Graphic by Brittany Trilford/The Gazelle

Emirati Perspectives on NYUAD

Four years into its establishment in the UAE, NYU Abu Dhabi is making a name for itself in the community. What do Emirati youth think about NYUAD’s ...

Oct 5, 2013

Graphic by Brittany Trilford/The Gazelle
Four years into its establishment in the UAE, NYU Abu Dhabi is making a name for itself in the community. What do Emirati youth think about NYUAD’s role in the city? The Gazelle set to find out, drawing on five Emirati voices from around the UAE.
NYUAD’s appeal
When NYUAD opened in 2010, Emirati students and families were looking forward to the implications of its presence in Abu Dhabi. It was not the first American institution to establish itself in the UAE, as the American University of Dubai and the American University of Sharjah came to the area more than ten years ago. Nonetheless, New York University was accompanied by its globally recognized reputation and its high standards of education.
“In my heart, I really wanted to go to NYU,” said Abdulrahman Al Habsi, a recent graduate of Zayed University. “Because it’s a good university, it’s well-known around the world, it [has] good teachers, good staff members, good courses. You know, if you really value education, you would want to go to a good university like NYU.”
Al Habsi was one of last year’s participants in the Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Scholars Program, a year-long leadership course for UAE university students taught by NYUAD faculty.
“[NYUAD faculty] could have gone anywhere. But they came to Abu Dhabi, which is something I really appreciate and I’m really happy about,” said Al Habsi.
Another appealing aspect of NYUAD is the possibility of intercultural exchange. Alya Al Mansoori, a freshman at American University of Sharjah, recognized this as a reason for applying to NYUAD.
“I think Khalifa and Zayed [are each] more like a local university, so many locals there,” Al Mansoori said. “I wanted to engage in different nationalities and different cultures.”
Her parents were very supportive of the idea. When Al Mansoori was not accepted to NYUAD, she admits she was disappointed.
Lastly, while the American educational system may not be new to the UAE, the particular combination of social and academic interests at NYUAD is unique to the university.
Doaa Abdulnasser, a recent graduate from Abu Dhabi University, emphasized this point.
 “If I had a choice before, I would go for NYU because I think they have a better … social life,” she said.
“Students don’t want to stick only to books. They need more.”
Integration in the community
Now that NYUAD has established itself in Abu Dhabi, its integration process in the city and in the country at large invites reflection. However, within the Emirati community, it is unclear how well-known NYUAD’s presence is.
“The people in the community are vaguely aware of NYUAD’s existence and its influence in the community is pretty negligible,” said Salem Alattas, a sophomore at Khalifa University.
NYUAD’s events are likely to play a key part in spreading the word about the university and integrating more deeply into the city.
“You rarely see events [open] to the public,” added Attalas. “Usually it’s a small, reserved thing for students and faculty, or you have to confirm by email.”
Abdulnasser confirmed that many Emiratis are interested in attending NYUAD’s events. He suggested that the university advertise through television, radio and social media.
The interaction with NYUAD students is also limited. However, Emirati students stressed a need and desire for more inter-university exchange.
“Maybe they need to have … more collaboration, more contact [like], for example,  NYU with local universities,” said  senior at Zayed University and a 2012-2013 SMSP scholar Amal Al Khouri. “It’s nice if there’s an agreement, if NYU wants to.”
At the same time, NYUAD is recognizably affecting its surroundings in positive ways. For example, Al Mansoori commented that the university was making a difference by introducing students from all over the world to the UAE. Al Khouri, on her end, also said that the university is adding to the UAE’s efforts to increase the educational opportunities in the country.
“50 years back … many [Emiratis] had to travel to America or to Canada or to Egypt just to get education. And now we do have very good education here in Abu Dhabi or in the UAE,” said Al Khouri.
"[The university] didn’t bring only its educational foundation with it; it brought also its values and norms,” added Al Habsi. During an SMSP discussion on minimum wage, Al Habsi learned that the NYUAD staff is paid according to this standard.
Relocating to Saadiyat
The transition to Saadiyat will bring several important changes. When the campus is bigger, it will draw more applications to NYUAD and attention to the UAE at large.
“[Students] will start choosing this university and come all the way to the Emirates, specifically Abu Dhabi, just for NYU,” Al Khouri said. “Actually, this is going to boost Abu Dhabi’s image education-wise.”
“A bigger campus usually catches the interest of the people,” Attalas added. “People will be more inclined to try to apply to this university because, for some reason, size does matter when it comes to Emirati culture.”
Besides the size and space, an expanded campus also means more courses and professors will be available to students. Al Habsi, for example, is looking forward to NYUAD’s new campus so he can complete a masters program there.
“I don’t think it’s about the campus being bigger,” Al Habsi said. “It is the teachers who make students want to go to NYU … I think it’s the education that people want to go to NYU for.”
All in all, it remains to be seen how NYUAD will further its role in the Abu Dhabi community and the UAE at large.
“I think the people who want to integrate will integrate,” said Attalas. “It’s about who wants it and who doesn’t."
Correction: A previous version of this article misspelled Salem Alattas' name as Salem Attalas. 
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