The Development of the UAE Federal Higher Education System
: Main Characteristics and Influences

  • Maytha Al-Ali

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Business (DBA)


This study examines the impact of globalization on the newly-adopted, American-based federal higher education model of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) through the lenses of World Polity theory. The higher education environment has been transformed by shared global ideas and policy models. In many developing countries, higher education is perceived to be central to socio-political and economic development. The federal higher education system in the (UAE) represented by the three federal universities - United Arab Emirates University (UAEU), Higher Colleges of Technology (HCT), and Zayed University (ZU) - is tasked not only with educating UAE nationals, but also with the “Emiritization” or nationalization of the labor market, which is highly dependent on foreign expatriates. The UAE has made a transformational shift in its federal higher education model by replacing its Arabic-based model with English-based instruction and American curricula. Some UAE public universities sought and were granted accreditation by US regional accrediting bodies. This study was focused on the three UAE federal universities to identify the main characteristics of the newly adopted model and the extent to which it draws on western and indigenous models and principles, and to validate the global reach of higher education ideas and values to the environment other than those where they originated from. The research investigates various issues related to higher education development including the socio-cultural and organizational aspects of it. The research questions are not only significant to the UAE but they also address key issues that are especially sensitive yet similarly applicable across the Gulf region and similar developing countries. The findings reveal that in the UAE the profound cultural and religious differences reflecting local and national path dependencies are undercut by dominant western models of higher education. While the US and the UAE differ in their values, culture, level of development, several aspects of the higher education model look quite similar. These similar aspects were not mandated, but communicated, and governed by the culture of a global higher education exchange. The world polity of higher education has played a key role in sustaining and promulgating a common culture to nations and communities around the world.
Date of Award2 Jul 2014
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorRajani Naidoo (Supervisor)


  • Higher education

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