No longer is Lebanon's American University of Beirut, once dubbed the Harvard of the Middle East, the only institution offering a Western curriculum. 

Today there are American universities in Cairo, Dubai, Kuwait, Qatar and Sharjah. Branches of British universities have also grown rapidly and Dubai has opened a "Knowledge Village", an education and training hub. 

Moreover, enrolment at the new universities has increased as more students are thinking twice about going to the United States. 

An Arab Human Development Report published by the United Nations estimated that the number of Arabs attending US universities fell 30% between 1999 and 2002. 

American University in Dubai

Attendees of universities teaching Western curriculums have no qualms about singing their praises.

"No doubt the American education is much better than the Arab university curriculum, because Arab curriculums are really old," said Ihab, a graduate of the American University in Dubai (AUD).

The most pronounced problems in some Arab universities are in fields relating to advanced technology.

"When the American University in Dubai opened (in 1995), they were using old curriculums but they were improving fast to a point that after a few months the requirements to graduate changed," he added. 

Ihab said his colleagues who opted to complete their last term in the United States found the curriculum easier there than in Dubai.

The objective is to offer "American educational experience as it would be received in the United States"

Lance de Masi,
AUD president

AUD president Lance de Masi said that his university's objective was to offer the "American educational experience as it would be received in the United States."

AUD, which has 1808 students enrolled for both undergraduate and graduate courses, saw an increase in the number of students after the 11 September attacks.

Education City

Meanwhile the Qatar Foundation, in Qatar, is establishing a giant private "Education City" that includes top tier US colleges such as Weill-Cornell medical school, Texas A&M University, Virginia Commonwealth and well-known think tanks like Rand.

Qatar is establishing an "Education
City" that includes top US colleges

The offer in Qatar is the same as at the mother institution, said Ahmad al-Dosari, head of information at the Foundation.

"It is the same degree, curriculum, instructors come from the mother campus, and they have the same admission and graduation requirements like the campus in the US," he added.

However, an ex-recruitment consultant now working in a prominent think-tank in Dubai has said market expectations are high and the experience a student receives overseas differs considerably from the home campus.

"Maybe academically it is the same curriculum as the 'mother' university, but students miss out"

Ex-recruitment consultant

"Though there are some good institutions that have established themselves in the Gulf, they are a long way from offering the education 'package' that being enrolled at a university in the United Stated offers," she said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Students are therefore not receiving the added bonus of being on campus, interacting with international students, having access to all the faculty members, research facilities or being exposed to a different culture, she explained.

"Maybe academically it is the same curriculum as the 'mother' university, but students miss out," she said.