GRM 2010 GRM 2011

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International collaboration has become integral to higher education in the 21st century, including many of the GCC countries. Models range from cross-continent campus branches (such as Cornell, and George Town in Qatar; NYU and the Sorbonne in the UAE), to home grown colleges and universities based on western educational standards and parameters (such as Khalifa University and Masdar Institute in the UAE; KAUST in Saudi Arabia). While the common goal of providing quality local education towards building sustainable knowledge-based economies remains the primary driver, less emphasis is placed on evaluating and optimizing the applicability and efficacy of the cross-cultural transfer of these models.
The GCC’s spending on education as a percentage of GDP is among the highest in the world. On the other hand, dependence on expatriate labor continues to increase alongside the expansion and growth of higher education for nationals (1). In part, this may be a reflection of the quality of education offered and the wide range of western educational models used in a cut and paste fashion without clear custom-fit implementation strategies. Engineering education in particular stands to suffer, as it requires a skill-based wholesome training grounded on basic, applied and practical hands-on skills. In fact, research shows that the inadequate preparation of engineers in key competencies is a global phenomenon that spans the GCC (2). A recent UNESCO report (Skills Gaps Throughout the World: an analysis for UNESCO Global Monitoring Report 2012) warns that skills gaps are constraining companies’ ability to grow, innovate, deliver products and services on time, meet quality standards and meet environmental and social requirements in countries where they operate. The report identifies the lack of available talent and trained resources in the Middle East as the greatest threat for sustainable development of the region. Gulf leaders are among the least satisfied with the supply of employable graduates including engineers, with only 37 percent citing their satisfaction (2). Employability skills were classified into four categories (technical, cultural, interpersonal, and intrapersonal) and included fifteen specific skills: independent task execution; appropriate approach to problem solving; ability to monitor and evaluate own activities; ability to relate specific issues to wider contexts; ability to apply knowledge to new situations; ability to devise ways to improve own actions; ability to deal with different cultural practices; openness and flexibility; negotiation and mediation skills; self motivation and initiative; ability to network; creativity and innovation; ability to relate to a wide range of people; team participation; and sense of identity and self confidence (2). Misalignment between education and employers needs was cited as one of the main reasons behind the skills gap. These challenges in developing countries, such as the GCC, have more severe implications, given that the industrial sector is in its infancy, and hence has an even higher need for problem solvers, critical thinkers, and independent learners (3).
This paper presents on-going work of educational and cultural exchange and collaboration towards building effective global models of engineering education. Such models help developing countries benefit from the experiences of more mature educational systems while preserving their identities and respecting their boundaries and limitations. Specifically, we report on two experiments in collaboration with two well renowned western intuitions (Georgia Institute of Technology (GT), Atlanta, USA, and the University of Western Australia (UWA)) and Khalifa University in Abu Dhabi around the design, development and assessment of innovative pedagogical engineering educational curricula. Although the main pedagogical models were adopted from GT and UWA, the courses were specifically designed to “custom–fit” the KU and the UAE culture. In the process, the authors explored the design of an exportable system for innovative engineering educational transfer across cultures. The main hypothesis lies in the successful globalization of pedagogical models through the design of a system for cross-cultural transfer grounded on a skill-based, cultural-specific core (4,5).
Our paper will specifically report on 1) the development and exchange of pedagogical models across the three sites, 2) the different opportunities, constraints and realizations at each and 3) the student experiences and outcomes. Our preliminary exploration indicates that effective pedagogy transfer in engineering education is clearly not based on cut and paste models, but rather requires deep understanding and respect of cultural constraints and relevance.