DUBAI // Schools and universities can play a bigger role in defining and bolstering national identity, according to a new study.
Dala Farouki is writing her doctoral thesis on ethics education in foreign branch campuses, studying through Exeter University in the UK while working for the Abu Dhabi government.
"There should be an element of character education across all curricula and beyond the classroom such as community service and giving back," she says. "The religious and linguistic basis of a country is important but it's not the only thing. The question now is to define that identity in the UAE."
She says international branch campuses are part of the problem and would like to see more local context brought into the curriculum.
"The foreign influence which comes attached to the university's ethos and teaching plays a role in influencing students.
"To proactively direct and design that influence can help ensure local as well as global influence. The other aspect of branch campuses is that they have some freedom in comparison to the federal universities, since they are already expected to adapt their offerings to the host country's context."
At government schools in the UAE, pupils sing the national anthem every day, but Mrs Farouki says this is not enough. "It needs a bigger push," she said.
In countries such as Oman and Egypt, she says this comes under civic education and in the US, citizenship education.
By the time students reach university, they are much more receptive to discussion of national identity, which she says should include expatriates as much as locals.
"Students can process more complex decisions and situations from which they must show character and source their national identity and societal influences as they age since the brain develops more.
"Universities have traditionally been considered safe spaces to explore ones own interests, challenge the status quo and to broaden one's horizons.
"Providing a safe space within the university in order for students to be exposed to character education features and to think and discuss critically is also key."
Dr Jason Lane, an assistant professor at the University of Albany who has done extensive research on the impact of branch campuses, said the presence of federal universities for Emiratis means the private universities have tended to be far more geared to expatriates.
"I'm not sure the branch campuses play the type of role in weakening national identify as national identify is pretty well solidified by this point [in the UAE] and there is already a long history of the elite [Emiratis] sending their children abroad for higher education ... Only very few branch campuses actually serve Emiratis, such as the University of Wollongong Dubai."
Aleena Iqbal, 21, will soon graduate from the University of Wollongong Dubai. The finance student from Pakistan was born in the UAE and has lived here all her life, but chose Wollongong for its diverse student body.
"Studying at an international university makes a big difference to recruiters," she said. "If I know how to interact with such a melting pot of nationalities I can go abroad, I can go anywhere I want and be fine."
Prof Raed Awamleh, campus head of Middlesex University in Dubai, said instilling a national identity in an institution where just five per cent of students are Emirati is challenging.
"The challenge for governments is to facilitate frameworks that encourage such institutional development whilst maintaining social values," he said.
"I think that the role of all universities, international branch campuses included, is to encourage students to think deeply and critically about national and international issues while providing them with opportunities to develop their intellectual and moral character to enable them to make the right choices in life.
"These choices include subscribing to ideas of importance to cultural, national, political, and ecological environments."
The question now is what is appropriate to the UAE. In November, a national document on the subject was adopted by the Cabinet.
It lists desirable characteristics including being a loyal, law-abiding citizen who seeks to add to the country's prosperity, being a citizen who seeks to provide a decent living for his or her family and is aware of his or her responsibilities towards other members of the community, and a moral and ethical citizen who seeks to improve him or herself.
For the next part of Mrs Farouki's research, she will survey hundreds of students and teachers at universities as well as government decision makers.
"Local and global can be balanced but here, only global is winning. The UAE will become like any other country.
"This identity is present in the homes of locals but more and more, universities are becoming a very heavy influence on students."
The national document on the values and behaviours of an Emirati citizen was adopted by the Cabinet on November 27, 2012. Among the extensive list of duties expected of Emiratis, responsibilities include:
* Abiding by Islamic principles and values
* Respect for all religions* Tolerance and moderation
* Awareness of the country’s traditions
* Observation of those traditions and values in daily life
* Presenting a good image of Emirati identity
* Respecting other cultures in the country
* Belief in equal opportunity
* Working towards social harmony
* Loyalty to the UAE and its leadership