KEEP IT FRESH

Oman 2019 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | FOCUS

The supply of student accommodation is keeping pace with the expansion of higher education in Oman.

Establishing its first university in 1986, the Sultanate of Oman has been hard at work in recent years to catch up with the rest of the world in terms of higher education. At present, Oman puts great focus on its education sector as more than a quarter of all government spending is devoted to education. As of 2018, there are approximately 30 higher education institutes in Oman, over 20 of which offer graduate programs.

According to the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, Sultan Qaboos University, the country's only public university, is the most highly ranked in Oman—placed among the top 1,000 universities in the world. In addition, there are several private universities focusing on business and engineering disciplines, such as A'Sharqiyah University in Ibra, the University of Nizwa, which was established by the decree of HM Sultan Qaboos and opened its doors in 2004, and Muscat University College, among others.

Omani universities and colleges tend to maintain ties with western universities and offer a growing number of courses in English, attracting more international students. As Oman moves away from an oil-based economy, tourism, in general, and educational tourism, in particular, is being promoted by the government, and more students have been heading to Oman in recent years.

Omani universities are generally flexible about the duration of one's studies and let the students have a say in the structuring of their undergraduate programs. Although holders of student visas are not allowed to work in the Sultanate and having a financial sponsor is essential, life in Oman is more affordable than in other GCC nations. Despite being a generally conservative country, Oman is a welcoming place for international students and is extremely safe.

An increase in the number of international students equates to a higher demand for student accommodation, and similar to other countries with a thriving education sector, students in Oman have several options to choose from. Some universities offer accommodation in the form of dormitories and halls of residence. And if the university or college does not offer housing, its housing department helps students find suitable accommodation by referring them to suitable private-sector dormitories and hostels.

In order to specifically attract female students, Omani universities prioritize them when assigning on-campus accommodation or offer them discounted fees. Sultan Qaboos University states, “Omani female postgraduate students can apply for on-campus residence" and be charged only a small fee, while “providing on-campus residence for international female postgraduate students is still under discussion." The Sultanate's Dhofar University went a step further and waived housing fees for female students altogether in 2018.

In addition, major developers have taken an interest in student housing; Sandan Development has partnered with Strategic Housing Group (SHG) to construct a private student-housing complex in Muscat, which will be able to house nearly 3,000 students by its inauguration in September 2019.

Similar to other countries, students may decide to rent their own accommodation and enjoy greater freedom and independence, in which case they are advised to make sure the place they are renting has fully functional air conditioning, as temperatures can get as high as 50C during the summer. As of 2018, the monthly rent of an ordinary apartment in Muscat ranges between USD500 to USD1,500, depending on various factors.

Another option for foreign students are homestays, which can acquaint them with Omani culture and the Arabic language. This can especially be a bonus for those international students who chose Oman with the intention of embarking on a career in the Gulf region.