Cross border education in the United Arab Emirates

Cross border education in the United Arab Emirates

Cross border education extends beyond the mobility of individuals to the movement of programmes and providers across frontiers and the establishment of foreign higher education provision. Countries in the Gulf region, like the United Arab Emirates, are at the forefront of initiatives in transnational education. Needless to say, recent developments and research were one of the hot topics during the recent Going Global Conference in Dubai.

During the Going Global conference, the preliminary results of a new British Council study The shape of things to come 2: the evolution of transnational education’ were presented and discussed. The analysis not only looked at the developments in transnational education (TNE) in recent years, but specifically examined the situation in a number of TNE host countries and aimed at answering a number of questions such as: What are the motivations of countries to invite foreign providers to establish HE provision? What forms of TNE are established? What are the benefits of, but also the problems with TNE provision? Some of the key findings from the research are as follows:

  • There is still a lack of data regarding TNE in the majority of sending as well as receiving countries. Only recently the data collection and recording has been started in a few sending countries such as Australia, Germany and the UK as well as hosting countries such as Singapore, Malaysia.
  • The results show that a regulatory framework in the hosting country is essential for the success and sustainability of a cross border activity.
  • The United Arab Emirates, as well as Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong, provide the most favourable environment for TNE.
  • A number of challenges in regards to TNE provision remain such as quality assurance and accreditation; recognition of awarded qualifications; relevance of the programmes to the labour market; cultural norms as well as language proficiency.

The case of the United Arab Emirates

In the United Arab Emirates (UAE), like other countries in the Gulf region, TNE represents a significant proportion of the national higher education provision and the 37 international branch campuses (IBC) are not only the key cross border activity, but also present the largest number of IBC’s in one country. Yet no national strategy regarding TNE has been established in the UAE, which consequently means that only certain emirates, like Dubai, are very active in the playing field of TNE. The UAE’s main rationales for its engagement in TNE are the development of a skilled workforce and to provide access to higher education for their increasing expatriate population.

The next generation of cross border education

In the evolution of cross border education, education hubs are often referred to as the third and ‘youngest’ generation. An education hub aims at developing a critical mass of higher education provision in a country/region and is not only focused on the establishment of a single higher education institution. In her extensive research, Adjunct Professor at the University of Toronto,  Jane Knight, has looked at the phenomena of education hubs and identified a number of rationales and consequently three forms of education hubs.

Forms of education hubs

Rationales for setting up an education hub vary per host country and can include capacity building; modernisation of the national higher education sector; income generation and attraction of foreign investment; and facilitating the establishment of a service and knowledge economy. Based on the dominant rationales, the key players involved and the intended outcomes, Knight distinguishes three types of education hubs: student hub, talent hub, and knowledge hub. Whereas the recruitment of students is the main driver for a student hub, the retention of these is key for the talent hub. The knowledge hub, in addition to student recruitment and retention, also aims at ensuring the production of knowledge and innovation.

The United Arab Emirates, a country which population has been growing by 50% over the past years, has established itself as one of the leading education hubs and according to Knight’s research is developing from a talent hub towards a knowledge hub.

Critical voices however argue that in general, education hubs are simply brand labels only used for marketing purposes and some question their sustainability and their contributions to education and knowledge in the host countries. For others, education hubs are the next, more ‘sophisticated’ generation in cross border education.

By Ruth Graf, Professional Development Manager, EAIE

Photo courtesy of Shutter Stock: Laborant