Globalized higher education in the United Arab Emirates – unexpected outcomes

Editor’s note: today’s guest entry has been kindly prepared by Dr. Neha Vora. Dr. Vora recently received her PhD in Anthropology from the University of California, Irvine. As of Fall 2008, she will be Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Women’s Studies at Texas A&M University. Her current research focuses on the dynamics of race, class, and gender in the United Arab Emirates and how they affect the large Indian migrant population. By focusing on the overlaps between state and expatriate discourses, she considers how migrants, who officially do not have access to citizenship or permanent residency, are often participants in the production of forms of exclusion and exploitation in contemporary Dubai. Dr. Vora also holds an MA in Women’s Studies from San Francisco State University. Her next research project will focus on the recent influx of American Universities into the Gulf Arab States, including Texas A&M!

<><><><><><><><><><><><>

In 2006, I was in Dubai conducting research among the large Indian migrant community in that emirate. Several of my younger informants, it turned out, had attended branches of US-accredited universities, which were a relatively new arrival in the Gulf States. My research, which focused on forms of identity and belonging among differently situated South Asians, was mainly concerned about the question of what it means to belong to a place like the UAE, where despite family histories that sometimes go back generations, one has no access to citizenship or even permanent residency. I started to notice that almost all of my informants, while staking certain historical, cultural, and geographic claims to Dubai and the UAE, vehemently denied any desire for formal belonging. In fact, the exclusion of the UAE’s overwhelmingly non-citizen population was predicated in many ways on the participation of non-citizens themselves. However, one group of informants differed greatly in how they spoke about their status in the UAE, and these were the young people who had attended foreign universities in the Gulf. They were actually quite politicized. They spoke of themselves as “second-class citizens” and expressed anger at what they felt to be systemic discrimination against South Asians in the Gulf. And, surprisingly, they attributed their awareness of their own exclusion directly to their university experiences, at schools like American University of Dubai, University of Wollongong, and American University of Sharjah, among others.

In the last decade, the options for higher education in the Gulf have expanded. Higher education is one of the major focal points of non-oil development in the Gulf States, and it is of particular importance to the rulers of the United Arab Emirates. The American University of Sharjah (AUS), for example, 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 (pictured to the right, courtesy of the AUS website) means that a large number of expatriate middle-class children, who used to have to go abroad for higher education (usually to India, Australia, Canada, the US, or the UK), are increasingly able to stay in the UAE through the time of their college graduation. Therefore, many South Asian young people I interviewed, unlike their parents or even their slightly older counterparts, had not previously considered the reality of perhaps having to migrate to another country to find work, settle down, and start a family. Here, I consider briefly how the recent influx of American and other foreign 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 geared at profit-making enterprises (see for example Altbach 2004; Morey 2004; Poovey 2001). In addition, there has been an increase in “market” language to speak about the university—students are considered “clients,” educational offerings “products,” and extracurricular and other options “value-added.” The marketization 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 Education City in Qatar and Knowledge Village in Dubai seem to be prime examples of these processes, particularly in light of recent WTO 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 foreign universities attractive because they provide educational opportunities for citizens that make them competitive both at home and abroad, and because they will potentially generate—after large initial investments—non-oil revenue. Foreign universities are also attractive to expatriates, who are barred from attending state schools. However, these students, particularly those who have spent their lives in the Gulf, are simultaneously inculcated into parochial national identities and an exclusion from the UAE nation-state. In addition, 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.

When I asked Indian and Pakistani young people who attended these schools to talk about their childhood experiences, I learned that they grew up almost exclusively in South Asian social and cultural circles. Their family friends, their neighborhoods, their own friends, their schools, their leisure activities—these all produced for them a sense of Dubai (pictured here) as an Indian or Pakistani ethnic space in which they did not experience a lack of citizenship or belonging. 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 in fact 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. However, it was the very space of the academy that highlighted to my informants their difference from other groups, for they experienced direct racism and practices of self-entitlement from their peers.

While primary and secondary education in the UAE tends to follow national lines, higher education is very diverse. AUS, for example, is home to students from over seventy nationalities. For almost all of the students at universities such as this one, 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. In Dubai, social, cultural, geographic, and work spaces are very segregated and defined by systemic inequalities. By entering a university space that is modeled, in most cases, on American academic institutions, these young people are placed on equal footing, at least theoretically. However, my informants recounted many incidents that made the transition into this type of egalitarian space very interesting and sometimes difficult. All of the young people whom I spoke to about being South Asian in Gulf universities told me that the thing they found most difficult was the behavior of Emirati and other Gulf Arab nationals. In our conversations, they spoke of incidents in which “locals” would cut in front of them in the cafeteria line, would expect them to share their notes and even their homework, and would speak in Arabic in mixed Arab/non-Arab social gatherings in ways that made them feel excluded. It is unclear just to what extent the social hierarchies outside of the university impact what goes on in the university itself, but while students are afforded more equality than they would be under the UAE’s legal system or in the workplace, there are inevitably ways in which these distinctions between groups seep into the university setting. AUS is an excellent example. The university, with which I was affiliated during my fieldwork, was definitely more open to the study of expatriate groups in the UAE than national universities would have been. AUS seemed happy to sponsor my residency and the professors I spoke to in the International Studies department were interested in my topic. However, after spending many days at AUS, I began to see some unique entanglements of American academic ideals and UAE societal structures.

