Higher Education in the GCC States: building economies, societies and nations

Venue: Brunei Gallery Lecture Theatre

Location: London, United Kingdom

Event Date/Time: Nov 06, 2007
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Description

Nowhere in the world is higher education expanding as rapidly as it is in the six member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). In some two generations the region has gone from having the Middle East’s least well-educated population to having a younger generation whose educational achievements are approaching OECD standards. Indeed, the availability of resources for higher education in the Gulf would make many OECD countries envious.

Accompanying dramatic expansion of tertiary education has been a growing awareness by GCC decision makers of challenges confronting higher education and alternative approaches to dealing with them. One such challenge has been to link higher education more effectively to job markets and economies in general. The paradox of having unemployed graduates in the world’s most rapidly growing economies that are attracting employees from around the world is one that many GCC countries face. The task of reorienting employment for university graduates from the public to the private sector challenges the entire GCC. The need to produce graduates who are globally competitive in skills and dedication is now keenly felt throughout the region.

Higher education is, however, not just a preparation for entry into labour forces. It also plays a key role in shaping the beliefs, attitudes and behaviour of young adults, hence a determining one for the future of societies and polities. How tertiary institutions should socialize students thus raises questions about what sort of societies and polities those making tertiary educational policy want. At one end of the spectrum are those approaches intended to maximize global integration of GCC students, while at the other are those designed to enrich and preserve local values. The former approach is consonant with a commitment to continuing transition to more liberal societies and polities, while the latter reflects a desire to perpetuate many, if not all, aspects of extant, traditional societies and polities.

In addition to these primordial questions about the purpose of education and its relation to economies, societies and polities, GCC countries also face many operational questions. Whatever their objectives might be, they each have to come up with policies that maximize those objectives by achieving optimal mixes between public and private as well as foreign and domestic universities. Increasingly those mixes have become yet more complex as a result of partnerships between local and external institutions and involvement by private interests in universities supported by public funds. Finding optimal mixes between internal capacity building and sending students abroad is another challenge GCC governments face, while a further challenge is how to mix face-to-face models of instruction with those more heavily reliant upon advanced information technology.

Not surprisingly, given the importance of higher education and the range of policy options available, each GCC country has come up with its own, distinctive approach. This in turn makes the subject all the more interesting as it provides an opportunity to investigate comparative public policy in a defined setting. The feedback from that investigation might even be of use to decision makers in the region. For that reason and because of their direct knowledge of the subject, policy makers from the various GCC countries will be key participants in the conference, along with knowledgeable experts.

The conference will investigate how the different GCC states are responding to the challenges of shaping higher education to meet economic, social and political objectives. It will do so by first providing an overview of the current state of tertiary education in the Gulf; by then identifying the common objectives of higher education and specifying what the policy choices are and issues involved with the implementation of those objectives; and will conclude by examining how different GCC states have constructed policy mixes for their tertiary educational sectors.

Introduction: Overview of Tertiary Education for the Gulf

Panel One: The Objectives of Higher Education

This panel will include speakers who will address the economic, social and political objectives of higher education. They will take up such economic issues as how universities are seeking to prepare their graduates for the labour market; how universities and their graduates are contributing to GCC economies; and in what way universities might be facilitating or impeding shifts in emphasis from public to private sector economies. As regards the social and political objectives of higher education, speakers will reflect on how curricula and educational programmes more generally are designed to reinforce or alter existing norms and behaviour and what impact they may be having on university students.

Panel Two: Implementing Higher Education

Speakers on this panel will describe and analyze the mix of public and private, domestic and foreign, and on-campus versus off-campus university institutions in the Gulf, as well as the relative importance of overseas university education for Gulf citizens. They will take up such issues as accreditation, educational standards, research and teaching, student recruitment, cooperation/competition between institutions and countries, and ways and means of engagement with labour markets.

Panel Three: National Approaches within the GCC

This panel will provide an opportunity to review how different countries in the GCC have addressed the objectives and means of tertiary education.

Venue

Additional Information

There is a £10 registration fee.