16-25.

Litten, L. & Hanson P. (1982). ‘Refinement in the student choice model,’ Journal of Higher education, Vol 53, no. 2, pp381-400.

Mavondo, T.F., Qiu, L.L., & Lu Y. (2009). Factors affecting the decision to study overseas In the case of Chinese students, Remin University, China.

Pimpa, O. (2003), Influence of family on Thai student choice. International journal of Higher Education, Vol 17, pp200-218.

Rodrigues, G. & Jayashree, M. (2009). Socio-Demographic Factor as Predictor of the College Choice Process in international universities, University of Wollong, Dubai.

Wagner, Karl & Fard Y. P., (2009). Factor influencing the choice of Higher Learning among Malysian students, University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur.

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