KHDA: Gatekeepers of education quality

Education providers are subject to stringent guidelines that would eventually contribute towards the city's growth as an attractive hub for higher education.
Education providers are subject to stringent guidelines that would eventually contribute towards the city's growth as an attractive hub for higher education.

The Knowledge and Human Development Authority is dedicated to sustaining and improving the quality of education in the emirate

Published: Sun 19 Jul 2020, 12:37 PM

Last updated: Sun 19 Jul 2020, 2:45 PM

As the UAE set forth a set of goals aligned with the nation's progress, education has always been a sector of prime focus. In Dubai, the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) was established in April 2007 by the Dubai government as an authoritative body that would be responsible for regulations, licensing and the quality of education.

Under this platform, education providers are subject to stringent guidelines that would eventually contribute towards the city's growth as an attractive hub for higher education. This further assures parents and aspiring students that they have access to the best international programmes from over 12 different countries within a secure environment that boasts all the luxuries of modern life. Furthermore, with the UAE home to over 150 nationalities, students have the opportunity to network with people from all over the world.  

Popular programmes
In the Dubai higher education landscape, there are four main levels of study: foundation (pre-degree), undergraduate, postgraduate and doctoral degrees. Of the 28,972 students studying at KHDA's HEP branches, 3.6 per cent are enrolled in foundation programmes, 64.3 per cent are enrolled in undergraduate programmes, 30.7 per cent in postgraduate programmes and 1.4 per cent for doctoral degrees. Many HEPs run part-time masters' programmes which give students the option of combining work and education.

The most popular programme specialisation is 'Business', accounting for 52.7 per cent of the total number of enrolled students. Students see 'business' as the study area which will give them most employment options. Other specialisations, such as engineering, IT, and media, programmes which align with Dubai's strategic plan to diversify the emirate's economy, are beginning to attract greater numbers of students.
With the UAE's sight now set on space, higher education providers are introducing courses centred on innovation, research and technology related to the futuristic sector.

Regulated education quality
Since the establishment of KHDA in 2007 and 'Universities Quality Assurance International Board' (UQAIB) in 2008, student enrolment in HEPs has increased by 64.3 per cent to over 60,000, encouraging investors and foreign HEPs to establish institutions in Dubai. Feedback from student focus groups highlighted several factors which make Dubai an attractive destination for students seeking a higher education experience.
Dubai is politically stable, tolerant, and safe, with very low crime levels. Students who study in Dubai have a truly global experience both in class and through social interactions across cultures. Innovation and entrepreneurship are at the heart of developing Dubai as a knowledge economy and "Smart City".

Dubai further encourages innovation and entrepreneurship among students. When making higher education choices, students consider various factors, including institutional reputation, programme offerings, employment prospects, personal interests and parental wishes.

Many factors entice school leavers to continue their studies in Dubai including the multicultural student experience, the variety of higher education offerings and living in a city offering a multitude of opportunities to mature both academically and socially.

Opportunities to engage in a range of social, cultural and sporting experiences that enrich students' university experience are factors which add to Dubai's attractiveness as a higher education destination. Dubai offers all the above, within the context of a society undergoing constant change to keep up with today's globally-oriented, and technologically advanced world.

Earn as you learn
As of February 2016, students studying in the Dubai Creative Clusters Authority (DCCA) Free Zones are authorised to work part-time. This offers a valuable opportunity to get essential experience and exposure to industries that will form the backbone of the knowledge economy of Dubai. The regulation is part of DCCA's commitment to implement policies and programmes to enable sustainable growth and the development of the creative industries in full alignment with the Dubai Plan 2021 and the UAE National Innovation Strategy.

Quality assurance
There are two ways in which quality in higher education is assured. Institutions in the free zones are given Academic Authorisation after satisfying the requirements of UQAIB, KHDA's quality assurance framework. Other HEPs apply to the MoE for accreditation through the CAA.
The KHDA higher education quality assurance system, UQAIB, is designed to meet the unique needs of the Dubai Plan 2021 when it comes to the provision of higher education at the best international standards.

KHDA established UQAIB in 2008 to assure the quality of higher education in Dubai's Free Zones. It is an independent board of higher education experts from around the world. The purpose of UQAIB is to provide KHDA with reputable, independent, and international input and guidance on the quality of higher education provided in Dubai Free Zones. UQAIB is a full member of the International Network for Quality Assurance Agencies in Higher Education (INQAAHE). UQAIB abides by the INQAAHE Guidelines for Good Practice and the OECD/UNESCO Guidelines for Quality Provision in cross-border Higher Education (2005)16. UQAIB uses a validation model to ensure that academic programmes delivered in Dubai have the same content and academic standard as those taught at the HEP Home. The UQAIB manual provides detailed information about KHDA's higher education requirements and quality assurance processes.

To minimise additional regulatory burden, and avoid duplication of quality assurance processes already undertaken by the quality assurance agency of the home country of the HEP Branch, UQAIB will, in the first instance, take account of existing quality reports on the quality provision of foreign HEPs as well as the effectiveness of the quality systems and procedures in place at those institutions, as long as such reports are fairly recent. UQAIB will pay particular attention to the effectiveness of arrangements for quality assurance of cross-border provision. UQAIB reserves the right to undertake quality processes of its own in cases where external quality reports do not provide sufficiently clear indications of quality
provision. In special circumstances, an extraordinary audit may be warranted.

Academic Authorisation from KHDA can only be obtained when the HEP Branch is approved by UQAIB or the HEP Local inside Free Zone has CAA accreditation. These programmes need to be registered with KHDA before enrolment can commence, and is valid for a period of 12 months. This ensure that universities are constantly undergoing improvements to maintain their licences.

CAA accreditation
HEPs operating outside a Free Zone have to obtain permission and accreditation from the MoE (CAA) to establish and operate in the UAE. The CAA conducts a program of licensure of institutions of higher education and accreditation of their academic programmes. This licensure informs students, graduates, their families, and the public that the standards established by the MoE have been achieved. The procedures and processes to follow are explained in the CAA portal.
Both UQAIB (KHDA) and CAA (MoE) share a similar objective: to ensure that Dubai's 62 HEPs deliver high quality tertiary learning experiences for students.

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