The Transnational Higher Education Model in Dubai: Motivations, Challenges and Benefits

  • Nitesh Sughnani

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Business (DBA)


There has been rapid expansion of transnational higher education as a result of internationalization in higher education

Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, has a unique demographic whereby 90% of the population is represented by expatriates. Dubai’s drive towards economic diversification, its need to develop a talented workforce and to serve its large expatriate population has resulted in the establishment of one of the most prominent transnational higher education systems in the world. Dubai currently hosts the highest number of international branch campuses and has developed a unique model for transnational higher education. Dubai was the first to develop and create dedicated free trade economic zones for the purpose of higher education. This novel concept, along with the development of appropriate regulatory systems, use of private investment, establishment of fit-for-purpose quality assurance systems and a diverse group of international higher education providers make the Dubai higher education model an interesting case study for transnational education.

Although there is emerging literature on transnational education, international branch campuses and the Dubai higher education model, this thesis presents an in-depth view of the Dubai TNE model, which has not been done before. Using a qualitative approach, this study reviews the key enablers, motivations, challenges and benefits of the transnational model of higher education in Dubai from the perspective of two major stakeholder groups, government planners and international higher education providers who have established campuses in Dubai. This provides a better understanding as to why this particular approach was adopted in Dubai, how the model was developed and implemented and what the key challenges and benefits for government planners and providers were over the last decade.

The findings present the differences in motivations, challenges and benefits between the two stakeholder groups and also discuss the similarities and differences with existing literature. Many of these differences presented are due to the maturity of branch campuses and this model in general, which have resulted in a new set of challenges compared to those faced in initial years of development.

These include the need to move from a teaching model to one that also encourages research, the need to create a better student experience and to increase collaboration between campuses and industry. The findings also identify key challenges for the Dubai model going forward, provides recommendations for its future development and suggests areas for further research. This study contributes to the literature on transnational education, more specifically towards the motivations, challenges and benefits of international branch campuses, and on the Dubai transnational higher education model.
Date of Award3 Apr 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorRobin Shields (Supervisor) & Ian Jamieson (Supervisor)

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