Imagine a place so different but somehow still faintly familiar; everywhere you turn your head, there exists different people from different backgrounds, but you’re still bound by one thing – pride of the green and white. The atmosphere is fun, young, exciting and new. You are surrounded by buildings with common themes, but within each, there is a different story to be learned. You leave class and sit on a nearby bench catching the breeze off a tall water fountain, glancing out at a palm trees and sandy paths. [dubai1]
Minus the sand and palm trees, it sounds a lot like MSU in East Lansing. Believe it or not, MSU is bringing the sand and palm trees to its campus – its new campus in Dubai. Dubai is located in the Eastern Arabian Peninsula, where it is one of the seven regions making up the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Quite simply, Dubai is a part of the Middle East, but this Middle East is different from the one most see on TV. Here exists a place appropriately named the International Academic City – home to MSU’s latest development: MSU in Dubai.
In the early 1990s, Dubai was anything but the remarkable, fast-growing, economically stable place it has come to be. In fact, MSU would have been better off looking to build a new campus branch nearly anywhere else. However, as the ‘90s progressed, especially after the Persian Gulf War, many big businesses, first from the Middle East and then internationally, began looking for a place to rebuild an economic surge. Now almost two decades later, Dubai is quickly becoming one of the fastest growing areas in the Middle East, and MSU has decided to get in on the growth.
MSU has been working on a concept on and off for about 10 years to create a branch of its own in the Middle East. However, according to Dr. John Hudzik, vice president of Global Engagement and Strategic Projects, it has taken some time to find the right place with the same goals in mind as MSU. Hudzik said the investment had to meet four main criteria: a financial agreement that allowed MSU to avoid using its funds to create the project, insurance that MSU could maintain complete academic control over its school in Dubai, certainty that the quality of the programs offered in Dubai would match the quality of programs in East Lansing, and reassurance that admissions policies would remain as inclusive as they are in East Lansing.
[simon]”We wanted them to know this wasn’t simply a business deal; it is for the benefit of Dubai and MSU,” said MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon.
President Simon also wishes to empower more than just MSU with the initiative in Dubai. Her hope is that by creating strong ties in the Middle East, economic potential will be brought back to an otherwise discouraged state.
The placement of MSU within Dubai’s International Academic City is equally as crucial. The Academic City has already expressed its potential by letting other universities from parts of Europe and Australia break ground. MSU will be the first university from North America to join the City. In addition, a good share of Fortune 500 companies have established themselves in Dubai as well, making accessibility to jobs and working world experience that much closer for students attending MSU’s campus in Dubai.
But Dubai officials must be aware that while jobs are important, there is something else to a college education that must be present. “The advantage [for students] of placing it in the International Academic City is that [Dubai] is planning to create a library of significant size, include student support functions to provide a real campus feel and so on,” Simon said.
MSU in Dubai plans to offer its programs to MSU students, as well as to students from Dubai; through a series of phases, the university in Dubai will eventually incorporate an exchange program where the amount of MSU students going to Dubai will equal the number coming from Dubai to MSU. The university plans to offer the equivalent of an original MSU bachelor’s degree or master’s degree, with programs ranging from computer engineering to media management and research to hospitality business.
The one-two punch of living and learning in a rapidly growing city means there must be something in it for Dubai as well. “They wanted a top-ranked university [that] was well known around the world for many aspects, including a research facility,” Hudzik said. One of Dubai’s most notable motives for allowing a North American university to establish itself there is also the competitive edge its students and employees will be able to gain by obtaining an American degree, according to Hudzik.[dubai2]
Upon the completion of construction, responsibility for financial aspects will be turned over to a holding company of Dubai, TECOM, who has not only provided the start-up money to build MSU in Dubai, but has also built most of the International Academic City. Starting classes, the first phase of the Dubai initiative, is expected to begin this fall. Initially, MSU will be recruiting students in Dubai, and MSU study abroad programs to Dubai will follow shortly after.
While President Simon does not believe the Dubai branch’s eight programs will ever grow to the 200ish programs seen here in East Lansing, she does anticipate growth nonetheless, based on what people in Dubai are asking for. However, given that the Academic City is growing at a rate far quicker than even MSU can envision, the development of more programs may not be too far in the future. “There is a very significant difference between MSU’s time to do something and Dubai’s time to do something,” Hudzik said. Simon elaborated on this thought, saying “[Dubai] is prepared to let development be rapid.”
In order to ensure the programs taught in Dubai are of the same caliber as those in East Lansing, the Dubai branch will host strictly MSU faculty, both members already at MSU or those that would otherwise qualify as MSU professors. Interviews are currently in process for professors willing or asked to move for next fall.
As with any program here, students in Dubai will be expected to fulfill university core requirements in order to obtain their degrees. Offering a wide variety of core classes opens up many opportunities for MSU students interested in studying abroad in Dubai. Tuition for study abroad programs is still being discussed. “I would hope there would be a lot of cultural opportunities and culturally-inspired aspects to studying in Dubai,” said Katie Ozog, a social relations and policy and communication sophomore. “It’s a culture very different from our own, so it would give the full study abroad experience.”
Dubai is hoping to give just that to American students. The initiative has come a long way from the first serious discussion of the matter a year and a half ago, but it is quickly moving to become quite possibly one of the biggest ventures not just for MSU, but also the state of Michigan. Nevertheless, the ventures abroad, Simon encouraged, are “an important part of becoming a dynamic citizen. [This] is a way to more fully engage students, both undergraduate and graduate.” [dubai3]
As you look at your watch (there is no Beaumont Tower), it’s time to go. You see a friend on your way to IAH, chat for a bit and then part ways. Then it occurs to you: there’s something else that Dubai has in common with East Lansing. This is a history-in-the-making, never get the chance to do it again experience. So fight for the only colors, green and white…with pride in Dubai.