The higher education (HE) system in Oman is governed and controlled by the state and is thus a government managed sector in which the state is the chief policy player. The main aim of this study is to provide a critical understanding of the policy architecture and policy-making processes in Omani HE since 1986. More specifically, the study seeks: to describe the Omani HE policy-making architecture and its operation; to analyse the impact of this architecture and its operations on the HE system; and to investigate national, regional and global factors affecting HE policy.
The study employed a qualitative methodology. Semi-structured interviews and document analysis were the methods used for generating data. The semi-structured interviews were conducted with a purposive sample of 43 policy-makers and others involved in Omani HE. The documents included: Royal Decrees, Ministerial decisions, Organizational charts of HEIs, Legislative documents, strategic plans, and meeting minutes. Those documents were from the post 1986 period, aligning with the time frame of the study. These documents are ready for use as they are published for the public. The data generated through interviews and document analysis were analysed thematically according to an inductive approach and through the lens of the theoretical framework.
The study finds that the Omani political system results in a hierarchical approach to policy-making for the HE sector. This architecture has three levels—the top level of government, specialized bodies, and the field—with strong control concentrated at the top level of the government and weaker control available to agencies at the lower levels of the system. The study conceptualizes the policy-making architecture of the entire Omani HE system as a cascade of principal-agent games, showing that the Omani Government is a highly powerful controller of HE policy-making. The relationships between the different policy actors and bodies within this hierarchical architecture are documented and described in terms of four different scenarios: (1) policy development by the Education Council; (2) policies emanating from the Sultan; (3) policies emanating from the Cabinet and the Supreme Council for Planning; and (4) policies proposed by the Oman Council.
A key argument of the study is that the Omani government developed and reformed its HE system in relation to national pressures for development, student demand, and regional and global pressures. The Omani HE system is situated in relation to national, regional and global contexts and thus, its policies were made and implemented in responses to complex intersections of these contexts. Nationally, pressure has been placed on HE policy by the political system of the state, the economy, the labour market, the schooling system, the history of the HE system, and broader social changes. Regionally, the study finds that Oman learned from, and borrowed much HE policy from, neighbouring Arab Gulf States, motivated by dynamics of both competition and cooperation. The Cooperation Council for Arab States of the Gulf is the key regional actor that plays an indirect role in shaping the HE policies of Arab Gulf States in general and in Oman. The study also considers the effects of global contexts and shows how globalised practices and discourses (e.g. English as medium of instruction, technology, the knowledge economy, global rankings, accreditation, affiliation, international HE providers) have also affected Omani HE policy.
The study concludes that national, regional and global contexts are imbricated in complex ways and thus cannot be easily separated in terms of their impact on Omani HE policy. In response to social, economic and political developments at multiple scales, and the looming decline of oil as the backbone of the Omani economy, numerous policies, reforms and strategic initiatives in HE have been launched by the Omani government. By providing the first detailed mapping of the Omani HE policy architecture, this thesis provides a clear framework for understanding contemporary developments in Omani HE and the contexts in which it must develop to meet future challenges.