A comparative case study analysis is a tool that has been effectively used by researchers to examine in rich detail the features and the context of two or more types of certain phenomena. In this comparative study, the researcher will evaluate the strategies of higher education in Canada and the United Arab Emirates. In this analysis, the cultural, political, social, and economic aspects of the two countries will play a defining role in characterizing higher education strategies. The aim of the comparative case study will be determining similarities and differences in higher education strategies of Canada and UAE and identifying best practices, which the two countries can learn from one another. The paper will be divided into the following sections: background, key points, issues, discussion, considerations for the future, and conclusion.
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Higher Education in Canada
Development history of higher education in Canada: top view. The history of Canadian education can be traced back three hundred years. French and British colonies significantly influenced Canadian education in the beginning, with the earliest university in the country being founded by the Church. The first private non-church university, McGill University (established in 1821) (McGill 2017), progressed into the first comprehensive university in the 1950’s.
From the late 20th to the early 21st century, the country began a process of extensive popularization of higher education. Today, in the country with only thirteen million people, there are up to 100 universities, 120 colleges and more than 400 of community colleges and private schools, which speaks a lot about the dedication of the government to promote higher education for its citizens.
Administrative system: inside view. Because Canada is a multicultural state and there is no centralized Ministry of Education, the primary procedures associated with the enforcement of higher education standards and regulation are managed by the Council of Ministers of Education. The majority of universities and colleges in the country are provincial public, so the provincial government is the one responsible for funding the higher education facilities. However, despite the role in investment, the provincial government is not allowed to interfere with the academic activities of the universities. With regards to the role of the federal government, it is not involved in the direct management of higher education, although it is expected to give general advice for protecting the national interest.
University management: bottom-up view. It is crucial to note that different universities in Canada have different goals and characteristics. This is associated with the flexible system of teaching and management that allows students to be in charge of their credit course selection. Such a system is beneficial for taking into account various levels of students’ learning needs and fully reflecting the philosophy of student orientation (Jones 2014).
Apart from flexibility, Canadian universities apply the heuristic and interactive teaching with a focus on innovation. First, teachers pay extra attention to the hands-on practical skills and then teach students to take action, be initiative, and apply creative thinking. Moreover, the management of Canadian universities is focused on the student-centered system of services: special networking for first-year students, guidance offices, library accommodation, learning centers, counseling services, and employment centers where students can get in touch with their possible future employers (Jones 2014).
Background: Higher Education in the UAE
Development and history: top view. Educational services were made available to the public even before the establishment of the United Arab Emirates in 1971. Self-education was considered an effective method of gaining new knowledge. In the largest majority of cases, the educational system placed a large focus on the religious instructions and the acquisition of experience and knowledge by means of interacting with others (Alhebsi, Pettaway & Waller 2015).
Much of knowledge and experiences were transferred from one generation to another either in written or oral forms. From these traditional methodologies, the didactic styles developed and were based on a more formal style of teaching that included lessons and course. The UAE Ministry of Education indicated that the country had experienced four stages of development in the educational sphere, such as the Mutawa and the Katateeb, Educational Circles, Semi-Organized Education, and the Modern Educational System (Alhebsi, Pettaway & Waller 2015).
Main characteristics: inside view. It has been common knowledge that the UAE’s government placed emphasis on the Islamic identity within the higher education system; however, such an approach proved to be ineffective in meeting the desired developmental goals and becoming successful in following the demands of the diversification and globalization of the economy (Al-Ali 2014).
The current efforts to change the direction of the UAE higher education have been grounded on the conviction that the development and education are closely linked and that universities should prepare students to become strong leaders and employees that will meet the needs of the workforce market (Al-Ali 2014). For this reason, the reformation of the UAE higher education was closely linked to the reproduction of the expertise, knowledge, and educational models of the Western world.
Uniqueness of the system: bottom-up view. This makes the higher education in UAE unique: on the one hand, there is an influence of the Arabic culture and religion, and on the other, there is an influence of the Western culture. The first university to have ever been established is the UAE University (founded in 1977), which was the starting point for all UAE nationals to have access to free public education (Al-Ali 2014). Recently, a large number of foreign-funded universities have started establishing their campuses in the UAE. Among those were the Middlesex University of the UK, College of North Atlantic of Canada, University of Wollongong of Australia, and others (Al-Ali 2014).
Canadian Education: Fostering International Collaboration for Improving Quality
Environment. The implementation of a strategy to improve Canadian higher education will occur within the environment of acceptance of global higher education and the engagement of the country’s economy (The University of British Columbia 2014). The strategy will focus on fostering close relationships and attracting international students and researchers to establish a pan-Canadian partnership.
According to the report by Kizilbash (2016), the more international students who pay tuition fees, the higher is the economic return and “the less the government will need to invest in higher education” (p. 3). Therefore, fostering the environment of collaboration with international stakeholders is key to achieving the success in strategy’s implementation.
Governance. The implementation of the strategy will fall under the governance of officials responsible for the exchange of experience and information with the economic and educational facilities of other countries (University of Oxford 2015). For instance, the Minister of International Trade of Canada will participate in the development of the comprehensive international education strategy in the sphere of funding while the Council of Ministers of Education will be responsible for outlining and governing the strategy in the context of educational programs (CICIC 2017).
