Chapter snapshot "Teaching international management in the UAE: Issues and Avenues for Solutions"

This blog post is a snapshot of a chapter I wrote with Kevin Schoepp (also at Zayed University in Abu Dhabi). If you would like to cite this chapter please use the following:

Schoepp, K. & Van Horne, C. 2013. "Teaching international management in the UAE: Issues and Avenues for Solutions", inThe Routledge Companion to International Management Education edited by Denise Tsang, Hamid H. Kazeroony, Guy Ellis, Taylor & Francis.

You can find it here: Chapter 14 Shoepp and Van Horne 2013

I was invited to be part of a Professional Development Workshop for the Academy of Management Meeting of 2010 (yes, this book and chapter has been a long time in development - but that is the research process for you!). I presented my experiences teaching in the Middle East (of course with the focus on Abu Dhabi and the UAE) and offered to write a chapter for a book being edited by a great team of international researchers, Hamid, Denise and Guy.

As I was outlining the presentation into a chapter though I felt something was missing - so I turned to a colleague (Kevin, a fellow Canadian!) who had done the field work for his thesis while at Zayed University, especially looking at the retention of professors (why they stayed, why they left). After a productive meeting we decided to collaborate and the chapter turned into something I think the two of us are very proud of - and part of a book that presents a useful resource for professors and administrators alike.

As the title suggests, we looked at the challenges Kevin had seen in his research and then I wrote of the ways in which I and other professors I admire, worked to overcome them. The particular challenges that professors face with their students surround language, lack of preparedness, motivation, culture and religion, and the gender issue. Classroom solutions that have been implemented successfully to overcome these obstacles are then provided. The importance of being culturally aware, contextualizing topics, and providing opportunities for active engagement in the learning process are key.

Issues and Solutions


In the UAE, students are required to study in English, so higher education is a public system comprised almost completely of second language learners, and in most cases second language learners with limited proficiency. In fact, in 2009 UAE-based examinees ranked 2nd last internationally on the International English Language Testing System, one of the leading English language proficiency exams in the world (IELTS 2009).

This seems grim, but there are ways for professors teaching in the "Majors" or content university courses can combat this. Besides not using idioms in the lecture hall (a particular pet peeve of mine as I tried to erase idioms from my vocabulary after 9 years in Quebec City), learning by doing is what seems to work best, yes there needs to be reading, but it has to be contextualized. For example, case studies need to be written about Just Falafel and not IBM. Also, hands on projects to make the theory come alive is an important tool to combat an oral culture and weaker than desired average English skills.

Also content needs to be marked and NOT just English (many people will argue with me on this, but in the workplace the goal is to communicate and get stuff done, 100% grammatically correct English is not used by most anglophones and should NOT be the main criteria for marking assignments).

Lack of preparedness

One thing that strikes many Western trained professors is the lack of at home work that most (not all of course) that most university students do (or rather not do). However, this lack of "knowing how to learn" goes back to their days in primary and high school. The methods of instruction and the quality of the teachers. This is changing of course with massive investments in education on the part of the Emirates.

In the UAE, business studies are the most popular choice for undergraduates and represent nearly half the student population in the Bachelor’s program at Zayed University. However, the choice of a business education does not mean that there is an overwhelming interest in business, especially international business. There is a general lack of engagement in current events and business which makes providing “real life” examples at times difficult. One solution has been to create links between what is important to them and the importance of knowing about the world around them. 

For example, female Emirati students are very interested in designer handbags and shoes (not exclusively, they just seem to on average have an expert knowledge of this). To be an effective professor, examples are best when they come from the fashion industry. For male students, I have found that teaching strategy or management is best done through soccer, and I often use Manchester City (Abu Dhabi's team). This requires extra effort on the part of the professor, but if our goal is to teach, then the effort is worth it.


As the top tier of a rentier state, Emiratis have been able to expect a high level of wealth and prosperity regardless of educational attainment, and with men - traditionally males not interested in an education have been able to turn to high paying jobs in the police or military (Ridge 2009). There has not been until quite recently any external motivation for pursuing an education.

Table 1 outlines the ARCS model of motivation and some of the strategies used in the classroom.

Table 1 The ARCS Model (adapted from Keller, 1987)
Related aspects
Management Classroom Strategies
Perceptual arousal
·         Various projects throughout the semester
·         Mixture inside/outside the classroom activities
·         Use traditions, culture and local companies
Inquiry arousal
Goal orientation
·         Provide “bonus” marks in addition to regular credit
·         Use traditions, culture and local organizations
Motive matching
Learning requirements
·         Provide clear direction, split assignments up into smaller parts
·         Use both individual and group
Success opportunities
Personal control
Intrinsic reinforcement
·         Treat all students equally, regardless of social status
·         Reward with class trips and outside classroom activities
Extrinsic rewards


Although not normally a consideration in Western institutions, teaching across gender boundaries was mentioned numerous times because the public institutions are gender segregated. Though often not a problem, it remained an issue in the minds of the faculty nonetheless. Interestingly in a society which separates the genders in educational settings, faculty often preferred to teach across gender boundaries.
The aspects of culture religion and gender are interrelated in the Gulf region. First though, the issues concerning gender are often the first to be noticed in the lecture hall. Dress, is the first thing that is noticed when walking on the campus. Female students nearly all wear long black abayas (a long robe-like dress), which at first glance could look like a uniform. However, abayas are often tailored and express the individuality of the wearer. The same can be said for the males, who wear the traditional kandora (an ankle length long-sleeved garment). These are mainly white and look very similar one to another. However, these too are often different with regards to stitching, the cute, the tailoring and the accessories. A closer look is required to see the difference and then it is possible to see the differences at a glance.

Culture and religion

Of course respect for culture and religion is paramount to success for a professor in this region and the influence of culture and religion are very strong in the class. In fact, many concepts can be “taught” through the perspective of religion. For example, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is a new concept in the Middle East, however, that does not mean that philanthropy is non-existent. In fact, philanthropy is a large part of the culture through the religious principle of Zakat, where a portion of wealth is given to the poor each year.

A basic understanding of the Muslim faith is helpful to effective teaching. Not only does it show respect, but it demonstrates a willingness to learn, which in turn is a powerful motivator for students to learn. Knowing the basics will help in knowing the right questions to ask when started discussions and bringing up new concepts and ideas.
I think what both Kevin and I wanted to demonstrate with this chapter that, although there are challenges and unfamiliar issues for the Western trained professor, facing these challenges can be a rewarding experience - and in the end will only make us better professors. 
Working on this chapter with such great researchers from close to home to across oceans was a joy. Thank you Kevin (co-author extraordinaire!), Hamid, Denise and Guy (wonderful international team of editors) for bringing this project to fruition. Research and publishing the results of research is not a linear process, but having great team mates makes the process quite bearable indeed!