In July 2010, the university, based at Dubai International Academic City, shut its undergraduate courses after finding the project unsustainable. Not enough students enrolled to make the costly branch campus project financially viable, forcing about 100 students to either move to its home campus in the US or apply to other universities in the UAE.
But it has been steadily rebuilding. Last year, it launched two master’s degrees – in human resources management and labour relations and in public health. This autumn, it will launch two master’s degrees in law – a master of law (LLM) for those who already have a degree in law, as well as a master’s of jurisprudence (MJ), for those who do not.
“MSU is really starting to build up,” said Dr Tessa Dunseath, its executive director. “These courses will really be one of our big building blocks. People are starting to realise we’re still here.” And she hopes its existing courses will grow, too, from 15 last year to 20 in the coming term.
“Next year, we may have to have another intake to keep the programmes small but accommodate the demand,” she said.
“After 20, you can’t give your students what they want and it’s not what they’re paying for either.”
She insists the university’s reputation remains strong despite the collapse of the undergraduate section.
“MSU is toughing it out,” she said, “and it’s paying off. Its reputation hasn’t suffered.
“People are very attracted by the fact that MSU is in the world’s top 100 universities. At undergraduate level you can do quantity but we’re doing quality, which is necessary for the courses we’re offering. You need guidance and counselling.”
And the university is branching out to provide more services to the community, from health seminars to professional training. In January, it will host an international conference on higher education.
“Never say never to doing undergraduate operations again, but we’re responding to the market and this is what’s good for the market we’re in,” Dr Dunseath said.
Dr Michael Lawrence, associate dean for graduate and international programmes, will be among those teaching on the two-year law degree. He and other academics will fly over from the US every six weeks or so to deliver intensive, three-to-five-day courses. He believes it will fill a gap in the market.
“It responds to a previously unmet market need for business professionals and others who may benefit from a greater understanding of the United States and international legal system,” he said. “Many individuals and businesses within the UAE region who are either engaged in doing business with US firms, or would like to begin doing business, would greatly benefit from gaining a broad understanding of the legal issues involved in these relationships.”
Dr Ayoub Kazim, managing director of Dubai International Academic City and Knowledge Village, said the course met local needs: “The UAE is home to a number of US-headquartered companies. It therefore becomes imperative to have … a solid understanding of the American legal system.”
There has already been plenty of interest from students in the region who have previously had to travel to the US for such a qualification. “Now, however, individuals from the UAE region will be able to study in the same programme that is offered in the US,” he said.
Margaret Cole, a partner at White & Case LLP in Abu Dhabi, said the LLM course would be a welcome addition to those now available, which focus mainly on UAE or civil law.
“I think the course should do a couple of things,” she said. “Firstly, to give students who may not have a common law background exposure to common law principles, which is very important. Also, to give students exposure to the type of courses they may not have been able to access in undergraduate degrees, that will be particularly relevant for them in terms of practising.
“In an international firm, the types of transactions they will most likely come in contact with will be governed typically by New York law or English law – which is common law as opposed to civil law jurisdiction. So it’s useful for students to have the exposure to those civil law concepts.”