Academic city: Classes between the desert and the palms
Dubai’s effort to build a world class city along the lines of Singapore’s model was made unique when they offered free zones not only to business enterprises but also conceived a free zone devoted solely to tertiary education. Thus came up Dubai International Academic city in 2006, the first of its kind in the world. The move was to serve Dubai’s vision of developing a knowledge-based economy and thus implant the much needed pool of talented youth. However much to the students’ plight, while the DIAC development is still in the construction phase, many universities decided to shift their campus here from their earlier base in Knowledge Village (which in this context can be referred to as a paradise). I myself was a student of Manipal Dubai from 2005 to 2008 and thus had to undergo the transition from the village to the ‘city’. Some of the most prominent universities are now located in the DIAC including Heriot Watt University,, Esmod French Fashion University, Institute of Management Technology, Manipal Academy, Birla Institute of Science and Technology, Dubai Aviation College, Hult International Business School, Zayed University, Murdoch University, SZABIST, Michigan State University and Mahatma Gandhi University.
During my time back in 2006, there was not much to do in the new campus with the development just commencing. The only other establishment was Skyler’s, a gourmet bistro styled café serving mainly main course dishes from Mexican and Italian cuisines. Not quite tempting to someone spoilt by the likes of KFC, Puranmal, or New York Fries. Of course they soon realized the immense business potential that the vast hoard of Asian students offered to the restaurant, and came up with additional offerings in their menu. Now we also have the convenience retail store 24/7, Caribou Café, Costa coffee, and a recent addition has been the DIAC food court.
Another factor that abruptly brought a change in our cherished dream lifestyle to the extent that college life was no longer deemed as enjoyable was immobility. There was no means of public transport available for at least the first six months and all of sudden driving schools would have reported an unprecedented increase in driving license applications with students rushing to arrange their own rides to save their college life. Thanks to my friend Nik aka Cartman, we could take refuge in International city’s Dragon mart or Bur Dubai. Unfortunately many who didn’t have a ride had to make do with the DIAC campus and its limited offering of leisure facilities. The campus was smaller than it is now and missed the foosball table (currently placed aptly between 24/7 and Skyler’s). Also many events are now organized by Student Hub, the student body representative of DIAC to celebrate campus life at marked occasions. Needless to say, in the absence of the Student Hub, Manipal actively organized events and encouraged students to participate in them and in those organized outside. The entire block was turned into a campus in itself with ranging experiences during such events.
Academic city has a lot more to offer now with students flooding in from other cities like Abu Dhabi and also from other countries. Institute of Management Technology for instance is a reputed college in India and thus has a greater portion of its students flying into Dubai from there. With the introduction of Academic city in bus routes and the Rashidiyah metro station, and International city bustling, the place has become far better than it used to be, but still has a long way to go if it wishes to become a renowned educational district. Kudos Dubai!