UAE's Higher Education Improvements

UAE's Higher Education Improvements

Posted on 20 Jun 2014 Views ( 591 )

In the last decade, the options for higher education in the Gulf have expanded. Higher education has become one of the major focal points of the Gulf States, and it is of particular importance to the rulers of the United Arab Emirates. For example, The American University of Sharjah (AUS) is affiliated with American University in Washington, D.C. and confers a degree equivalent to a US four-year university. The proliferation of colleges like AUS means that a large number of expatriate middle-class children, who used to have to go other countries such as United States of America, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and India for higher education are increasingly able to stay in the UAE through the time of their college graduation. Here, we consider how the recent influx American and other International Universities into the Gulf works to produce Indian youth as both parochialized South Asian and neoliberal transnational subjects, who in turn reinforce Dubai’s economic growth as well as the divide between citizen and non-citizen in the UAE.

Many scholars have connected the globalization of American universities with other trends in the university system. Additionally, there has been a rise in “market” language to speak about the university—extracurricular and other options are considered as “value-added”, educational offerings “products”, and students “clients”. The marketisation of education is by and large seen as a negative by American academics, who lament the contemporary commodification of higher education, part of which is indexed by the increasingly transnational nature of universities and the neoliberal orientation of international curricula. Gulf-based projects such as Knowledge Village in Dubai and Education City in Qatar seem to be prime examples of these processes, particularly in light of recent WTO (World Trade Organizations) negotiations to further liberalize the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), which specifically includes higher education as a commodity service.

Gulf governments, faced with large demographic imbalances between citizens and expatriates, who make up the majority of the workforce in many countries, find Intenrnaitonal universities luring because they provide educational opportunities for citizens that make them competitive both at home and abroad, and also because they will potentially generate—non-oil revenue after large initial investments. Expatriates who are barred from state schools also get attracted towards International universities. Additionally, and perhaps conversely, the globalized American university, lamented by scholars as an erosion of the liberal ideals of the university, is providing space and opportunities for unexpected liberal politicizations and calls for rights by South Asian young people in Dubai.

Only in the university setting, when they began to interact with Emiratis and other expatriates, often for the first time in their lives, did they seem to develop a greater sense of the citizen/non-citizen hierarchy and the fact that they were foreigners in their home. The university was a space in which all students were technically on equal footing—they had equal access to facilities, they excelled based on grades and not ethnicity, and they interacted socially with a wide range of different nationalities and ethnic groups.

While primary and secondary education in the UAE tends to follow national lines, higher education is very diverse. For example, AUS is home to students from over seventy nationalities. At such Universities, for almost all of the students, diversity is experienced up close in ways that it has not been before, even though they have lived their lives in a very international space.  By entering a university space that is modeled, in most cases, on American academic institutions, these young people are placed on equal footing.

While AUS has a stated policy of non-discrimination, houses students of all nationalities together, and attempts to enforce egalitarianism in terms of grades and even rules against cutting in line. Of course the university has an official stance on fairness.

Because AUS is in Sharjah, it also follows some of Sharjah’s strict decency laws. Men and women are housed in separate dormitories on different sides of the campus and women have a curfew that they have to follow or they are reported to their parents. In addition, tank tops and short skirts are banned from campus, as is any public display of affection between men and women. In the classroom itself, which often has members of the ruling families as students, faculty members do practice a certain amount of self-censorship.  While American universities exist in the Gulf, tenure, if available, is tied to US home universities, and jobs are bound to visas that can be revoked at any time for any reason. Classes at these universities teach Islamic cultural history and Gulf Studies.

These young people among the first to experience not had to go abroad for higher education, and despite their sense of being temporary, many were settling down in Dubai. In fact, some had already procured jobs in Dubai or taken over their fathers’ businesses.