New Research Explores Impact of Resources on Education Policymaking in the Middle East
Al Qasimi Foundation
March 24, 2015
As the Gulf Comparative Education Society gears up for its annual symposium, scheduled to take place in Dubai from April 15-17, 2015, one researcher is taking a close look into educational policymaking in the MENA region through a comparative lens.
Ms. Samar Farah, a third year doctoral candidate studying international education development at Teachers College, Columbia University, is also a visiting scholar with the Al Qasimi Foundation. Through case studies of Jordan and the UAE, her research focuses on educational policymaking and funding in the Middle East.
At one level, this research compares how education policymaking differs among nations with disparate amounts of financial resources. At another level, previous studies in economics and politics have likened countries with oil wealth to those depending on foreign aid (like Jordan) because both types of countries rely on unpredictable sources of income, whereas other countries gain income from their citizen tax-bases.
Few studies have investigated what a state’s reliance on foreign aid or natural resources means for education. In fact, it was Ms. Farah’s conviction that the Middle East deserves more attention from the academic community that motivated her to explore educational reform in the region.
“I believe that there is a significant gap in the research on the Middle East regarding how policymaking processes actually work, particularly in terms of private and public partnerships,” says Ms. Farah.
“Many theories have been developed to explain this process in the West, but there is no data on the evolution of reforms that would shed light on why some educational initiatives in the MENA region succeed while others never make it off the ground.”
Throughout the Middle East, policy research is challenging and requires perseverance, says Ms. Susan Kippels, a Research Associate at the Al Qasimi Foundation who has spent nearly a decade living, working, and studying throughout the region.
“Policymakers in this region have a lot of ambition and a lot of development work on their plates, which leaves them little time to collaborate with researchers on the front end of research projects,” explains Ms. Kippels.
“Typically, policymakers meet with researchers only once their findings are published. Therefore, collecting raw information from policymakers about the policy implementation process itself can be quite a challenge.”
Despite this, Ms. Farah sees the value in better understanding education reform implementation in the region. Her research thus far confirms that, although both the UAE and Jordan continue to invest in educational reforms, their policymaking landscapes are quite distinct. The UAE has no federal income tax, and reforms are primarily sponsored by the national government.
Jordan, on the other hand, lacks the financial resources to introduce reforms without support from international governments and aid agencies. In fact, Jordan is the fifth-largest recipient of aid from the United States, and its greatest asset lies in its human capital.
In a 2013 interview, Ms. Rana Madani, Deputy C.E.O. of a Jordanian non-profit organization working in education, explained, “Jordanians are responsible for building a knowledge economy, where due to the scarcity of other resources [in the country], education is a key and strategic objective that determines the direction of the country.”
While Ms. Farah is still in the process of gathering data, an initial comparison of the policymaking contexts in the UAE and Jordan is illuminating and highlights the need for more research into the reform process.
Although both countries fair similarly on some social and educational indicators, Figure 1 illustrates the striking difference between the economic resources of the two countries and the resulting investments that each makes in education. The UAE's government invests almost three times as much as Jordan does on education, and almost one quarter of the government’s expenditure is allocated for education as opposed to other public sectors.