Originally posted July 2010

In 2003, scholars from the Arab world in collaboration with the United Nations Development Programme published the second Arab Human Development Report: Building a Knowledge Society. The report emphasized that long-term economic growth in the Arab world was only possible through the development of a knowledge society — a large pool of skilled knowledge workers who would drive entrepreneurship, innovation, productivity and knowledge-based exports.[1] The pool of human capital needed for creating the knowledge society can be developed through a quality education system. The report highlighted, however, that many academic institutions in the Arab world, with few exceptions, were failing to produce enough qualified graduates with skills that served the needs of the emerging knowledge economy.

In addition, the lack of quality higher education institutions, together with the shortage of post-graduate opportunities, meant that the region was losing many of its most gifted students, who would travel overseas in search of better educational opportunities and often never return. The shortage of research facilities and skilled work opportunities led further to the migration of many of the region’s already skilled professionals. As graduate students and qualified professionals leave, innovation and economic development in the region is hampered.[2]

Since the tragic events of September 11th, the Middle East region has witnessed a drop in numbers of students applying to US universities due to the tightening of immigration security procedures against males from 25 countries, most of which are in the Middle East. In addition, in most Western countries, international students’ tuition fees and cost of living are increasing, thus creating another barrier to overseas education.[3] Regardless of security and expense, many regional students, particularly females, are not allowed to study abroad on their own and many others prefer to study locally due to family ties and cultural traditions.[4]

The Knowledge Village (KV) was created to retain and develop regional talent needed to drive the creation of a knowledge economy, to respond to changes in overseas education, and to maximize on the large youth population in the region. It was established as a regional meeting point between Middle Eastern students and global education providers.

The Knowledge Village

In 2003, Dubai Knowledge Village was launched in line with the vision of H.H. Shaykh Muhammad bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE, and Ruler of Dubai. The KV was founded as a third business entity of Dubai TECOM Free Zone along with Dubai Internet City and Dubai Media City.[5] In founding the KV, Sheikh Muhammad was in a way recreating the success of California’s Silicon Valley by attracting a large number of famous international universities, professional training centers, e-learning providers, and research and development centers from around the world.[6] His vision was that as these clusters grow, they will interact, thus complementing and contributing to each other’s growth and creating a vibrant knowledge economy base.

As a free zone, the KV offers world-class amenities and services to its business partners including complete foreign ownership, total exemption from taxes, full repatriation of capital and profits, as well as smooth incorporation and visa issuance procedures. The KV hosts over 450 companies, comprising a variety of knowledge-based business entities that range from training and development centers to human resources management and consultancy services. The vibrant growth over the years has gained the KV the reputation as a regional destination for human capital management.[7]

Educational services offered by the KV tenants focus on specializations that are growing in demand and are most useful for knowledge-based economies. These range from corporate IT training to masters’ degrees in business management and engineering. Some of these programs and training courses are offered online to create a new culture of learning and exploit new technologies to aid the process of knowledge dissemination.[8]

Within one year of inception, the KV had attracted 15 regional and international universities from nine different countries including Australia, India, Pakistan, Iran, Russia, Belgium, the UK, Ireland, and Canada. Collectively, at the beginning of its first academic year in 2003/2004, the KV had 2,500 students registered in university programs. As the KV university community became larger, enrollment increased rapidly, and in 2004/2005 that figure had increased to 6,000.[9]

To maintain the high quality of academic programs offered, several criteria were set out for any university applying to Dubai Knowledge Village. A major criterion for a university application is that it must be a reputed and highly ranked institution in its country of origin.[10] In addition, an institution has to apply for a branch campus status, which means that programs, syllabi, teaching methods, degrees, and accreditation must be identical to the parent campus.[11] Beyond these two criteria, the KV selection strategy rests upon a diversification of institution nationalities and programs of study.[12]

In addition to universities, Dubai Knowledge Village is home to over 200 regional professional training centers and education service providers. Training centers provide a valuable learning resource for professionals looking to develop their skills through flexible, part-time education.[13] The cluster also serves a variety of learning support services such as human development resource centers, innovation centers, and research and development institutes.[14] The KV also includes a number of e-learning and online universities.

Dubai Knowledge Village is deeply committed to providing practical programs to sustain the creation of a knowledge economy. For example, to serve the Dubai Internet City, many KV degree programs emphasize IT and business management. Media courses are also offered to support the emerging media industry centered at Dubai Media City, while programs in medicine and accountancy are offered to create knowledge workers to drive the developing healthcare and finance sectors.[15]

The location of the KV among other free zones (Dubai Internet City and Dubai Media City) has allowed learners at the KV valuable first-hand experiences of the latest trends in regional IT, media, and business to apply to their courses. Dubai Knowledge Village has also established internships with other hubs to provide students with invaluable practical experience of the regional business world.[16] Located at the meeting-point of three continents, the KV is an ideal destination for overseas Arab students who would otherwise go to Europe, North America, or Australia. With steady increases in the number of students choosing to study in Dubai, the KV plans to attract additional international universities and to offer other specialized programs, with a strong focus on post-graduate studies, and research and development. The growth of the KV community has resulted in the launching of a separate cluster for university-level education — Dubai International Academic City (DIAC).

Dubai International Academic City (DIAC)

In 2007, Dubai International Academic City was launched as a free zone dedicated exclusively to international higher education, where educational institutions from Dubai Knowledge Village will move to (DIAC, 2010). DIAC, still under construction and scheduled to be completed in 2012, is located at Dubai Academic City (DAC) but DAC will be concerned with K-12 education and is not a free zone. The intention is for the KV to only host training institutes and educational service organizations. The development of DIAC after a few years of the launch of the KV seems confusing, especially when institutions at the KV will relocate at DIAC. It seemed that at first the KV was thought to incorporate all institutions but with time and growth, the idea of creating a separate city for university and higher education became a necessity.

