However if you take away the more alarming headlines about major events in the Middle East, and make due allowances for a lifestyle very different from mainstream UK, a rather more subtle picture begins to emerge.
Far from being a second-rate choice, the most enterprising Mid-East universities are thoroughly embroiled in a sustained and largely successful effort to become global field leaders.
They want to attract the best to improve their share of the prime time academic limelight, and have ploughed fortunes into developing not only advanced courses but also a whole philosophy of study which puts strong emphasis on hands-on experience and interactivity on the grand scale.
Someone involved in an electrical engineering degree course, as a single example, will find that challenges are set and expectations raised at every stage of the process - they could even find themselves intricately involved with the design and building of a new Formula 1 car.
Dubai offers world class leisure and retail facilities, and the potential to enjoy a high standard of life in return for solid endeavour - and the neat combination of fascinating host culture and vibrant academic life is no desert mirage.
But of course not everyone wants to commit to an entire career in the Mid-East, even in a city as mesmerising as Dubai, and for people keen to gain experience that will both broaden their outlook while conceivably expanding career opportunities a gap year can be the perfect solution.
It is not difficult to imagine that many a gap year has led to more prolonged involvement with the Gulf as careers have developed to demand ever-expanding horizons, but equally there is no reason why education has to be exclusively either UK or Mid-East based - with careful planning it can readily encompass both.
Apart from the glamorous surroundings, the cosmopolitan city and academic life, and the potential to get on the right track for lucrative and rewarding future work options, academic life in a top Mid-East university can serve as an excellent conduit to the job opportunities available with major global corporate firms.
These typically operate in a close symbiosis with Dubais academic institutions, bringing the realities of the real economy straight to the classroom - for example designing and building complex projects on time and to budget.
Research funds are streamed to suit immediate and valuable objectives, so that anyone studying in a science field can expect to be meaningfully involved in some key area of the national economy.
The opportunities are there, and with sufficient flexibility built in to allow people with real talent to develop an academic and future career structure in a way designed to deliver benefits on many levels.
Far more than classy private golf clubs and ritzy shopping malls, Dubai is a vibrant lodestone of global business and commerce - a place of contrasts with something to offer anyone with talent whos willing to make the effort.