How UAE can Jump-start itself as a Global Higher Education Hub – What can we Learn from others and ourselves

The purpose of this summary is to examine and evaluate the spectrum of TNE models prevalent around key jurisdictions in the world. The paper covers the definition of TNE, the global TNE player countries, market structures and the intended impacts on the host countries.

TNE* definition: ‘Trans National Education’ refers to education provision from one country offered in another. It does not include the traditional international student recruitment market where students travel to another country for their studies. Transnational education includes a wide variety of delivery modes including distance and e-learning; validation and franchising arrangements; twinning and other collaborative provision and international branch campuses’.

*compiled from Global Alliance for Transnational Education(GATE), Council of Europe Lisbon Convention, UNESCO OECD

While the above is a generally accepted definition of TNE some country specific nuances are important to note specifically China: ‘Those foreign corporate, individuals, and related international organizations in cooperation with educational institutions or other social organizations with corporate status in China, jointly establish education institutions in China, recruit Chinese citizens as major educational objectives, and undertake education and teaching activities’.

The possible delivery modes are:

1.International branch campusesThe sending higher education institution (HEI) establishes a stand-alone satellite operation known as an international branch campus (IBC) in the host country and is responsible for all admission, program delivery and awarding of the qualification. In addition to faculty employed from the parent institution, the IBC may employ local and/or international faculty to assist with teaching. Quality assurance of the program is the responsibility of the sending HEI and is often subject to additional accreditation processes by the host country.
The HEI may partner with a local investor group for all infrastructure and academic support services.
Heriot Watts University Dubai
University of Nottingham, Malaysia
Pursued by a comprehensive commitment to international presence by the sending university. Pursued by mid-quality as well as lower ranked universities who face competition in their home markets
2.Franchising or twinning arrangementsA sending HEI authorizes a host HEI to deliver its (sending HEI) program, with no curricular input by the host institution. The qualification is awarded and quality assured by the sending institution. The host HEI has primary responsibility for delivery of the program but the sending HEI may assist with delivery of the program by providing teaching faculty. Recruitment of students and provision of facilities (library, classrooms, IT) is provided by the host HEI. Franchise program are typically 3+0 or 4+0 with all study taking place in the host country. Where the student completes the study in the sending country, e.g. 2+1, this is commonly known as a twinning program.University of London – Western International College, Ras-al-khaimah
Typically pursued by ‘for-profit’ lower ranked universities to earn revenues OR a low risk way for quality universities to set up ‘study centers’ globally while controlling quality through the examinations and consequent degree award.
3.Articulation agreementsAllow host country students who have completed a specialized curriculum to apply to a sending country program (either being taught in the sending or host country) and enroll with ‘advanced standing’ or through a pre-agreed recognition of ‘credit transfers’.Murdoch University Australia and KDU College, Malaysia
Typically pursued by ‘start-up’ colleges targeting a lower income demographic to reduce the cost of acquiring a foreign degree and a lower cost of delivery at the host institution for the initial years’ study.
4.Double/dual degree programsTwo or more partner institutions in different countries collaborate to design and deliver a common program. Mobility of students and faculty between the partner HEIs varies by program. The student receives a qualification from each partner institution. This results in a student receiving two or more qualifications for completion of one program.
5.‘Joint’ degree programsThe joint degree program is similar to the double/dual degree program in that two or more HEIs collaborate to design and deliver a new program. The sole difference is that students receive ‘one’ qualification that includes the ‘badges’ of each partner institution on the award. Dual ‘Global MBA’ from Seoul National University and Fuqua School of Business – Duke University, US
These awards are typically between similarly ranked, ‘mature’ and like-minded universities in different countries to enable global mobility of students and curriculum
6.Validation programsThe process by which a sending HEI judges that a program developed and delivered by a host HEI is of an appropriate quality and standard to lead to a degree from the sending HEI. The host HEI can develop a program to meet local needs with the sending HEI contributing its quality assurance processes.British University in Dubai (offers masters only). Degree ‘validated ‘ by The University of Edinburgh, University of Manchester, University of Glasgow and Cardiff University
Typically offered by ‘new universities’ for branding and curriculum quality reasons or ‘mature’ universities offering a new program with low native knowledge of the curriculum.

Note: Semester/year abroad programs are not in scope of this paper.

TNE regulations are important to
sending HEIs as the provide clarity on whether they will be approved by the host ministry of education (or relevant body) and which modes of TNE are more likely to succeed. TNE regulations indicate commitment of the host government
to quality assurance and recognition of foreign qualifications and the sustainability of the HEIs efforts. The policy, market and mobility environment are covered in the following section to provide the ‘compare and contrast’ for leading TNE host countries.

Country profile- United Arab Emirates (UAE):

UAE is home to the largest number of branch campuses hosted by a single country in the world. Requirement of a skilled workforce especially in service and knowledge based sectors (Dubai), knowledge production, innovation and research (Abu Dhabi) are the key drivers or motives of policy. With 85% expatriate population and long-term residents whose children were born in UAE this segment is looking for post-secondary education and employment in the country/region for their children.

Modernization and capacity building especially in research is secondary to the overall strategy. There seems to be missed opportunities as creating a local collaboration to install and improve quality HE provision through ‘true’ joint ventures.

Due to multiple emirates competing for HEI set-ups the strategies and policy environments vary across emirates.