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, the staff and faculty pay structures are still nationality-based. Of course the university has an official stance on fairness, but several people I spoke to at the university, both white and Indian, told me that Indians get paid less for the same jobs, particularly administrative positions. The low-wage work such as landscaping and cleaning is almost 100% done by South Asians.

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. They do not criticize social and economic hierarchies in front of their students because they never know how influential or connected their students might be. 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, but they do not provide much information about expatriate communities or their histories in the Gulf. Professors also told me how divisive the classroom can become when they broach topics such as migration, so they tended to tread very lightly or avoid such topics altogether.

Experiences such as the ones above, inside and outside of the classroom, were the focus of my informants’ narratives about their feelings of being “second-class” in the UAE. Ironically, it was the egalitarian platform of the university, and not the segregated environment of their childhoods, that showed them the realities of inequalities in the UAE. For these young people, then, the university experience was doubly unsettling—they had to face the impending realities of perhaps settling outside of the Gulf, and they had to face the knowledge that they did not belong in the place where they felt most at home.

This personal politicization is an unintended consequence of the private university system in places like Dubai. So, as more and more South Asian migrants raise their children in Dubai, and my informants themselves start families in the Gulf, what impact will the growing number of international universities have on the Indian community? These young people were among the first to experience not having to go abroad for higher education, and despite their sense of being temporary, many were settling down (without feeling “settled”) in Dubai. In fact, some had already procured jobs in Dubai or taken over their fathers’ businesses. The sense of insecurity and the idea that they would have to move abroad did not translate to an actual move in many cases. However, the tenuousness of their lives in Dubai hindered actual assertions of political belonging.

I left Dubai feeling that the “system” was less fixed than I felt when I arrived. The differences in politicization between young Dubai-born Indians and those in their parents’ generation were stark. These young people spoke of citizenship and rights with a sense of injustice and entitlement, and in so doing, they laid claim to Dubai in ways their parents did not. The opportunity to remain in Dubai uninterrupted, as it becomes the norm for middle-class South Asian families, might increase these feelings and lead to forms of resistance and activism that the young people I interviewed did not presently consider a possibility. And the demographic impacts of expatriates who are educated in the Gulf are unclear. On the one hand, citizens have access to more education and training; on the other hand, expatriates who do not ever have to leave may begin actively to assert belonging in the domains they previously accepted as unavailable to them, like the nation.

Neha Vora

Overseas campuses: American views and photographs

cmumap.jpgThe Sunday New York Times published a general overview (‘Universities rush to set up outposts abroad’) today regarding the phenomenon of overseas campuses. This article (the first of a series this week – see the bottom of this entry for links to all of the articles when they have been published) focuses on US campuses in the Middle East, especially universities that have ‘home’ bases in New York (it is the New York Times after all!), Pittsburgh and Washington DC, though reference is made to developments in other parts of the world. An explicit US-centric view is developed in the article.

The article is particularly worth perusing for the accompanying slideshow of campuses including Carnegie Mellon in Qatar, New York Institute of Technology Abu Dhabi, Texas A&M University at Qatar, Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service in Qatar, and George Mason University – Ras Al Khaimah Campus, as well as the teaching rooms of the University of Washington’s certificate programs in Abu Dhabi.

klec.jpgThis story, on top of news last week that Royal Holloway, University of London, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Kuala Lumpur Education City (KLEC) to establish the University of London’s first overseas campus by 2011, is a reminder that venturing abroad is an internationalization option more and more universities are deliberating about.

With opportunity comes confusion, this said. Some universities are simply overwhelmed with options, as the University of Washington (in Seattle) outlined in the article:

The demand from overseas is huge. At the University of Washington, the administrator in charge of overseas programs said she received about a proposal a week. “It’s almost like spam,” said the official, Susan Jeffords, whose position as vice provost for global affairs was created just two years ago.

And yet the article implies, as does the American Council on Education’s report Venturing Abroad: Delivering US Degrees Through Overseas Campuses and Programs (2007), that the opportunity/risk/implication calculus is only in the early stages of a sophisticated conceptualisation. Indeed our own research leads us to believe that the calculus is remarkably unsystematic with universities incrementally ad-hocing it through the deliberative process. Little systematic information is available regarding how to plan the planning process, optional models for overseas campuses, legal innovations (e.g., regarding the protection of academic freedom), best and worse cases, and so on.

