In the classrooms of the Fujairah Higher Colleges of Technology men\'s college, male and female students are studying together - something unheard of until recently. For the past three years, young men and women have studied side by side in several courses, including engineering and IT, which would not have had enough students in either campus. The change has not been easy and the college has been careful to pay heed to cultural norms. \"What\'s helped us tremendously is that the families are very supportive of their daughters being able to have as many educational opportunities as possible,\" said Dr Dave Pelham, the director of the Fujairah HCT. \"The areas they\'re studying in this co-educational set-up are those which will lead to jobs locally, meaning they don\'t have to leave.\" Engineering is particularly useful in Fujairah, Dr Pelham said, because of its desalination plants and refineries. Although the classes are mixed, there is still some segregation. Women sit on one side of the room and men on the other, and they remain in single-gender groups for project work. And although they share library facilities and even canteen space, the genders prefer not to mix. When the Fujairah colleges began 10 years ago, the men\'s college struggled to attract students. About 60 per cent of local school leavers went into the army or police rather than to further study. When the college opened a decade ago it wanted to offer courses that carried better alternative employment prospects for men, and started its diploma in engineering. As of last year that has been phased out, along with all its other diplomas, as HCT now only offers degree courses. Michael Purcell, the head of academic programmes, said there had initially been a lot of interest from women but little from men. For the diploma, the women were taught in the mornings and the men in the afternoon. But the degree course required more teaching time, making that split unworkable. \"In the beginning there were a lot of questions,\" Mr Purcell said. \"We brought the families in, discussed things with them and showed them the set-up. It has gone smoothly, though.\" This term another course, in IT networking, turned co-educational. \"It\'s a logistical thing,\" said Russ Brendey, who set up the mixed-gender courses. \"The female college is full and to have two-lab based programmes like this is just too expensive.\" The male students\' behaviour has improved in the presence of women, Mr Brendey said, and the competition between the genders has motivated both to work harder. Abdullah Mohammed, 21, said: \"They had to bring the girls over to help us to study. They couldn\'t have run the programme without it.\" Also supportive is Abdelrahman Al Barkat, 25, a second-year electronic-engineering student. \"We should make it normal, because when we go to work both genders will be working together,\" Mr Al Barkat said. \"For the girls, when they go to work these things will already feel normal.\" He said he had learnt a lot from studying alongside girls. \"We don\'t know how girls think so it\'s good to share ideas,\" Mr Al Barkat said. Without the course, he would have had to travel 120 kilometres each day to the University of Sharjah. The private university would also have cost him about Dh150,000 in tuition fees whereas HCT, as a federal institution, is free for Emiratis. Mixed engineering courses have also been running at Al Ain Men\'s College, for 18 months. The male students are now getting at least a grade higher than their segregated predecessors, said Dr Essam Hamdi, the head of engineering. Dr Hamdi said companies such as Emirates Aluminium and Abu Dhabi National Oil Company were crying out for engineers in these areas and the graduates\' job prospects were in no doubt. \"Fifty per cent of the students in the first year have already got scholarships and jobs,\" he said. \"Every one of our graduates leaves with at least one job offer.\" The women there have their own social area but share facilities such as the library. During break times male and female students can be found doing project work together in the laboratories. Moza Al Bahri, 20, is studying electrical engineering. \"We all bring something different to our project work and we work well as teams,\" Moza said. \"In the workplace we\'ll work with men so now we have this experience.\" Dr Hamdi said one female student\'s parents had thanked him for the changes in their daughter. \"They said their daughter had changed, matured,\" he said. \"She no longer fought with her brothers and was much more involved in her studies than she had been before.\"