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Strategy. There is a growing problem of Canadian universities teaching under-qualified international students who do not possess enough knowledge to become successful in their studies. Thus, the development of a cohesive strategy that will focus on international collaboration is paramount. International cooperation is a tool to increase the quality of higher education and research in Canada: only through comparing the education to other countries, Canada will be able to see its true weaknesses and advantages (Ministry of Education and Research 2012).
Priorities and measures, on which the strategy will focus are the following:
- Collaboration at two levels: government and network arenas;
- Institutional partnership and correlation between research and higher education spheres;
- Increased mobility of the staff and students (Ministry of Education and Research 2012).
The collaboration at government level and network arenas is an aspect of the strategy, on which the Canadian government should place the most focus. Contact and dialogue on the level of governments are essential for stimulating cooperation and reducing former barriers. Network arenas are also important for dispersing information and collaborating with partners. The institutional partnership will be best achieved through programs for higher education collaboration between Canada and other countries.
Such programs will not only encourage collaboration but also will create sustainable academic networks. Lastly, the mobility of students and staff is the aspect of the strategy developed to stimulate and support mobility of students and staff as a component of institutional partnerships (Ministry of Education and Research 2012).
Steps that can be taken to ensuring the adherence of the strategy should include:
- Introducing more exchange programs between Canadian and foreign universities;
- Holding ministerial meetings regarding networking between educational institutions (France Diplomatie 2016);
- Provide government-funded educational programs for international students (especially with regards to English learning).
Organization and performance. The strategy of collaborating with foreign stakeholders will be organized on the principle of a “round table,” where every participant will be able to express their opinions regarding the strategy and offer new steps for improving the level and the quality of collaboration between Canadian higher education circles and foreign stakeholders. Whether the strategy performs well is an indicator that will be measured through assessing the state of relationships between Canadian universities and foreign educational institutions, the number of Canadian students enrolled in international educational programs and the number of international students and researchers received by Canadian higher education facilities.
Higher Education in UAE: Improving Quality
After two decades of explosive growth, the United Arab Emirates has become the “biggest international higher education hub in the world” (Bollag 2016). However, many students that graduate from the UAE colleges and universities lack skills and quality that employees in the majority of private institutions require. According to the research conducted by Ashour and Fatima (2016), employees of the UAE corporations expressed complaint and dissatisfaction with the level of skills that graduates of the country’s colleges have, which presents an opportunity for the development of a quality improvement strategy to address this problem.
The UAE’s Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research will be responsible for implementing the quality improvement strategy. Moreover, the Ministry has already been presented with this information and possesses preliminary knowledge on how to overcome the challenges.
To prepare students for the future employment, the most important step of the strategy is providing students with foundation programs. Such programs usually last about a year and are targeted at improving the level of English competencies, development of math skills as well as proficiency in other key subjects before starting the university (Bollag 2016). After students complete the programs and start attending universities, the Ministry of Education should develop an action plan for early exposure to work and career planning, the promotion of usage of online tools for developing key skills, training of “soft skills” such as problem-solving and communication, partnering with businesses for providing students with real-life experiences, and providing experiential learning that reflects the environment of modern workplaces (Levit 2014).
Also, more pressure should be put on secondary education facilities to better prepare students for universities, which is a feasible although a difficult goal. There is a lack of cohesiveness with regards to the preparation of students for universities; schools usually teach students about work, disregarding the large gap between the two. School students should first aim to receive higher education because it will help them become more competent and broaden their personalities (George 2016).
In its essence, the strategy for improving the quality of higher education in the UAE will depend on fostering collaboration between schools and universities, and between universities and businesses. When the Ministry of Education establishes a cohesive system of relationships, students at the UAE schools will be better prepared for studying at universities while college and university graduates will have more skills and competence to be successful when becoming business employees in the future.
In order to prepare UAE college and university graduates to be successful in their careers, the following strategic steps should take place:
- Programs and workshops for encouraging teamwork and teaching complex thinking skills (Caron n.d.);
- Extra-curriculum activities on-site: training and hands-on learning in actual organizations;
- Disregarding rote learning and ‘learn and forget’ approach towards exams and encouraging students to be more active;
- Collaborating with businesses to provide students with coaching sessions and training programs presented by professionals in different business fields.
The four steps mentioned above can become starting points for preparing college and university graduates for their future employment. Theory and rote learning will be ineffective in enhancing students’ skills; rather, it is important to use as many methods as possible to encourage their participation in experiential learning.
Organization and performance
The strategy will be organized into two key steps: ensuring that secondary education facilities put in the effort to provide students with preparation for university while universities prepare their graduates for the future career. The performance of students cannot be measured immediately: the success of the strategy will be achieved when universities report an increased preparedness of students for higher education while employers praise their newcomers for the increased quality of skills.
Canada: Lack of Funding and Issues with International Students
The sphere of higher education in Canada has been praised for its orientation on the needs of students and teaching them to be more creative and innovative; there are still some challenges that universities face. The primary challenge in Canadian higher education is the lack of funding, which can be potentially solved with the help of international collaboration. According to the report by Charbonneau (2013), the government has become known for budget cuts, lack of support of sciences, and faculty layoffs.
