Branding in Transnational English Medium Instruction-Oriented Universities in The Arabian Gulf: Implications for Language Policy

Osman Z. Barnawi
Royal Commission for Yanbu Colleges and Institute
Keywords: branding, transnational education, universities, English medium instruction


Conceptualizing branding as ongoing strategic efforts formulated by transnational English medium instruction EMI)-oriented universities in today’s competitive Higher Education (HE) market in order to create uniqueness for their academic programs as branded commodities, this paper (a) examines the forms of branding crafted by universities in the Arabian Gulf Cooperation Council countries (Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait and United Arab Emirates) in order to claim uniqueness for their academic programs, and (b) inquires into whose interests (i.e., students, teachers, universities, investors or governments) are thus best served. Data were collected from policy documents, promotional materials (e.g., slogans) and official speeches on recent major branding initiatives undertaken by universities across the region. These data were treated as a research site which has its own history, players and nuances. The findings reveal that because of the different branding efforts intertwined with neoliberal language policy agendas undertaken by universities, with generous logistic, legal, and financial supports from their governments, a collision of conflicting interests and objectives among different players has arisen. This undesirable out­come leads governments and universities to represent and imagine each other as rivals instead of as collaborators aiming to secure various regional interests, including joint educational work. The implication of this phenomenon is that transnational English medium instruction-oriented policies have brought about apparent educational inequalities and social class in HE sectors of the region. This paper closes with recommendations to align the branding efforts with the regional interests stipulated in the Arab Bureau of Education for the Arabian Gulf countries.

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