The research was based on U.S. government data, and interviews with faculty members at five of these university branches. It concluded that the funds granted to these universities will decline and the governments may not renew their contracts with them, especially in light of the sharp drop in oil prices in recent years. (See the related articles “International Campuses in Dubai Feel Pressure From Covid-19” and “Why 25 UAE Colleges Will Close by 2025.”)
“These universities are expensive investments, and like all investments, their returns should be measured by identifying the extent of achieving the goals for which they were founded,” Alaoui, an editor of the book and a researcher at Harvard University’s Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, said in a phone call. (See a related article, “Are Private Universities Worth the Money?”)
The Costs of Attracting Campuses
Over the past two decades, many Gulf countries’ governments have sought to entice foreign universities to establish branch campuses in their lands by committing to paying the operating costs for their branches, providing privileges to their faculty members, and donating generously to these universities in the United States and sending students there on government scholarships. The study referred to a U.S. government report documenting contributions from Gulf countries that accounted for about a quarter of the foreign gifts and scholarships these U.S. universities received between 2012 and 2018.
The U.A.E. also provided about $80.7 million in support to New York University in Abu Dhabi, while the six U.S. university campuses in Doha received financial support amounting to nearly $1.3 billion, according to figures Davidson cites.
As for the reasons behind such support, Shafeeq Ghabra, a Kuwaiti scholar who was the first president of the American University of Kuwait, believes that the spread of U.S. university campuses of all kinds in the Gulf countries was “linked to the political developments the Arab region witnessed in the aftermath of the attacks of September 11, and the mutual desire to open or localize education with an American character in these countries.” (See a related article, “Shafeeq Ghabra: A Scholar of the Palestinian Cause Confronts Illness With Research and Hope.”)
In turn, Alaoui points out that opening these universities came with the announcement of the desire to diversify the economies of the host governments by helping to produce high-quality graduates, capable of contributing to “knowledge economies,” transferring skills and experiences to local institutions, as well as improving the international relations of the host governments.
Yet Alaoui said there is little evidence these branch institutions have succeeded in transferring technology to their host countries, or even in graduating large numbers of their citizens and integrating them into local workforces. (See a related article, “UAE Higher Education: The Struggle for Quality.”)
Defending the Campuses’ Role
But other scholars disagree with Davidson’s study’s findings.
Among them are Laith Abu-Raddad, a professor of health-care policy and research at Weill Cornell Medicine–Qatar, which is part of Cornell University in the United States and one of the campuses mentioned in the study.