Date of Award

2017

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Associate Professor Jan Gray

Second Advisor

Dr Bill Allen

Third Advisor

Dr Mandie Shean

Abstract

This research is about the higher education of Indigenous Emirati women and how they balance the intricate demands of higher education with the social customs of a traditional society and the expectations placed on women. The study sought to identify and comprehend the issues which have affected the educational changes that are taking place, including culture, gender, religion, the influence of Western education processes, and the desire of an Indigenous population to raise their educational practices to an internationally recognised benchmark.

The research was aimed at providing insights into the distinctiveness of this group of women from their social and educational perspectives, and provides an alternative view of Emirati women, altogether different from the media stereotypes which have largely become accepted as representations of Arab women. It offers educators and researchers a deeper understanding of the relevant issues, and challenges preconceptions of educated women’s contribution to the workforce in a 21st century Gulf Arab nation. The experiences articulated about their educational encounters in a variety of pre-university environments, their reflections on contemporary university life, and the impact of Westernised influences on higher education in the UAE are put under the spotlight.

This qualitative study was undertaken within a constructivist, interpretive paradigm. A total of 43 media students were surveyed and interviewed to understand more about their attitudes and opinions on education and culture. Areas under consideration related to educational environments, learning styles and students’ relationships with teachers, as well as matters relating to cultural identity, cultural sensitivity and gender capital. The analysis extends the sparse knowledge and prevailing attitudes about Arab women held by many Western nations, and unearthed important factors, such as alignment of choosing a university with the established ethos of a conservative religious society. High school experiences, critical thinking, and English language skills all affected success at university. Emirati dress code was seen as an issue of personal choice and encapsulated Emirati identity, while being covered was not regarded as subjugation but as an expression of distinctiveness and leadership. Approval, deference and respect for the family underpinned most decisions about educational preferences and career choices. Attitudes towards financial recompense, job selection, finding a satisfactory work/life balance to sustain a traditional lifestyle and participate in the economic development of the UAE, were all pertinent considerations for this group of undergraduate women.

This research argues that higher education and Emirati culture are intrinsically linked, and the relationship between these two tenets influences the perspectives, and opinions of Indigenous undergraduate Arab women enrolled in a media course.

In highlighting the experiences of women’s transition from higher education to achieving personal goals and becoming effective members of the workforce, the thesis challenges preconceived opinions of educators and external agencies. In the UAE, the result has been significant societal change due to economic development, higher education and the national desire to create a workforce of highly educated females. Nevertheless, these changes are inherently directed by the powerful yet subtle influences of this traditional society, and how far female graduates will go to alter their familiar way of life.

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