Dubai International Academic City currently hosts 30 campus branches from 13 different countries including India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Russia, Iran, Britain, Belgium, Australia, Canada, France, Singapore, the UK, and the US. These branches include Michigan State University from the US, the University of Wollongong & Murdoch University from Australia, Middlesex University and Heriot-Watt University from the UK, and S.P. Jain Centre of Management from India. A unique feature of the DIAC cluster is that students from different universities and colleges share housing and recreational facilities, allowing them and faculty members from different institutions to interact and learn from each other.[17]

Currently, programs at DIAC range in duration from one to four years. Most academic programs concentrate in business administration, media and mass communication, computer and information technology, and engineering. Other programs include fashion design, health sciences, tourism, education, and environmental studies. Approximately 15,000 students are currently enrolled in the various programs. The Executive Director of DIAC expects that by 2015, the number of students will rise to 40,000 students who will be attending 40 different institutions.[18]

In the future, DIAC intends to provide universities that have proven their model to be successful with the opportunity to construct their own campuses for a permanent presence in the region with their own student dormitories, accommodation for university staff, and other amenities.[19]

Concluding Remarks and Possible Future Directions

Clearly, Dubai has taken serious steps to provide the environment and infrastructure that guarantee its transformation into a knowledge-based economy. However, there is a lack of rigorous research that assesses the extent to which and the ways in which the KV and DIAC have been successful in creating such an economy. The few written works on the KV and DIAC are mostly descriptive. In addition, no research has been conducted to investigate the extent to which Emiratis, Arabs, or foreign populations are the creators, users, and/or disseminators of knowledge in these two clusters. This is important since 80% of Dubai’s population is foreign; the country is in dire need of creating its own national pool of knowledge workers to break the cycle of dependence on the expatriate population.

Second, Dubai utilized a policy of allowing new universities and institutions of higher education to determine the programs they offer based on market demands. It is no surprise that the majority of undergraduate programs are in business and IT and that MBAs are the most demanded graduate program in these clusters. While the UAE and the larger Middle East are in need of other specialized high-quality professionals in Science, Medicine and Engineering, international entrepreneurs do not emphasize this. The extent to which this tendency will affect the knowledge-based economy in the region has not yet been addressed. Further, as mentioned above, the Middle East lacks professional research institutes and centers. The UAE, for example, has very few research degrees that provide skilled researchers and scientists. It is unlikely that newly established for-profit institutions at the KV and DIAC will provide these degrees in the future.[20] The result would be for the UAE to continue its reliance on imported professionals to support its research and development capacity.

Finally, it should be noted that the term “knowledge economy” can be used to refer either to an economy of knowledge focused on the production of knowledge or to a knowledge-based economy which refers to the use of knowledge to produce economic benefits. The essential difference is that in a knowledge economy, knowledge is a product whereas in a knowledge-based economy, knowledge is a tool. Dubai Knowledge Village mission directly addresses the second meaning.[21] The production (not consumption) of knowledge is another, more advanced stage of development that should be given attention by leaders and policy makers in the UAE.

 

[1]. N. Fergany, F. Bennani, H. Elsadda, F. Jadaane, and A. Kubursi, Arab Human Development Report 2003. New York: United Nations Development Programme, Regional Bureau for Arab States, 2003.

 

[2]. N. Fergany et al., Arab Human Development Report 2003.

 

[3]. Dubai Knowledge Village, Dubai Academic City Academic Application (2005), .

 

[4]. A. Al Karam and A. Ashencaen, “Knowledge Village: Establishing a Global Destination for Education in Dubai” (2004), .

 

[5]. UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), National Profile of the Information Society in the United Arab Emirates (2007), .

 

[6]. Madar Research Group, Dubai Knowledge Economy: 2003-2008 (Dubai: United Arab Emirates, 2003).

 

[7]. Knowledge Village, “About Dubai Knowledge Village” (2010), .

 

[8]. Madar Research Group, Dubai Knowledge Economy: 2003-2008.

 

[9]. Al Karam and Ashencaen, “Knowledge Village: Establishing a Global Destination for Education in Dubai.”

 

[10]. Dubai Knowledge Village, Dubai Academic City Academic Application.

 

[11]. Knowledge Village, Dubai Academic City Academic Application; Al Karam and Ashencaen, “Knowledge Village: Establishing a Global Destination for Education in Dubai.”

 

[12]. D. McGlennon, “Building Research Capacity in the Gulf Cooperation Council Countries: Strategy, Funding and Engagement,” paper presented at the Second International Colloquium on Research and Higher Education Policy, Paris, November 29-December 1, 2006.

 

[13]. Al Karam and Ashencaen, “Knowledge Village: Establishing a Global Destination for Education in Dubai.”

 

[14]. Madar Research Group, Dubai Knowledge Economy: 2003-2008.

 

[15]. Al Karam and Ashencaen, “Knowledge Village: Establishing a Global Destination for Education in Dubai.”

 

[16]. Al Karam and Ashencaen, “Knowledge Village: Establishing a Global Destination for Education in Dubai.”

 

[17]. Dubai International Academic City (DIAC), “Why DIAC” (2010), .

 

[18]. Dubai International Academic City (DIAC), “Why DIAC” (2010).

 

[19]. Dubai Knowledge Village, Dubai Academic City Academic Application.

 

[20]. See D. McGlennon, “Building Research Capacity in the Gulf Cooperation Council Countries: Strategy, Funding and Engagement.”

 

[21]. Knowledge Village, “About Dubai Knowledge Village” (2010).