Nobody could have imagined 40 years ago that Emiratis in the 21st Century would be choosing to study at an array of international universities, right at their own doorstep. This certainly holds true for Dr Ayoub Kazim, managing director of the Education Cluster at Tecom Investments, who went to the US for his undergraduate and postgraduate degrees last century. \"The development of the UAE\'s private higher education sector means a lot to us Emiratis,\" said Dr Kazim. \"Thirty years ago we didn\'t have the option to pursue our studies in our own country and we were forced to travel to Europe, the US or Australia.\" He added that now UAE nationals have the privilege of picking and choosing from more than 300 higher educational programmes at 75 private international institutions from 11 countries — all of which are housed either in Dubai Knowledge Village or Dubai International Academic City. \"The university options existing today mean Emirati high school graduates can now pursue their studies up to the PhD level without leaving the country, so they can stay close to their families,\" Dr Kazim said. He obtained his own PhD in mechanical engineering from the University of Miami in the US but would have preferred to stay in the UAE if he had the choice. \"If the opportunities available to students now were available to me back then I would have definitely stayed here to pursue my university studies,\" he said. Literacy rates The United Nation\'s Children\'s Emergency Fund (Unicef) 2007 figures show the UAE\'s male and female youth literacy rates hover between 97 and 99 per cent. This is an achievement Dr Kazim is proud the UAE has accomplished in such a relatively short period of time. \"When it comes to education and illiteracy we\'re fortunate to have an illiteracy rate that is now a single digit,\" he said. \"I believe this is reflected in the changing higher education landscape.\" He added that 40 years ago, when the UAE was born as a nation, educational options were limited. \"In the 1970s we didn\'t have much choice and the country\'s first university — UAE University — was only established in 1977,\" he said. \"But it was not only 40 years ago, because even 20 years ago we didn\'t have half of what we have now.\" Dr Kazim believes the UAE\'s rapid and successful growth has given the Emirati community an opportunity to prosper, which has resulted in the development of the country\'s human capital. \"The initiatives to nurture our local talent that contribute to the development of our human capital, which in turn adds to the continued development of the economy, are very important,\" he said. However, when asked what he would like to see happen in the UAE\'s private higher education sector over the next four decades, he said: \"I\'d like to see increased focus on quality rather than on quantity, which is something I am already anticipating.\" ‘Rapid growth\' Yet, although the first 40 years in the UAE\'s life have been monumental to say the least, one can only imagine what the next four decades will bring. \"I never anticipated such rapid growth or to see something like this,\" said Dr Kazim. \"It\'s truly a blessing from the almighty facilitated by our great visionary leader, the late Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan.\" He said the UAE leaders\' efforts in advocating education and social welfare is what has helped not only the UAE and its people advance but has placed the UAE in a leading position when it comes to regional development.