Some universities have also not recognized the importance of closely relating core principles and objectives to the idea of accepting or rejecting an overture to open an overseas campus. Interestingly, one university that has is the University of Pennsylvania, and their stance on overseas campuses is an unequivocal no. In the New York Times article Amy Gutmann, president of Penn, is quoted as saying “the downside is lower than the upside is high” especially because the:

risk is that we couldn’t deliver the same quality education that we do here, and that it would mean diluting our faculty strength at home.

New York University (NYU), also the focus of some attention in the article, is clear that their network university model simply requires campuses in other countries; an issue we discussed in some detail in our entry on NYU Abu Dhabi.

Interestingly, both NYU and Penn are active in Singapore. NYU has developed one independent arts school (the Tisch School of the Arts Asia), while Penn is present via intellectual engagement (and some associated secondment activities) with key Singapore-based actors shaping the development of a new university (Singapore Management University) . Thus Penn’s clear principle is to deeply internationalize (including by bringing Penn’s intellectual power to the development of new campuses in countries like India and Singapore), but in a manner than strengthens their one and only campus while concurrently reducing financial and brand name risk.

The outcomes that we read about in such articles, and that we see in such photographs, are dependent upon a suitable mesh between the principles guiding universities as they seek to internationalize, and the territorially-specific development objectives of host governments. One of these territorial objectives is capacity building, an issue we will explore in some detail over the next several months. Now back to those Sunday papers…

