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Heba Mansour and Hala Al-Abdulrazzaq, American University of Kuwait

Heba Mansour.jpgThe American style of education is growing in popularity in many different areas of the world, especially the Arabian Gulf region. Adopting and borrowing the American model of liberal arts is occurring for various Hala Al-Abdulrazzaq.jpgreasons, including the growing demand internationally for an American-style education and increasing interest in investing in the young people pursuing post-secondary education at universities outside the United States.  It is also a new opportunity for well-established American universities to branch out into this region; examples include NYU Abu Dhabi, Cornell Doha, and Georgetown University Doha, among many others. Scholars predict that the global university will expand to 200 million seats by 2020 and has the potential to grow by 80 percent over the next decade (McDougall & Kleypas, 2011).

The American University of Kuwait is a locally owned and operated institution that has a memorandum of understanding with Dartmouth College. It is a young liberal arts institution based on the American model of higher education. At AUK, “we prepare our students for the contemporary world where critical thinking, communication skills, and lifelong learning have become imperative” (The University, 2011). Along with the American-style model of liberal arts education, we also follow the American-style model of academic advising. We have an institutional membership with NACADA and refer to its lists of best practices. What we believe is generally missing from the body of critical literature on academic advising and retention is the reference to the different issues in American-style education outside the borders of the United States. We have identified a host of issues specific to our student population which we believe must be addressed in order for us to best perform our roles as academic advisors.  While those issues are not unique to us or to Kuwait, we believe each university has its own distinctive constellation of issues that academic advisors deal with as we work to best support our students in their academic goals.

The first observation that we find extremely interesting is the variety of high school backgrounds that our students come from. There are many different types of high schools available in Kuwait, such as the co-ed American-model high schools, British-system schools, Indian schools, Pakistani schools, private Arabic schools, and the public schools.  Each school follows a different curriculum and has a unique method of teaching. The American model, for instance, would include critical thinking as opposed to public schools which use rote learning methods. With all these different types of high schools feeding AUK, there are many different levels of preparedness within an incoming freshman class.

Since our students come from different ethnic backgrounds, the issue of language preparedness has a huge impact on some of our students, because the main language in Kuwait is Arabic and exposure to English is sometimes minimal. The common obstacle that our students face is the adjustment from using Arabic only to completely English, which is the language of instruction at AUK. There is a full range of competencies in English and not enough understanding within undergraduate faculty concerning how effectively they can teach second and third language students.

Another problem our students have is learning to adapt to a wide range of teaching styles. Due to Kuwait’s geographical location, our students benefit from a diverse group of faculty; however, with this diversity comes vast differences in approaches to teaching. For example, there are some professors who  favor a straight lecture format where students are discouraged from challenging the professors’ authority; on the opposite extreme, there are professors who divest themselves of authority in the attempt to empower students and promote critical thinking. This is a challenging situation for our students to be able to understand how to deal with different professors. It is very difficult to coach students about how to respond to teachers’ expectations when the expectations vary from one professor to another so dramatically. According to Marian Woolhouse and Trixi Blair (2003), “If students understand their own learning preferences they are more likely to be successful and therefore both stay in formal learning circumstances longer and achieve their desired outcomes” (p. 258).

A final issue that requires more effective interventions on the part of the advising staff is that of learning disabilities. Due to the lack of awareness as well as lack of resources, it is difficult to identify a student at an early stage, therefore creating conditions not favorable to students’ success. The issue of cultural bias often makes families resist having their child tested and the disability identified earlier. Since we work closely with students, we can usually identify that there is a problem, but since there is no system in place to diagnose the disability, it becomes very challenging to understand how we can best assist the student. The good news is that Kuwait is working toward identifying this as a problem which will need more time and resources to be able to better assist those students. In efforts to support the learning disabled students, Kuwait opened the first public school for students with disabilities in September 2011; there are several private schools that are well-established, and we think that this is a progressive step toward helping the students who need it ('First public,' 2011). We think this will help tremendously in identifying the learning disabilities at an early stage, which will result in preparing the students to cope with the disability as they enter their university career.

The issues that we have discussed are no different than anywhere in the world and already exist in other universities as well. We have recognized our own particular challenges at The American University of Kuwait, and as American-style education increases in the region it becomes very important to be aware of the particular challenges of advising college students in this context. We have learned that identifying areas of concern help us best understand how to be responsive to our students’ needs as we support them through their academic careers. Those insights guide us in our research toward developing better systems of support for our own unique body of students.

Hala Al-Abdulrazzaq
Senior Academic Retention Advisor
Academic Advising Center
The American University of Kuwait

Heba Mansour
Academic Retention Advisor
Academic Advising Center
The American University of Kuwait

References and Additional Reading

First public school for students with learning disabilities opens. (2011, September, 22). Retrieved from Kuwait Times http://www.kuwaittimes.net/read_news.php?newsid=MjQ5MTU5MzQ5Mg.

Hemphill, L. L. (2002). Advising students with disabilities. The Academic Advising News25(3),.Retrieved from NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources website: http://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Clearinghouse/AdvisingIssues/disability.htm 

Lamont, B. J. (2005). East meets west – Bridging the academic advising divide. Retrieved fromNACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources website: http://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Clearinghouse/AdvisingIssues/East-Meets-West.htm

McDougall, J. I., & Kleypas, K. L. (2011). The modern knowledge worker in the global u: An interview with Andrew Ross. In J.I. McDougall & K.L. Kleypas (Eds.) The American-style university at large: Transplants, outposts, and the globalization of higher education, 95-104. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.

The University. (2011). American University of Kuwait Academic Catalog 2011-2012, 23. Kuwait.

Uhlik, K. S. (2005). If advising is teaching, then learning style matters. Retrieved from NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources website: http://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Clearinghouse/AdvisingIssues/Mental-Health.htm

Woolhouse, M., & Blaire, T. (2003). Learning styles and retention and achievement on a two-year A-level programme in a further education college, Journal of Further and Higher Education, 27(3), pp 258-260.

Zhang, L. (2004). Thinking styles: University students’ preferred teaching styles and their conceptions of effective teachers, The Journal of Psychology, 138(3), pp 233-252. 

Cite this article using APA style as: Mansour, H. & Al-Abdulrazzaq, H. (2012, March). Academic advising challenges at an American-style university in Kuwait. Academic Advising Today, 35(1). Retrieved from [insert url here] 

Posted in: 2012 March 35:1


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