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Tuesday, November 13th, 2012

Waterloo officially dead in Dubai

University of Waterloo’s Provost called it a “failed experiment”. But Waterloo Vice-President Academic Sallie Keller didn’t say how expensive was their dalliance with Dubai. After only three years, and only achieving 30% of the student population required, Waterloo becomes yet another crash and burn victim in Dubai – a place where fatalities on the roads and on the balance sheets are both victims of trying to arrive at the final destination too fast.

Waterloo announced on October 30th they would shutter the Dubai campus. Waterloo claims it needed 500 students enrolled annually to make it worth keeping the program in Dubai. The idea was to offer the first two years in Dubai and students transferred to the Waterloo campus in Canada for the last two years At 20k CAD per year per student in Dubai, that’s 10 million dollars in tuition fees alone and gives an idea of what the expenses to run the program in Dubai were.

Waterloo had people regularly visiting in Dubai a few years before they opened the campus. Prudent planning would have outlined the need for caution, and that it would take time to convince a target market of south Asians and Arab expats why to study the first two years in Dubai and not go directly to an engineering and science program in Canada. The price point was not cheap, and Dubai is an expensive city.

Waterloo’s failure is not a surprise. What is, is their lack of patience to follow through on a good idea. This was not quite the collapses of the former U.S. models in the UAE. Michigan State, George Mason and the Rochester Institute of Technology all went belly up when the Dubai economy tanked soon after those schools opened their doors in the Gulf.

Waterloo came along after Dubai’s bubble burst. Waterloo saw first hand how many UAE businesses struggled, how many people had left Dubai in the recent years, and the once glow and bloom well gone from Dubai’s desert rose.

Waterloo is one of Canada’s outstanding institutes for engineering and actuarial sciences. Their Dubai campus was offering Chemical and Civil Engineering, Financial Analysis and Risk Management, and Information Technology Management. For those Risk Management students who did two years in Dubai, if they finish the program at the Waterloo campus, their own studies, may be their own final year case study.


Mel Broitman is the Director of the Canadian University Application Centre, and opened the CUAC office in Dubai’s Knowledge Village in February 2004. He lived in Dubai from 2003 to 2007 and is the publisher of “Overseas, Overwhelmed’. He is the author of “The Edge”, a column which appears on this website.

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