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Educational Hubs

 (Updated November 9, 2016)

Education Hub: A designated region intended to attract foreign investment, retain local students, build a regional reputation by providing access to high-quality education and training for both international and domestic students, and create a knowledge-based economy. An education hub can include different combinations of domestic/international institutions, branch campuses, and foreign partnerships, within the designated region.

The following is a list of entities that have described themselves as current or developing education hubs. For each entry we provide a basic description based upon news reports, information from the organization, and, when possible, our own visits. Inclusion below does not mean that the entity currently operates as a hub, but merely that there is evidence that it is intended to be a hub.


United Arab Emirates

The UAE is an intriguing case of educational development because of the multiple layers of education, and thus hubs, that exist. This is different than any other nation. The UAE is comprised of seven Emirates, which operate semi-independently of each other. Higher education has historically been the responsibility of the federal government under the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research. There are three public higher education institutions, which serve the seven Emirates through several campuses. In addition, all private institutions are required to have licensure and accreditation from the federal accrediting body, CAA. However, the semi-independent nature of the Emirates has led several of them to develop “free zones,” which exempt the organizations operating within each zone from federal regulation. Originally developed to attract foreign investment from corporations, these free zones have been used during the 2000s to attract foreign educational institutions. Now, several emirates, including Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Ras Al Khaimah, have declared intent to become educational hubs. A description of each Emirate and/or relevant free zone seeking to become a hub is included below.

Abu Dhabi

This Emirate has not been as aggressive as the other Emirates in seeking to attract foreign institutions. It has opted for a more targeted approach of attracting and investing in institutions with recognizable names. At present, both the Sorbonne (France) and New York University (USA) operate campuses in UAE’s capital city. NYU accepted its first class of students in the fall of 2010 (see news item). Several other campuses from the United States and France now operate in Abu Dhabi, and a branch of Egypt’s Al-Azhar University is under development. Abu Dhabi seeks to capitalize on the presence of these elite education institutions to develop itself into a hub of ideas.


Over the past decade, Dubai has garnered a great deal of international attention for the aggressive pursuit of international branch campuses and their desire to become an educational hub. Rather than solely investing in their own system, various sub-hubs within Dubai have targeted the development of IBCs in order to provide a diverse set of educational opportunities to the local expatriate population, as well as to attract foreign students to study in Dubai. Presently, nearly 25 IBCs representing 10 different national curriculums (e.g. American, Australian, British, Russian) provide undergraduate and graduate degrees in Dubai. The IBCs are spread across four different free zones. While there is great diversity in the mission of each of these free zones and the number of institutions located there, a description of each is provided below so that those interested in this hub have a better understanding of its multifaceted components.

Dubai Knowledge Park / Dubai International Academic City

Launched in 2003, Dubai Knowledge Park (DKP) is owned by TECOM Investments, which is a subsidiary of Dubai Holding, and is one of TECOM’s many business parks. It was founded as part of a long-term economic strategy to develop the region’s talent pool and become a knowledge-based economy. This education hub is set up to complement TECOM’s other business parks, including Dubai Internet City and Dubai Media City. DKP has attracted more than 15 international universities from Australia, France, India, Iran, Lebanon, Pakistan, Russia, the UK, and the United States. It is also home to approximately 150 training institutes and learning centers, HR development centers, professional training institutes, R&D organizations, and e-Learning companies.

To account for the need to provide more campus facilities due to the rapid expansion of higher education in DKP, TECOM created Dubai International Academic City (DIAC). Approximately one square mile, DIAC is located in Dubai Academic City, and is set-up as a free zone for higher education. Currently home to around 20 international universities, the DIAC houses many of the universities described above, including Michigan State University Dubai, Murdoch University in Dubai, and the University of Exeter-Dubai, among others. DIAC caters to over 4,000 students.

Dubai International Financial Centre

Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) has been one of the fastest growing financial hubs in the Middle East and one of the largest importers of foreign academic programs. To help achieve its mission, the DIFC created the DIFC Center of Excellence with the purpose of becoming a “hub for excellence and professional development and education.” To achieve this goal, the Center has partnered with several leading business schools to offer a variety of MBA degree programs. Programs have their own offices and offer their own degrees, but share academic space.

Dubai Health Care City

Dubai Health Care City desires to serve as a hub of medical education in the region. When the city was initially designed, the intent was to import medical programs from several institutions, as well as to create a teaching hospital. The economic slowdown has caused this free zone to postpone the development of the teaching hospital. In turn, Harvard University, which currently offers continuing education courses, has delayed the offering of academic degree programs.

