THE IMPACT OF EXTERNAL QUALITY ASSURANCE ON MINISTRY LICENSED NON-FEDERAL HIGHER EDUCATION INSTITUTIONS IN THE UNITED ARAB EMIRATES
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External Quality Assurance (EQA) of higher education institutions and their academic programs in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a mandatory requirement for their recognition by the Ministry of Education. The introduction of EQA called for a stronger regulatory role for the Commission for Academic Accreditation (CAA) which introduced procedures such as licensure and accreditation via its Standards for Licensure and Accreditation for assuring the quality of higher education provision. These evaluation processes are associated with several expectations or intended impacts which have been mainly reported through single institutional case studies. In consideration of the above gap in literature, this study aims to evaluate if the Standards for Licensure and Accreditation has had an impact on the quality of higher education provision in the UAE. The study draws from the concepts of three overlapping theories in social sciences - New Public Management, New Institutionalism, and Organizational Behavior and adopts a multi-phase mixed methods design to investigate the impact of CAA Accreditation using two distinct approaches: the Production-Management Approach where discussion of the impact relate to how well outcomes are achieved compared to a preset measurement (the CAA’s Standards) and the Stakeholder-Judgment approach based on the views of key institutional constituencies. The results from this study indicate that external evaluation has played a very crucial role in improving the quality of higher education provision reflected through establishing and building a quality assurance system and a strong base for effective engagement of universities. Significant improvements are noted in Program Design, particularly the manner in which UAE Universities have responded to the need for ensuring alignment of program learning outcomes with the Qualifications Framework (QFEmirates), and in other curricular aspects related to coverage of course content, allocation of prerequisites etc. Improvement was also visible in certain aspects of Program Management through the provision of robust and reliable IT systems, adequate library holdings, and enforcement of admission regulations. However, the study found no significant improvement in Teaching Quality that can be attributed to external evaluation. In the midst of changing academic practices forced by external evaluation, and interference in the manner in which the core business of teaching is conducted, it is hard to say that UAE institutions have established a quality culture that is devoid of reflexive, disingenuous responses to accreditation demands placed on them. The study vouches for the benefits of conducting comprehensive impact analyses, which will provide reliable knowledge of the effects of external evaluation on institutions and create opportunities for further investigation of the dynamics of accountability, transparency and improvement.