Exploring the Curriculum of Family Studies in the Higher Education

The Case of the Arab Gulf Countries

Family studies analyze family structures and functions, along with their impacts on community well-being and economic life. Understanding the role of the family in various societies is crucial for governments to develop policies and for scholars to explain changes over the time and their reasons. Governments often rely on academic knowledge produced by scholars. This underscores higher education plays the significant role in order to understand a community. Therefore, examining the curriculum of higher education regarding family studies may provide insights into how a country prioritizes and addresses this issue. This analysis becomes especially relevant in the context of higher education systems across Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, including Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia. These nations’ educational priorities reflect their unique socio-economic and cultural landscapes and offer a how regional differences influence family studies curriculum.

This study aims to explore how higher education in the Gulf covers family studies. By examining the syllabus and course description of relevant countries, the study tries to determine which topics are being covered. This analysis will help to identify common or different themes across the GCC, and it will provide insights into the regional priorities and approaches to family studies in higher education.

Put study questions here
Research Objectives Questions
To identify the primary topics covered in family studies courses across higher education institutions in Gulf countries.
To determine common and different themes in family studies courses.
To analyze the alignment between the curriculum and government policies.

Literature Review
Family studies is a field of study that relates to the various dynamics that make families successful or unsuccessful. It has only emerged as a distinct and distinctive field of study in the last couple of decades. The purpose of the research undertaken here is to investigate various nations’ systems of higher education from the perspective of family studies. There are several kinds of programs and courses that are specifically designed to suit the sociocultural setting of each of the nations in question, especially Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia.
Kelley, LeBaron, and Hill (2021) provide a review of the previous decade in the study of family and economic issues. Family studies is not, of course, exhausted by economic issues, but the latter certainly do figure prominently in discussions and explanations of family studies. The authors focus on 11 areas that are closely related to finances and the family: family formation decisions, finances and mothers, finances and fathers, gender and relational power in family finances and relationships, family financial socialization, economic roots of migration by family members, finances and parenting, supporting family members financially, finances and elderly family members, how economic policy affects family, and the economic roots of migration by family members (2021, p. 20).
Combs et al. (2020) examine “business families,” families that rely on one or more business owners or managers. They point out that family science is a growing discipline within the broader scope of family studies. The authors suggest that by combining knowledge about business families with appropriate family science theories, researchers can better understand the varied ways these families influence family businesses. They draw three main conclusions from their study. First, they recommend using family science theories that help explain the connection between families and family businesses. Second, they suggest expanding the range of family science theories to be more useful in explaining these relationships. Third, they argue that some theories, such as structural functionalism, are better suited to explaining certain family characteristics, like the early development of a family firm.
Al-Alawi et al. (2021) is a study of relations between work-family conflict, family-work conflict, work-life balance, and job satisfaction among Saudi teachers. The authors find that “there is a positive and highly significant impact on employee performance by work-life balance and job satisfaction, whereas there is a positive but not significant effect when it comes to work-family conflict” (2021, p. 486). They also conclude that there family-work conflict has a significant negative impact on employee performance. There are three major issues that motivate the study and that connect with the research posed here. First, work-life balance can, according to the authors, be influenced by developments in learning institutions. Second, fluctuation in work activities and the changing nature of the education sector pose acute challenges for educators. Third, and finally, the changing demands of work affect nearly every aspect of people’s lives, rather than only affecting their professional lives.
