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University of Waterloo closing its Dubai campus

Opening a University of Waterloo campus in Dubai was an experiment that didn’t work, says Sallie Keller, vice-president academic and provost.

The United Arab Emirates campus — which opened three years ago — will close and students there can finish their studies at the campus in Waterloo starting in September. The students can also enrol in other programs in the United Arab Emirates, Keller said. Keller said the Dubai campus wasn’t a success because insufficient student enrollment and the inability to form research partnerships in Dubai.

“We learned that we need to have viable international partnerships … and without that we can’t sustain the program,” Keller said. And further plans for international campuses are on hold, including a standalone school in China.

“We don’t have a desire to have an undergrad campus in China,” Keller said.

The Dubai school has 140 students — 80 in first year and 60 students in second year — but it needed at least 180 students, and was hoping for as many as 500, to make the program viable, she said.

Keller said students in the program — both men and women — were predominately from nearby Middle Eastern countries and some from China. The school offers undergraduate degrees in civil and chemical engineering, and mathematics.

Waterloo had hoped that children of ex-pats living there would choose to attend the Dubai campus but many preferred the Waterloo campus, she said.

A school needs to be “coupled with sustainable research partnerships” outside of the school and those connections were not made, she said.

“We did not establish an interaction outside of the classroom,” Keller said. “We need to have a reason other than a student in a classroom to be there.”

Keller cites location as a possible factor in why partnerships didn’t happen. If the campus was located in the capital Abu Dhabi there might have been more success, she said.

The campus is about a 30-minute drive from the Dubai city centre. Keller said cultural differences were not a factor in why research partnerships were not established. The decision to close the Dubai campus was approved by the board of governors on Oct. 30.

The school opened in Dubai in 2009 in partnership with Higher Colleges of Technology which provided the physical facilities such as laboratories, classrooms and library services. The program allowed for students to study in Dubai for two years and complete their final two years at the Waterloo campus.

When the campus initially opened, some professors in Waterloo expressed reservations about the human rights climate in Dubai, where homosexuality and sex outside marriage are both illegal. Keller said human rights concerns were never an issue at the Dubai campus.

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