Kris Olds

~~~~~~

11 February Update:

Charles Thorpe, dean of Carnegie Mellon in Qatar responded to a selection of 57 questions submitted by New York Times readers at this site. His responses were posted here.

The second article in the series (‘In Oil-Rich Mideast, Shades of the Ivy League’) was published in the New York Times. This article focuses on the student experience in overseas campuses in the Middle East. Readers of the article have been submitting questions here.

Liberal education venturing abroad?: American universities in the Middle East

Note: GlobalHigherEd will post brief entries by guest contributors from time to time. This one is by Amy W. Newhall (newhall@u.arizona.edu) of the University of Arizona.

In late September yet another American university announced an agreement to set up educational and research programs in the Gulf. The ambitious agreement between Michigan State University and the Dubai governmental entity TECOM Investments will “mesh MSU’s academic strengths with regional needs. MSU in Dubai is planning initially to offer not-for profit bachelor’s and master’s degree programs.” The new programs will be located in Dubai International Academic City, a free trade zone which is in keeping with TECOM’s stated goal to “Establish, own and promote various ventures in affiliated free trade zones, including educational institutions and research centers; investment; telecommunication and telecommunication equipment and accessories; film festival; media and broadcasting.”

Just which programs will mesh with what regional needs have not yet been revealed but agreements in other Gulf states such as the UAE, Bahrain, Qatar and Kuwait suggest they all will be in technical fields: medicine, foreign service, business administration, computer science, and engineering.

While American technical education is widely admired, its tradition of liberal education is less highly regarded according to a recent (June 2007) report titled Studying the American Way: An Assessment of American-Style Higher Education in Arab Countries by Shafeeq Ghabra and Margreet Arnold. Link here or here for a PDF copy of the study. Elements of liberal education curricula are often deemed to be at odds with local religious, political and cultural traditions. In some countries, teaching materials have been censored or bowdlerized and teaching methods seriously circumscribed. The summary firing of an instructor who discussed the Danish cartoon controversy and showed some of the cartoons in class at Abu Dhabi’s Zayed University in March 2006 illustrates the gulf between local and American understandings of protected speech, legitimate classroom activities and academic freedom. No procedural safeguards or processes were in place to protect the teacher’s rights nor were any processes by which she could contest the allegations and actions taken against her, according to statements on the matter. Zayed is not a branch US campus; so far it is only a candidate for accreditation in the US. It is not clear whether accrediting agencies take into account the existence or the absence of standard professional policies, regulations and grievance procedures in their accreditation assessments.

MSU’s deal mirrors that of more narrowly focused single program branch campuses run in Qatar by five different American universities, Carnegie-Mellon, Georgetown, Virginia Commonwealth, Weill Medical College of Cornell and Texas A&M. [See today’s GlobalHigherEd entry on Qatar] They are operated by their home campuses with the same admissions standards and curriculum. Each home campus has “full academic authority and quality control over courses and programs.” Virginia Commonwealth University runs the School of the Arts in Qatar, one of the oldest of the branch institutions and their students receive a VCU degree . VCU maintains complete control over hiring and retention. However, all instructors require a visa to work in Qatar and that granting power remains in the hands of the state. Visas can be revoked at any time.

New York University (NYU) has been exploring the possibility of developing a mini-university in Abu Dhabi complete with programs in humanities, social sciences and natural sciences. Administrators envision a full undergraduate program and eventually some graduate ones. The new Abu Dhabi school would serve students from all over the region in addition to NYU study abroad students. Faculty from New York would supplement permanent faculty based in country. The proposal has generated considerable and sometimes contentious discussion on the NYU campus. Serious questions have been raised concerning “academic freedom, equal access and opportunities for women and Jews and human rights issues.” NYU prides itself on having one of the largest (if not the largest) study abroad program in the world. Just how this latest proposal fits in with its own educational program and overall objectives is not clear, nor is it clear how the proposed fields of study will appeal to the different sets of students.

Amy Newhall

Qatar’s ‘Education City’: Can it be a state of the art ‘Cathedral in the Desert’?

Note: GlobalHigherEd will post brief entries by guest contributors from time to time. The first of several that will appear in the next two weeks is by May Wazzan <may.wazzan@googlemail.com>, a graduate student at the London School of Economics.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The small but very wealthy state of Qatar has recently announced an integral part of its future vision; reinventing itself as a more economically diversified, less hydrocarbon- dependent, Knowledge Economy (KE). The formulation of the parameters of this vision has been assisted by the World Bank. To this end, the past five years have brought budget constraint free, billion dollar reform plans in areas such as Education, ICT, R&D, and the Labor Market; areas where the notion of the KE has cast prominent policy implications. Against this background, Qatar Foundation, a private-government sponsored institution, has launched the massive ‘Education City’ (EC) in Doha, the capital city. EC is to play a key part in Qatar’s ‘KE vision’, and its objectives of becoming the innovative hub for higher education and Science and Technology development and research in the region.

qatar.jpg

Figure 1: Qatar faces an oil-dependency ratio higher than of the average GCC ratio in terms of oil revenue to total government revenue and oil exports to total experts, making diversification an urgent matter on the country’s policy agenda

Source: Fasano & Iqbal, 2003

EC houses branches of several American universities (including Carnegie Mellon, Texas A&M, Cornell, Georgetown, and Virginia Commonwealth), strategically selected to teach different disciplines within the free- zone campus, work autonomously and under the same standards as their home campuses. QF offers the universities comprehensive financing, student fees go back to the home campuses but the universities are conditioned to make purchasing contracts locally. In 2006, 2,018 students were enrolled in EC. Up till today, EC has graduated 130 students. The campus is networked by an advanced IT infrastructure which is expected to benefit the entire region, given that it will connect different institutions in the Middle East. Within the campus, a new Science and Technology Park was recently launched to house local and international firms which will engage in science and technology development and research. Theoretically, the idea of EC corresponds to the Triple Helix Model (Etzkowitz & Leydesdorff, 2000), of the public, private, and academic configuration, expected to spur innovation. The universities at EC will serve as the academic infrastructure for the park’s research oriented science firms.

qatartable.jpg

But will EC deliver its promises to the Qatari Economy? EC faces the need to balance the role of the universities as educators and the use of universities as an ‘export industry’. The extent of local multiplier and spillover effects depends on the commitment of the universities and the willingness and incentives of Qatari nationals to engage in knowledge acquisition. The latter still faces shy doubts. Besides, one may be concerned about the strength of the foreign universities’ cultural and social synergies with the country which may create the threat of excessive commercialization of the university, at the expense of its embededness. For example, EC is the first co-education institute in Qatar and the use of advanced English is not so common yet. The Science and Technology Park’s location within the EC is strategic, especially if complimented by a serious commitment to engage local Qatari’s in R&D, something which has never been part of the Qatari mindset before. Without a doubt, EC is a state of the art, ambitious and promising venture. However, it is extremely important to ensure that EC doesn’t end up as solely a playground for foreign establishments. Kevin Morgan (1997) referred to the danger of installing ‘cathedrals in the desert’: facilities which are seriously under-utilized by local firms. Ironically, Qatar is literally a desert land.

References

Etzkowitz, H., Leydesdorff, L. (2000). The dynamics of innovation: from National Systems and Mode 2 to a Triple Helix of university-industry-government relations. Research Policy, 29, 109-23.

Fasano U., Iqbal Z. (2003). GCC Countries: From Oil Dependence to Diversification. Washington, D.C.: International Monetary Fund.

Knowledge Economy 2020: A Perfect Vision. (2007, June). Qatar Today.

Qatar Population Census. (2003). March 2003 Population Census, State of Qatar.

Morgan K. (1997). The Learning Region: Institutions, Innovation and Regional Renewal. Regional Studies, 31:5, 491 – 503.

May Wazzan