SHARJAH // Universities are urging students to sign up as quickly as possible, as they wait to receive their final high school grades in the coming weeks.
It is common for students in the UAE to wait for their final grades before applying for tertiary education, unlike those in the US and UK, who apply early in the final year.
In some cases this means students miss out on the courses best suited to them and, in the worst cases, opt for something that can end in failure, said Dr Ali Shuhaimy, vice chancellor of enrolment management at the American University of Sharjah (AUS).
"It's not just about walking into an office and taking anything that's available, then possibly failing," Dr Shuhaimy said.
"There can be a lot of consequences to a lack of planning but we're seeing some big improvements since we opened in 1997.
"It used to be around 95 per cent of applications which came in late, in June or July, but that's gone down to about 65 per cent now."
Dr Shuhaimy said that was due to AUS reaching out to local schools and having a greater presence on social-networking sites.
He said it was also because students were slowly starting to realise they needed to fight for places in the universities they wanted.
Enrolment at the college of architecture, art and design is already closed at AUS, with students taking advantage of the early-application system that closed in April.
In the US, most conditional offers are sent out by April 1 or earlier, with decisions expected back from students by May.
Dr Shuhaimy said not having secured a place at university added pressure on students during their final exams. He said AUS looked at factors such as progress over the years leading up to Grade 12.
Dr Ammar Kaka, director of the Heriot-Watt Dubai campus, said: "This will undoubtedly change in future as more universities reach their capacity and start to cap student numbers on the different programmes."
Dr Kaka said Heroit-Watt had received an unusually high number of early applications this year, as students were enticed with "earlybird scholarships".
"There are programmes that have been oversubscribed and this means late applications will not be accepted," he said.
Prof Tod Laursen, president of Khalifa University in Abu Dhabi, said such incentives had met only limited success at his school.
Prof Laursen said each student had to be interviewed, meaning an intense workload in June and July, leaving little time for preparation in terms of staff and teaching loads.
Prof Raed Awamleh, director of Middlesex University's Dubai campus, said it was also working with high schools to encourage early applications.
Prof Awamleh said it was also offering online applications, and places to apply at events such as the Gulf Education and Training Exhibition, where conditional offers were made on the spot.
So far, Middlesex has not had to turn students away from their first choices, mainly due to what he calls "a high degree of certainty of the demand and the capacity".
The university uses historic data and year-on-year statistics to predict the number of new students in each programme, and the staff and resources required.
"We normally do this by the end of June," Prof Awamleh said. "Before faculty members go on their summer leave, they know their workload for the upcoming year."
India's university system is much the same as the US and UK, with applications made in the final school year. But in the UAE, Indian campuses face the same problem with late applications.
Manipal University's Dubai campus has launched an aggressive advertising campaign on four radio stations, Indian and mainstream, trying to enrol students as they prepare to receive their final grades.
Vaibhav Anand, a marketing manager at the university, said between 10 and 15 per cent of advertising revenues was spent on radio, especially at key times of year.
In India, students would already have sat entrance examinations for university but Mr Anand said the market here was different.
"There is also significant competition in Dubai of universities trying to attract students, so we have to aggressively reach out and be at the forefront of students' minds," he said.