While there is a general view that studying in Canadian universities is a positive and fulfilling experience, the research by Pettigrew (2014) identified five problems that Canadian universities should overcome in order to become the ultimate global educational facilities. Among the identified challenges, students’ preparedness, international students, and inverted expectations stand out the most. As to the first problem, students do not receive adequate preparation for beginning their studies (e.g. biology students who were not educated on evolution or English students that cannot write an essay). The second problem directly relates to the outlined strategy because it is associated with the presence of international students who do not have enough qualification to study at Canadian universities (Government of Canada 2017).
Therefore, there is a need for the Canadian government to provide international students with appropriate resources to prepare for future studies (especially with regards to English language learning) (Tucker 2015). The third problem is the change in students’ expectations, to which universities do not adapt. On the other end of the spectrum, there is a lack of understanding of universities’ expectations by students, which leads to the absence of cohesiveness overall.
UAE: Lack of Job Orientation
Despite the fact that the higher education in UAE has been successful in changing for better and providing students with access, choice, and the instruction of the English language, there are several issues that need addressing. First, the focus of education should shift from rote memorization to critical thinking and independent learning, as these are skills that graduates are required to have for fulfilling their responsibilities at work.
Second, the elementary and secondary education should become more proactive in preparing students in speaking English, understanding science and mathematics to be successful in their higher education (Al-Ali 2014). Third, the government should invest into preparing more Emirati teachers for practice to avoid the dependence on expatriate teachers. Lastly, the higher education in UAE lacks focus on preparing students for technically-heavy jobs in the private sector, which is a challenge that the identified strategy can address (Al-Ali 2014).
International Collaboration and Canadian Higher Education
It was identified that the quality of international students’ preparation for studying in Canadian universities is rather low, so the strategy to enhance collaboration with international researchers and educational facilities could result in a significant improvement. Apart from enhancing the learning abilities of international students, the strategy will strengthen the connections between Canadian universities and international institutions to foster collaboration with regards to the exchange of knowledge and experiences. As a result of the strategy implementation, it is highly likely that the level of integration of technologies in the sphere of education will increase (UNESCO 2013).
For example, in 2015, Japan launched the Innovative schools network at Tokyo University that encourages students and teachers work cooperatively on solving the real life issues that affect the society (Gurria 2015). If the Canadian government collaborates with Japanese innovators to introduce a similar network in Canadian universities, both students and teachers will benefit tremendously.
Preparing Graduates for Future Employment in the UAE
As already mentioned, low quality of graduates’ preparedness for employment is a challenge that the Ministry of Education should resolve (Swan 2016). With a tremendous gap between what classrooms provide and what employers need, the issue of students’ quality of skills remains very high on the agenda. To solve the problem, the outlined strategy proposes to focus on experiential learning and collaboration between schools and universities as well as universities and workplaces.
For example, the Guardian article by Jones and Clulow (2012) provided some case studies how universities and businesses collaborated to produce new technologies. Among those was the Raven surgical robot created in collaboration with the University of Washington (Stephens 2012). If companies and universities were successful in creating a robot, it is highly likely that combining efforts to prepare students for future employment can be achieved easily.
Higher education in both the UAE and Canada has some issues that they need to resolve to become truly successful in preparing students for their future career. While the sphere of higher education in Canada can use the exchange of knowledge and experiences with international stakeholders for fostering innovation and the improvement of educational quality (Foreign Affairs 2014), colleges and universities in the UAE should be better prepared for teaching their students how to survive and prosper in the corporate world.
Both strategies are targeted at the improvement of quality of education as well as the orientation on not only what students want but also on what skills their future life and career will demand from them.
At present, educational spheres in both countries should work on the development of an action plan to align with the identified strategies and introduce steps for quality improvement. In Canada, the first step can be the hosting of an international educational convention initiated the Council of Ministers of Education, during which representatives of foreign universities and colleges can discuss future collaboration and exchange of experiences (CBIE 2012).
In the UAE, the Ministry of Education can create a special department that will focus on fostering relationships between universities and businesses to prepare students for their future careers. As found in the report by PISA (2012), the UAE students showed above average attitudes toward education, which is a “green light” for the government to invest time, effort, and money into enhancing the quality of education and improving students’ skills.
The comparative case study of Canadian and the UAE showed that in both countries the sphere of higher education has both positive and negative aspects. Canadian universities provide extensive amenities to students and focus on fostering innovation and critical thinking during lessons. The government of the United Arab Emirates invests into following the demands of the diversification and globalization of the country’s economy. On the other hand, Canadian universities struggle with the lack of funding and ineffective preparation of international students for entering colleges and universities. When it comes to the challenges of the higher education in the UAE, students are unprepared to meet the demands of modern workplaces and thus cannot achieve success after graduation.
When discussing the issue of quality improvement in higher education facilities, it is important to remember that the ultimate goal for universities in Canada and the UAE is to benefit the future generations and providing them with resources that will help them become successful, skillful, and knowledgeable.
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