Transforming education

The United Arab Emirates is a dynamic part of the world, which has seen enormous commercial growth and development in recent years.

Although it is not immediately obvious from the images of the UAE’s skyscrapers and desert landscape, the region has a lot in common with the Black Country, which has also gone through a resurgence following a period of regeneration.

The University of Wolverhampton has been building a presence in the UAE over a number of years, after its International Centre identified it as an area with opportunities, particularly for short courses, training and consultancy. This profile-building has led to the University working on a project with the Ministry of Education in the UAE to support the training and development of school leaders.

The aim is to provide school principals and their assistants with career development programmes and help improve educational and administrative practices in schools.


Professor Sir Geoff Hampton, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, led the delegation to the UAE to meet officials and believes the University’s reputation in the education field was the reason for the success.

"I think we were successful because of our track record in helping to transform schools in the Black Country, where we have proved we can talent spot appropriately and support people who have gone on to be a success. But what made us unique was that we developed bespoke training which will be free standing. We are taking the best delivery team possible out there but equally, we are hosting teams over here in schools."

The project will involve a modular package of training delivered in hub schools in seven of the Emirates which will become beacons of excellence. This will provide a point of contact for the other school leaders involved in the programme who will have peer support for any day-to-day problems they may face after the training is complete. In addition, there will be a second tier of support in the UK.

Sir Geoff explains: "It is not just about inputting information, we want to see that a difference has been made. It will be evidence based and revisited every time they take part in training. The whole idea is to be transformative and that can only be achieved if we embark on a journey together."

Winning team

Also part of the delegation were Jo Gittens, Director, International; Sabah Mushatat, Professor of Architecture, School of Technology; Jan Roman, Director of the Black Country Children’s Services Improvement Partnership; Mick Waters, Professor of Education at the University and Tom Johnston, Headteacher of the Earls High School, Halesowen. Tom will be leading a core team of school teachers from Black Country primary and secondary schools who will be going out to the UAE to share best practice.

The education system in the UAE is a mixture of international schools which cater for some of the employees of global companies, fee paying schools aimed at the wealthy population and state schools. The University of Wolverhampton’s project is focused on the state schools and Tom Johnston explains the emphasis will be on moving from a relatively didactic approach to one that involves students more.

"Our aim is for the concentration to not simply be on what the teaching is like, but what the learning is like.

"The programme has different levels, which involves working with senior staff in the schools and developing their understanding of leadership for learning and also with good staff on how to make their practice even better. Another strand will look at how we can improve the practice of staff who are at a lower level of development in their understanding of the quality of learning."

Global strategy

Jo Gittens, Director, International, at the University explains the UAE is one element of the University’s new global strategy and expansion plan. The University already recruits students from overseas and delivers degrees in other countries, known as transnational education (TNE). This has been extremely successful and the University now delivers degree programmes in 12 locations all over the world, with almost 1000 enrolments overseas.

All universities are identifying new income streams to meet the shortfall in government funding, but Wolverhampton has been building a presence and a profile in the United Arab Emirates for some time, with support from Professor Sabah Mushatat, who has extensive links with the UAE. Jo explains developing this market began with co-sponsoring the Ajman Urban Planning Conference, followed by the presentation of an honorary degree to Deputy Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates, His Highness Lieutenant General Sheikh Saif Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, last year.

The University’s name and brand is well established in the Emirates. This was a contributory factor in securing an audience with the Minister for Education last year for initial discussions.

Jo explains that understanding the country, its culture and ways of doing business is crucial in any bid like this.

"Each international market is different and therefore a differentiated approach to markets is essential for success. You also have to ensure you get the offer right and appoint a good team to take the business forward.

"Equally important is patience, responsiveness and adaptability and this is the case in any market we operate in, if we are to be successful!

"On the back of our profile raising, there are now a number of other major projects emerging in the UAE and beyond, and we can sell this model to other markets. In addition, we are hoping to open a regional office in the UAE in the near future to build on the success of our growing network.

"This has been part of a planned international growth strategy since 2006 and it is good to see the realisation of that hard work by the team now."

Adopt but adapt

But all parties are keen to emphasise that this is not a case of picking up a successful model from the UK and adopting it abroad. The scheme is being developed to meet the cultural and educational needs of the school leaders, teachers and most importantly the students of the UAE.

As Sir Geoff explains: "It is my personal belief that we can’t pick something up and transport it to a different country. But we can look at the underlying principles and adapt them in an appropriate way. It has to feel different and look different. This won’t be Black Country schools re-emerging in the UAE – it will be adopted but adapted in the UAE to ensure it is fit for purpose.

"If there is a medical breakthrough somewhere in the world it is disseminated and celebrated. In education, we tend to have kept our successes to ourselves but I would like to see these disseminated in the future and perhaps this is one small step towards that."