The Development of Higher Education in The United Arab Emirates

Author/s: Daniel Kirk
1st Edition Year: 2010
Edition: First edition
Language: English
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The UAE sits astride an uncomfortble dilemma in terms of national development and international profile. It seeks to be a regional and global power, both economically and politically, and to achieve this it needs to diversify and become less reliant on a workforce that is made up predominantly of expatriates, many of whom are employed because they have a level of education unavailable among the general citizenry. Alongside a rapid growth in public services and private commerce, education is a stated national priority, with the Ministry of Education setting out in its vision that education should achieve “enduring development for the community.” The UAE higher education sector is growing at an astonishing rate. However, the apparent dilemma results from the call for a rapid growth in educational provision, alongside the desire to produce a functioning and accessible education system in a relatively short time-frame.

The UAE is a ‘consumer’ of educational practice, a nation that has a history of buying in the educational models and expertise it requires, as opposed to the lengthier, but possibly better suited, process of building an indigenous education system from the ground up. Developing a truly indigenous and new system to fit the needs of neophyte states – although laborious, expensive and problematic – does allow a nation to mold specifically the needs of the country with the educational systems developed. However, the UAE, through the model of ‘borrowing’ systems and expertise, was able to ‘kick-start’ the development of education in the country, greatly decreasing the time needed to establish formal educational structures. Such a situation may open up questions as to the suitability and efficacy of a predominantly imported educational provision for the indigenous population. The UAE, as a relatively new and emerging economy, has the funds and support of the national leadership to actively pursue and seek educational systems and practices that will advance development and competitiveness.

To exam how globalized structures influence education in the UAE and beyond, there needs to be an understanding and awareness of the context in which the education sector functions today. As global economic forces and the labor needs of societies change, then accountability, control and governance of education becomes a contested area of public policy. However, what can be seen is that education is gaining in prominence in the public policy arena, with governments and politicians realizing that in order to be globally competitive, education must produce a skilled and efficient national workforce, placing education firmly in the realm of human capital theory and policy.

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