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Leadership and Management: Is the West Killing Local Arab Culture and Values?

Leadership and Management: Is the West Killing Local Arab Culture and Values?
Has the adoption of western education, management and leadership paradigms killed off local and national management styles across the world? Voices in the UAE are claiming this is unhealthy and unsustainable as foreign principles can never 100% fit in with local cultural needs.

According to an article on The News International, foreign schools and universities located in the United Arab Emirates do not teach their students about Islamic and/or Arab culture; only western models of thought. Academics believe this will result in a loss of national identity.

In almost all of their classes, students within different education settings are being overrun by concepts that are not adapted to fit their own local culture. Dr Eugenie Samier, Associate Professor of Management and Leadership at Dubai’s British University calls this “intellectual imperialism.” A paper written by the professor on this topic will be published shortly in the education review journal Interchange.

Dr Samier: “If you are going to educate Emirati citizens to be leaders with only the western models, I regard that as a cultural-security issue. We cannot educate a generation of leaders to operate with only western values and cultural norms and ethics that do not help them relate to Arab traditions and Islam.”

Since the 1980s, the western educational model has been regarded as superior and has been sold to non-western countries. Within the Gulf region, this was adopted wholesale. This development however sometimes meant local sensibilities and knowledge were pushed aside or even completely omitted from the education programme. Dr Samier: “Topics such as management and leadership studies are being taught often without no change at all, so the students are getting an American, British or Australian transplanted curriculum.”

At most foreign universities, religion and history, two pillars of the Arab value system, cannot be found in course materials or content. When Dr Samir joined the British University, she was told not to bring up the subjects of religion or politics when lecturing the students. She found this very difficult: “How can you teach management studies if you cannot talk about Sharia? The legal system is based on it and they need to understand.” According to Dr Samier, students need to know about their intellectual heritage in order to employ different strategies.

Both the government and education officials have called for new strategies to preserve and nurture national identity. In her paper on education in the UAE that was published in 2011, Dr Maryam Lootah has done the same. The Assistant Professor of political science at UAE University stated: “If one’s students are encultured and socialised by foreign curriculum and teaching, does the capacity still exist for independent policymaking?”  

Zayed University student Eman Salah believes the answer to this question is no. Ms Salah is finishing her research on leadership curriculums in the UAE and says her classes did not involve Islamic work ethics and leadership strategies. However, she feels these can be incorporated in the curricula of business schools and management classes quite easily. “With Islamic leadership lessons we could study those like Sheikh Zayed, a good Islamic leader whose behaviour and approach can be emulated.” According to Ms Salah, linking local examples to theories would also increase the access students have to the international programmes .

Dr Rania Kamla, accountancy teacher at Dubia’s branch of the Heriot-Watt University, believes the single model of education is a global problem. “Even in the West they are losing out on alternative viewpoints and ways of doing things,” she said. Heriot-Watt University is trying everything it can to alter this dominant model. Next year, the university will introduce an Islamic accounting module to their accounting and finance course.

According to Dr Kamla, the topic has received very little research, but has to be studied more thoroughly in order to find solutions for the problem. Thankfully, Dr Samier has many doctoral students who are interested in the subject. This largely had to do with Dr Samier’s passion for the subject: “I make sure my Emirati students know that a lot of western traditions are built on Arabic and Islamic scholarship. I have also introduced a lot of Emirati reading material and Arab authors’ books for reference.”

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