For Dubai – Broad model is to encourage quality universities to set up dedicated campuses in Dubai’s Academic city or Knowledge Village which are dedicated free-zones for foreign HEIs to operate freely. Partnership with a local education investor is also permitted albeit through contractual arrangements. For Dubai Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) regulates the campuses, programs and safeguarding of student interests – The quality assurance travels from the HEI’s home country QA regulator to the UAE branch campus. KHDA has additionally put in place University Quality Assurance International Board (UQAIB) and also UAE’s Council for Academic Accreditation (CAA).

Currently Dubai does not allow formal corporate joint ventures between local education investors and sending HEIs.

Dubai’s training sector is somewhat lightly regulated provided the HEIs don’t award credits for the programs. All operators have to however register themselves with the KHDA to conduct these programs.

For other forms of TNE like articulation agreements are delegated to the HEIs but such arrangements need to be reported as a part of the institutional reviews.

Franchising, joint/dual degree and validation of qualifications are expressly discouraged by KHDA.

Ras Al Khaimah: does not discourage franchising arrangements for foreign HEI’s to tie-up with local education companies e.g. University of London and Western International College. It also encourages free-zone university branch campuses like University of Bolton, UK.
Sharjah: follows a free-zone branch campus strategy but requires the local campuses to be accredited and quality assured by CAA.

Abu Dhabi has followed an entirely different strategy and through lavish state patronage by way of free land, building and other infrastructure support and even operating expenses invites top ranked universities like New York University (NYU) and INSEAD to set up large integrated campuses in Abu Dhabi. These universities may also be dual-accredited by CAA in addition to the home country accreditation of the sending HEIs.

Student and faculty mobility are also included in the policy strategy through visa quotas determined by the size of the HEI (space, programs, faculty and staff strength).

China’s strategic reasons are not articulated in any of its higher education policy documents but the emphasis is on capacity building in domestic HEIs via knowledge transfer, including but not limited to, new programs, new teaching and assessment methods, international standards in quality assurance and modernization of administrative/management processes. Collaboration is promoted in disciplines and fields that are weak or vacant within the local education system. Another area of emphasis is joint research output.

China has it’s own definition of TNE – ‘Those foreign corporate, individuals, and related international organizations in cooperation with educational institutions or other social organizations with corporate status in China, jointly establish education institutions in China, recruit Chinese citizens as major educational objectives, and undertake education and teaching activities.’

Policy: according China’s Ministry of Education regulations TNE must be delivered in partnership with a local HEI. University of Nottingham is the only university with a standalone ‘branch campus’ in China.

Twinning, dual/joint degree and branch campuses are the prevalent operating models.

Funding models include a mix of incentives and support from local and municipal authorities, central government and private sector. Regulations also prohibit profit generation as a motive for TNE. Also, one-third of the teaching hours on collaborative programs need to be delivered by foreign faculty.

Mobility of academic staff is also encouraged under the ‘highly skilled professional’ visa programs.

Learning from top tier foreign universities rather than generating capacity for Chinese students is the broader goal of China’s TNE strategy.

Malaysia has a long and rich history of TNE and is a great example of how a country has used TNE as a means to providing access and quality to specific student groups. It has also become a regional hub for higher education over time.

Higher education reforms in the 1990s aiming to provide access to non-Malay students led to a proliferation of private for-profit colleges that provided two years of non-degree education (foundational years) and to provide a degree the colleges were required to collaborate with foreign HEIs through franchise of twinning arrangements.

A majority of such collaborations are with UK and Australia universities with the entire range of models like twinning, dual/joint degree programs and branch campuses.

The goals of such a TNE system are increasing access, capacity building at local private colleges, improving the quality of teaching and learning and expanding the research agenda in the country.

It has also reduced the outflow of foreign currency with an international quality provision locally.


Examining the above models of TNE, UAE priorities must also move to the higher level than just increasing the capacity and output of skilled manpower for specific sectors.

Modernization and capacity building especially in research is a natural progression to the maturing of the overall strategy. There seems to be missed opportunities as creating a local collaboration to install and improve quality HE provision through ‘true’ joint ventures.

A policy framework that encourages a spectrum of TNE activity including franchise/twinning and dual/corporate JVs with a specific emphasis to build ‘globally reputed’ but ‘locally relevant’ HEIs should be the next stage of TNE growth in UAE.

Promoting ‘Study in UAE’ as a cohesive value proposition can only emerge if the Emirates speak in one voice and a UAE installs transparent, consistent set of policy and operating models to encourage private investment in Higher Education.

Finally, looking forward – there is little turning back on how online/digital learning is transforming education and gives learners the ability to learn when they need it and what they need to learn at that point in time. Further rapid advancements in technology especially in internet/web/social, financial technology, data analytics, artificial intelligence, robotics, alternate energy means that traditional HE curriculum lags these cutting edge areas. UAE must recognize and embrace this emerging trend and develop models to recognize and indeed encourage digital learning platforms, tools and content in higher education. For example – credible and recognized online nano-degrees/credits should be recognized for university credits and professional training credits.

Sources: Malaysia Qualification Agency, KHDA, MoHESR, China Ministry of Higher Education, British Council,, ICEF monitor,

Author: Ajay Shukla

I am the Owner of this educational search portal to facilitate the students to pick up the desired programs.


  1. soi keo
    June 19, 2018

    Hello to all, how is all, I think every one is getting more from this site, and your views are nice in support of new viewers.

  2. Nitro Pro Build
    June 19, 2018

    I could not resist commenting. Very well written!

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