Dubai Silicon Oasis

Silicon Oasis was established by the Government of Dubai in 2004 to become a hub of technological research and production. It has not declared an interest in becoming an education hub; however, it is home to the branch of a successful American institution, Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT). RIT, a technology-based educational institution, was recruited to support the overall mission of Silicon Oasis. The institution began by offering technology and management-oriented graduate degrees in 2008, and in 2010, accepted its first class of undergraduate students.


Bahrain indicated in 2007 an interest in developing into an educational hub (see news item). There are currently two branch campuses of foreign education providers operating in the country, with an additional campus under development, but there has yet to be substantive development of the nation as an educational hub.

Kuala Lumpur Education City

Currently under development, Kuala Lumpur Education City (KLEC) has two locations planned in the Kuala Lumpur area. One is downtown near Petronas Towers, and the other is near Putra Jaya, the government center about 25 km outside of the city. It currently has agreements with Cambridge Judge Business School (UK), Epsom College (UK), and University Sains Malaysia. Media reports suggest it is targeting at least two other British universities. KLEC’s mission is to establish world-class institutions of higher learning as well as primary and secondary education providers within a learning community that includes various support shared facilities as well as promotion of innovative research and development.

Iskandar (Malaysia)

Iskandar is a special economic zone in the Malaysia state of Johor, bordering Singapore. The project is administered by Iskandar Regional Development Authority, and consists of five “flagship zones” devoted to various development projects. Zone B includes an education city and a medical hub. The University of Newcastle (UK) has established a medical school in Iskandar, enrolling its first class in fall 2011. Raffles Education Corporation, a private education provider in South East Asia, is investing in the site and is pursuing development of Raffles University-Iskandar. The explicit attraction of a large space on the outskirts of Singapore reflects the competitive environment for education hubs in the region.

Singapore’s Global Schoolhouse

Since Singapore’s Global Schoolhouse (GS) initiative launched in 2002, it has become home to over 1,200 private education organizations, 44 pre-tertiary schools, and 16 leading foreign tertiary institutions, offering international curricula. The aim of the Global Schoolhouse is to “develop a vibrant community of tertiary, pre-tertiary and corporate training institutions to make the city-state a global talent hub.” By broadening its educational offerings, GS has attracted over 86,000 international students and has advanced innovation by promoting faculty collaboration with over 7,000 MNCs and 100,000 SMEs in Singapore.

Incheon Free Economic Zone (South Korea)

Part of the development plan for the Incheon Free Zone in South Korea is to attract international branch campuses to the Songdo Global University Campus. In 2009, it was reported that 15 foreign universities were exploring establishing a branch campus (see news items here, here, and here).

All of the 15 but the University of Pavia (Italy) are based in the United States. The institutions reported to have been interested in opening a campus include Duke University, Columbia University, Boston University, George Mason University, Stony Brook University (State University of New York), the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Carnegie Mellon University and the University of California-San Diego. While several have engaged in feasibility studies and planning development, we have not yet found confirmation of which institutions are moving forward with development.

Education City (Qatar)

Education City developed as a way for Qatar to attract predominant academic programs from universities based in the United States. The intent was to reduce the number of Qatari students studying abroad and attract more foreign students to study within Qatar. In fact, to help attract and retain foreign-born students, the Qatar Foundation provides loans to many foreign students and will forgive those loans if the students stay and work in Qatar after graduation. In a network of organizations, each dedicated to different areas of specialization, Education City has a number of branch campuses from international institutions, which assist the Qatar Foundation’s goal of bringing in a new knowledge-based era. These institutions were selected to offer a targeted academic program; thus, unlike Dubai, there is no direct competition for students as none of the institutions offer the same degree programs. Indeed, interesting collaborations have begun to occur with institutions jointly hiring faculty, students taking general education courses at multiple institutions, and students developing inter-institutional athletic rivalries that would never exist in the U.S.

Republic of Panama – City of Knowledge

Founded by law in 1998 and governed by a semi-autonomous private foundation, the City of Knowledge in the Republic of Panama was originally designed to bring together business, technology and academia in a knowledge-generating hub for the Latin American region. The Panamanian legislation granted fiscal, regulatory and migratory incentives to encourage the incorporation of international universities and firms, and allocated former U.S. Canal Zone military base facilities for its establishment. A decade after its inception, the City of Knowledge now extends beyond its physical 300-acre boundary to include dozens of other affiliated institutions and has also become the regional base for the United Nations in Latin America and the Caribbean. As such, it houses numerous UN agencies and other international organization offices along with a branch campus of Florida State University, various U.S. and Canadian study-abroad programs, several international degree-granting programs in business, architecture and tourism, and a number of Panamanian government offices.

Jeju Global Education City

Jeju Global Education City is an emerging educational hub located off the southern coast of South Korea. Initial reports indicate that this educational hub will focus primarily on secondary education, but will also provide post-secondary programs. The C-BERT team will continue to review this educational hub as it emerges into the global educational system.