GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

Family Name:
First Name:
Title of Paper:
Current Status and Future Development of English Foundation Programs in the GCC States: Example of the Sultanate of Oman
Paper Proposal Text :
To keep pace with social and linguistic changes in today’s world and ensure quality education, the structure and organization of higher education institutions in the GCC states have recently gone through considerable developments and significant reforms. These developments herald a paramount role of higher education in shaping the more sophisticated forms of human capital and generating the societal wealth of knowledge and advanced capabilities (Fergany, 2000:4) while contributing to the progress and development of mankind and preserving cultural identity.
One of the most important recent reforms in the GCC states was the establishment of Foundation Programs that are currently offered in both public and private higher education institutions across the region. Foundation Programs are formal structured programs of study that are designed to prepare students for their future studies and equip them with skills and capabilities to seek entry into post-secondary and higher education. They are aimed at providing an academic entry pathway and developing students’ literacy, numeracy, computing and learning skills (Oman Academic Standards, 2008:6). Though a well-established education concept internationally, Foundation Programs are still a relatively new experience of introduction to degree-level study in the GCC states. Clearly, varieties of practice and experiences on macro- and micro-regional level, perceptions of teachers, students and other stakeholders, challenges and possible solutions all demand documentation and dissemination. Ultimately, educators, researchers and policy makers need to keep up with the recent developments in Foundation Programs in order to be able to improve these programs and assure quality. Nader Fergany (2000) in his overview of Arab higher education and development contends, “Deplorably, the constraint of scant data and information on higher education is sharpest in the area of quality. There are no rigorous and comparable studies on quality of higher education in Arab countries” (p.15). Fergany (2000) goes on to say, “This shortcoming is not solely due to the complexity of the required studies but also to the fact that higher education is treated with understandable, though unhelpful, veneration … As a result, widespread criticism about the quality of higher education is aired in Arab countries, but the evidence does not go beyond impressions or anecdotes, both no substitute for serious investigation and research” (p.15).
This paper provides an account of current educational practices, institutional and individual experiences of English Foundation Programs in the GCC states, using the example of the Sultanate of Oman. It also analyzes multidimensional context of Foundation Programs, first of all, focuing on structuring, resourcing and developing requirements and their implementation. The authors emphasize, that, though bridged by academic standards, Foundation Programs in Oman have certain differences across public and private higher education providers. These differences, first and foremost, originate from the flexibility in managing Foundation Programs, which was originally provided by the creators of the “Oman Academic Standards for General Foundation Programs” (OAC, 2008). The Standards, for example, do not impose a time line. Likewise they do not have mandatory guidelines for structuring Foundation Programs in relation to the English language area of learning (p.7). Owing to this relatively flexible philosophy higher education institutions in the Sultanate interpret the generally accepted perspective of the implementation of Foundation Programs in different ways, but they teach and assess students, and review and improve their curriculum in line with the general requirements of these standards (MoHE & OAC, 2008, p.4 cited in Carroll et al, 2009, p.11). For example, Sohar University offers a full-time General Foundation Program. This program in the area of the English language consists of three components: Elementary, Pre-Intermediate, Intermediate, and is tailored to fulfill English language requirements for entry to Sohar University diploma programs (IELTS 5 or TOEFL 500). The Foundation Program English Language component at Sultan Qaboos University consists of six proficiency levels. As stated in the Foundation Program’s English Language Curriculum Document 2011-2012, “each level has its own set of learning outcomes and materials. There is a gradual increase in difficulty from one FPEL level to the next” (p.4). These six levels are viewed by the program developers “more like a continuum rather than discrete levels (p.4). Such understanding is grounded in their belief in the developmental nature of language learning that needs a lot of recycling and reinforcement throughout the learning process. The English Language Unit of the General Foundation Program at Dhofar University offers incoming students with low proficiency in English an intensive program to help them pursue their studies in the major of their choice through the medium of English. The English program is divided into a General English course and an Academic English course, with the aim of immersing the students in the English language.
Acknowledging the transitional function of Foundation Program from Arabic medium secondary education to English medium tertiary one, the authors also inquire into its role as English language learning community. This is approached from the perspectives of stakeholders, namely students and teachers, and learning environment. The authors argue that students’ active involvement in learning and developing them as autonomous learners using English language methodology is one of the important and challenging tasks in the context of Foundation Program. According to the authors, this involves distributing control of learning among the stakeholders, since all of them develop their capabilities and skills while building and exchanging knowledge. Moreover, there are certain challenges relating to all the pillars of learning process and direct interaction of Foundation Program with students’ individual and cultural features and characteristics. The authors believe that bringing into discussion these issues as well as diverse experiences and perspectives of Foundation Programs in the Sultanate of Oman, and sharing their own understanding of their current running and future development, they will meet the needs of higher education in all the GCC states.
Carroll, M., Razvi, S., Goodliffe, T., Al Habsi, F. (2009) Progress in Developing a National Quality Management System for Higher Education in Oman. Quality in Higher Education. Vol. 15, No. 1, pp. 17-27.
Dhofar University. Retrieved 26 February, 2012 from].
Fergany, N. (2000). Arab Higher Education and development, an overview. Retrieved April 4, 2012 from
Foundation Programs English Language Curriculum Document 2011-2012. Sultan Qaboos University Language Centre. Retrieved 25 February, 2012 from
Oman Academic Standards for General Foundation Programs. (2010). Retrieved 23 February, 2012 from
Oman Accreditation Council (OAC) (2008). Quality Audit Manual – Institutional Accreditation: Stage 1. Sultanate of Oman, Oman Accreditation Council. Retrieved 23 February, 2012 from