6 December 2022
Partners in quality: Working together to support UK-UAE higher education collaboration
Dr Wafi Dawood
CEO of Strategy and Planning Knowledge and Human Development Authority
The relationship between Dubai’s Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) and QAA dates back to 2014, when QAA conducted its first transnational review of British-based higher education institutions in Dubai.
There are currently 10 British-based universities in Dubai, including Heriot-Watt Dubai, Manchester University and University of Birmingham, among others. Between them, these institutions offer 214 programmes to more than 10,000 students. 36% of all higher education students in Dubai attend a British-based university. The higher education sector in Dubai is growing. The last 10 years have seen student enrolment more than double - from 12,000 students in 2008, to more than 30,000 today. Enrolment at British universities has increased by an average of 6.6% per year over the last five years.
In 2007, KHDA established its own quality assurance system, with the purpose of ensuring that quality of programmes offered by branch campuses in Dubai were comparable to that offered by the home campus. Universities planning to offer programmes in Dubai had to have valid accreditation from their country’s recognised quality assurance and accreditation bodies. Prospective programme submissions were appraised and existing programmes evaluated to ensure they continued to comply with quality regulations.
In 2014, QAA conducted their first transnational review of the UK higher education institutions in the United Arab Emirates. During the review, members of the KHDA team shadowed QAA assessors to gain insights into processes and the evaluation of standards. After the review, to ensure continuing high-quality education at British-based universities in Dubai, KHDA and QAA entered into a partnership, which offered opportunities for deeper collaboration.
KHDA and QAA began to conduct joint visits in 2014, saving each organisation time and effort, and ensuring a smoother process for institutions. These visits resulted in new discoveries for the KHDA team, which then enabled it to further refine and develop its quality assurance framework. The method of conducting interviews, for example, was adjusted to be more exploratory and constructive rather than routine.
Including a student reviewer during the joint visit - conducted as part of the Quality Evaluation and Enhancement of UK Transnational Higher Education (QE-TNE) Scheme - has proven invaluable. Student reviewers bring a unique perspective on quality in higher education, which supports the team in identifying a range of matters that impact the student academic experience.
Student reviewers also enable greater direct engagement with students from the institution being reviewed, providing these students with the opportunity to reflect on their expectations and experiences. Students’ input gave the team insights both into their distance learning experience during the pandemic, and the transition back to face-to-face learning.
This type of collaboration ensures that best practices can be sustained across different yet complementary regulatory and assessment frameworks. By working together in this way, QAA and KHDA have had the opportunity to share ideas and observations that can later be formalised into procedure.
As enrolment at British universities continues to rise, transparent and robust quality assurance becomes ever more important to ensuring Dubai’s role as an international hub for higher education. KHDA’s partnership with QAA enables students and their families to make confident choices about British universities in Dubai, and also enables KHDA to fulfil Dubai’s future-focused, quality-driven, transnational higher education mission even further.