Alenezi and Brinthaupt (2022) discuss the use of social media as learning tools for students in the Faculty of Education at Kuwait University. The authors report that their study took place in the context of consideration of the socio-cultural characteristics of Kuwait in general and its educational sector in particular. The study used interviews with 35 Kuwaiti undergraduates who were asked three questions: “How familiar are you with the use of social media?”, “How many years’ experience do you have in using computers, the Internet, and information technology?”, and “Which social media applications do you use most frequently?” (2022, p. 6). One interesting finding of the study is that many of the students interviewed believe that social media are more appropriate for men than for women (and some even expressed doubt concerning whether women were capable of using the Internet). It is important to understand how such cultural beliefs may influence education in places such as Kuwait.
Alhashem and Alhouti (2020) discuss the cycle of calls for education reform and the failure of these calls to produce genuine change in nations such as Kuwait. The authors note that education reform in Kuwait, like education reform in many other places, has been justified by adverting to the need for a “global knowledge economy” (2020, p. 346). The authors argue that the necessary education reforms in Kuwait cannot simply be erected on top of the loose coalition of policies that the reforms hope to change. Instead, “there is a critical need for policy change and shifts at all level in the education system to overcome the educational challenges and to respond effectively to the national vision” (2020, p. 364). The need for Kuwait to adopt a new educational paradigm is the chief aspect of this article that will be useful for the proposed research.
Al-Amri et al. (2020) discuss the optimal standards to use when measuring the quality of higher education in Oman. The focus is on stakeholders’ perceptions of quality. The authors note that “Higher education institutions (HEIs) are increasingly being held accountable for maintaining quality in their activities by governments, industry, students, and the community as a whole” (2020, p. 1). The authors found that the various stakeholders have different opinions about the quality of higher education in Oman. Students were found to be in favor of using standards directly related to teaching and learning. Staff members of HEIs, who are of course stakeholders, felt that a wide variety of measures of HEI performance. Finally, “employers’ responses indicate that they placed more importance on research and community engagement” (2020, p. 8).
This literature review has briefly canvassed some of the most important literature on family studies and higher education in various parts of the Middle East and surrounding areas of the world. The first part of the paper discussed family studies, especially as they concern the economic management of households in relation to higher education. Two key points were made in this part of the paper. First, economic issues are central to nearly all families, including families in the Middle East. These issues are also central to the pursuit of higher education in the area. Second, theories such as structural-functionalism have shown promise when applied to families and the ways that families who own businesses organize and conduct themselves. The second part of the paper discussed various issues surrounding higher education in the family in North Africa, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, the Gulf Cooperation Council nations, Bahrain, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Three points from this part of the discussion should be emphasized. First, there is a great deal of misunderstanding concerning how higher education functions in the Middle East. For example, there is the prevalent belief that higher education is largely closed off to women in this part of the world. However, to take just one counterexample, women now outnumber men in higher education in the UAE. Second, the widespread changes of the so-called “Arab Spring” of the 2010s still reverberate in the area, including in and around the institution of higher education in relation to the family. Third, and finally, there is a pressing need for more scholarly attention to the ideas of higher education and the family in the Middle East. This part of the world is still quite poorly understood by many in the West, and scholars should do what they can to begin to change this lamentable state of affairs. Beginning with a revision of our understanding of how higher education relates to the family in the Middle East would be a promising start.
This study employs document analysis. The relevant documents were collected from university websites. These documents include course syllabus, and program descriptions, which were systematically reviewed to gather comprehensive data on the curriculum in family studies courses in Gulf countries. The research questions and objectives of the study are following:
Research Question:
What topics are covered in family studies courses within higher education institutions in Gulf countries?

