The Border Crossing Index: implications for higher education teachers in the UAE

Peter Hatherley-Greene


Student transitions from high school have attracted global attention as universities and colleges of higher education seek to improve student retention. Over the course of one academic year, I documented the transitional experiences of new first-year male Emirati students at a college of higher education in a rural location of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Using student responses from survey data which was qualitatively corroborated in a series of focus group meetings, a Border Crossing Index (BCI) was constructed based upon eight questions. Four types of border crossing experiences were categorized – smooth, managed, difficult, and impossible – with easier and smoother crossing experiences associated with close congruency between the two different cultures. The congruency between the pre-dominantly Arabic life-world associated with Emirati families and government schooling and the largely dominant Western/English language culture in institutes of higher education was broadly related to the students’ competence in their second language, English. The failure of male Emirati students to make satisfactory border crossings to college life initiated a process of departure manifested by high absenteeism leading to eventual withdrawal. This occurred more frequently with students placed in the lower levels of an academic bridge program where cultural and linguistic ‘discomfort’ was experienced the most - 66% of the new students left college during the year. Mainly Western teachers who developed a classroom culture based on Judith Kleinfeld’s notion of ‘warm demandingness’ and caring rapport-building appeared to have the most positive impact upon the students. Implications of this have the potential to positively impact both the classroom experience and retention.


culture; border; UAE; transition; pedagogy

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