Higher education in the United Arab Emirates : is it supporting the development of a knowledge economy?

  • Jennifer Mcglennon

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Business (DBA)


The United Arab Emirates (UAE) as a small nation-state, and Abu Dhabi as its wealthiest Emirate, exists in a regional and international environment of rapid development and social change, economic diversification, political upheaval and instability. Federal government rhetoric identifies quality Higher Education (HE) as a key contributor to the production, dissemination and transfer of knowledge, a position reiterated in Abu Dhabi public documentation; therefore HE is seen as a source of competitive advantage in a globalized world. This research sought to identify how HE for Emirati nationals is supporting the development of a knowledge-based economy as official public documentation envisions. The UAE has adopted policy and indicator borrowing from international agencies such as the World Bank (WB), providing the context for promotion of economic growth and development for the nation. The research considers the historical tribal, social and political context of the UAE that shapes efforts to introduce change and identifies systemic challenges for HE to effectively develop citizens to drive national growth and innovation through education.This research used a mixed method approach involving statistical data from the World Bank (WB) Knowledge Assessment Methodology (KAM), federal and Emirate government publications and media reports to analyze approaches toward development federally and in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. These sources were then triangulated through semi-structured interviews with high profile HE leaders and researchers working both at the nation level and within national institutions. This research identified seven major findings, with evidence suggesting that knowledge economy and knowledge society terminology are not clearly differentiated or understood in UAE discourse. Additionally, the development platforms required for research and innovation activities that stimulate growth are not well understood and are impacted by counter-productive legislation. The short development time-frame of the UAE was identified as a challenge; however national HE quality is also impacted by poor K-12 education, ineffective HE system management practices and immature understanding of governance outside of the tribal context. This research provides insights into local implications for the adoption of international development benchmarks and may give cause to question processes used to identify national and Emirate priorities, the mechanisms available to realize national or Abu Dhabi HE goals and the challenges inherent within the UAE context.
Date of Award7 Jun 2015
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorIan Jamieson (Supervisor)

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