The effect of 'cross-border' education

A researcher has identified the policy of teaching English at federal universities as a source of institutional problems.

RAS AL KHAIMAH // A doctoral student from the United States has been studying the effect of the UAE's cross-border higher education policies.

Christine Farrugia is not ready to predict the outcome of her research, but has already identified the policy of teaching in English at the federal universities as a source of institutional problems.

"The students aren't prepared to be performing at that academic level in English. They like the idea of it, but really aren't able to understand the complex material. The ambition and the policy goals [of the Government] are there, and are appropriate, but it seems like there's a disconnect between what's actually happening at the universities and what these goals are."

The UAE has the most foreign "branch campuses" in the world.

"I'd like to know how people perceive all this foreign involvement," said Ms Farrugia, who is pursuing her PhD at the University of Albany. "What will happen in the future, if it's meeting expectations … not much has been done on this."

Her three-month research project is funded by the Sheikh Saud Bin Saqr Al Qasimi Foundation of Ras Al Khaimah.

Dr Warren Fox, head of higher education at Dubai's Knowledge and Human Development Authority, said he hopes Ms Farrugia does not merely look at the system from a western perspective, but acknowledges that the country is young and the landscape is complex.

Dr Fox said the lack of university readiness after high school was a Gulf-wide problem.

In Dubai, he said, the diversity of institutions has been vital to economic development in an emirate without vast resources of oil, helping to develop an educated workforce and knowledge economy.

"Dubai has to have technical people in fields such as finance, tourism, logistics and transport," he said. "Not every institution has to be a research institute; Dubai has to diversify its economy."

Established academics say UAE universities owe part of their progress to the country's "cross-border" education policies.

Prof Raed Awamleh, director of Middlesex University, a British branch campus in Dubai, said expatriates sought quality education from names they recognised and looked to countries such as the United Kingdom, India and Australia. "Quality and recognition are very important to students and their parents," he said.