The Table 1 indicates family studies-related programs and courses offered across various universities in the Gulf countries, highlighting the diversity and specificity of educational opportunities in this field within the region. These programs range from undergraduate courses and minors to master’s degrees and doctoral studies.

In the United Arab Emirates, programs like the minor in family studies at the United Arab Emirates University and sociology courses at Ajman University indicate a broder approach to family studies. Saudi Arabia presents a strong emphasis on the clinical and counseling aspects of family studies. Institutions such as Imam Abdulrahman Bin Faisal University and Alfaisal University offer specialized programs in family medicine and family counseling, aligning with the healthcare needs.

UAE United Arab Emirates University Minor in family studies https://www.uaeu.ac.ae/en/catalog/undergraduate/programs/minor-in–family-studies.shtml

Ajman University    Sociology of the family https://www.ajman.ac.ae/en/chs/elective-course/ssw175_117 

Saudi Arabia Imam Abdulrahman Bin Faisal University IAU Fellowship in family medicine https://www.iau.edu.sa/en/colleges/college-of-medicine/programs/iau-fellowship-in-family-medicine-0

King Faisal Specialist Hospital & Research Center   Family medicine residency program   https://www.kfshrc.edu.sa/en/home/edu/programs/postprogram/572 

Imam Mohammad Ibn Saud Islamic University   Bachelor of medicine (family medicine)  https://www.topuniversities.com/universities/imam-mohammad-ibn-saud-islamic-university-imsiu/undergrad/bachelor-medicine-family-medicine#p2-overview 

Alfaisal University: College of Medicine    Family & community medicine https://com.alfaisal.edu/en/family-commun-medicine 

Princess Nourah Bint Abdulrahman University     Family counseling center    https://www.pnu.edu.sa/en/Centers/fcc/Pages/home.aspx 

Qatar Doha International Family Institute Multiple projects dedicated to the promotion of knowledge of Qatari families https://difi.org.qa/about/

Hamad Bin Khalifa University: College of Humanities and Social Sciences Master’s program in women, society, and development (significant elements of family sciences)   https://www.hbku.edu.qa/en/chss/ma-women-society-development 

Qatar University    Bachelor program in social sciences - social work/sociology

Phd in Gulf Studies https://www.qu.edu.qa/sites/en_US/artssciences/departments/social-sciences

Oman Bayan College Bachelor of arts in human development and family studies https://bayancollege.edu.om/bachelor-of-arts-in-human-development-and-family-studies-individual-and-family-services/

Table 1. Family Courses Across the Gulf
University Name Course Title Topics covered Common Themes Distinct Themes Aligned with Govt. Policies Reference to Public Policy Notes
Country A
University A Sociology of Family Marriage, Parenting Elder care Yes Focus on urban family issues
B Family Parenting, Child Development Divorce, Single Parenthood Partial Case study approach
C Family and Society Marriage, Child Development Family roles in rural areas No Theoretical perspective
D Modern Family Issues Child Development, Parenting Work-family balance Yes Minor??
… … … … … … …

Qatar offers a master’s program in women, society, and development at Hamad Bin Khalifa University. This reflect a focused integration of family studies with broader social issues, emphasizing gender and development within the Qatari context.

In Oman, the Bachelor of Arts in human development and family studies offered by Bayan College and early childhood education at Sultan Qaboos University demonstrate an educational focus on early developmental stages and family dynamics.

Bahrain and Kuwait focus respectively on psychological counseling and foundational family sciences education, with Bahrain offering master’s programs in family counseling and Kuwait providing general educational courses in family sciences at Kuwait University.


Limitation of Study..

Abdeldayem, M., Keir, M., & Aldulaimi, S. (2022). Cultural intelligence and diversity in higher education: a case study from Bahrain. Information Sciences Letters, 11(3), 925-931. https://doi.org/10.18576/isl/110323
Al-Alawi, A., Al-Saffar, E., Almohammed, S., Alotaibi, H., & Al-Alawi, E. (2021). A study of the effects of work-family conflict, family-work conflict, and work-life
balance on Saudi female teachers’ performance in the public education sector with job satisfaction as a moderator. Journal of International Women’s Studies, 22(1), 486-503. https://vc.bridgew.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2395&context=jiws
Al-Amri, A., Mathew, P., Zubairi, Y., & Jani, R. (2020). Optimal standards to measure the quality of higher education institutions in Oman: stakeholders’ perception. SAGE Open, 1, 1-11. https://doi.org/10.1177/2158244020947440
Alenzi, W., & Brinthaupt, T. (2022). The use of social media as a tool for learning: perspectives of students in the faculty of education at Kuwait University. Contemporary Educational Technology, 14(1), 1-18. https://doi.org/10.30935/cedtech/11476
Alhashem, F., & Alhouti, I. (2020). Endless education reform: the case Kuwait. Annual Review of Comparative and International Education, 40, 345-367. http://doi.org/10.1108/S1479-367920210000040019
Buckner, E. (2022). Degrees of dignity: Arab higher education in the global era. University of Toronto Press. https://tinyurl.com/5fkrsp2y
Combs, J., Shanine, K., Burrows, S., Allen, J., Pounds, T. (2020). What do we know about business families? Setting the stage for leveraging family science theories. Family Business Review, 33(1), 38-63. https://doi.org/10.1177/0894486519863508
Dickson, M., & Tennant, L. (2021). Spouses of student mothers in the United Arab Emirates: enablers or constraints to their pursuit of higher education? Indian Journal of Gender Studies, 28(3), 385-407. https://doi.org/10.1177/09715215211030406
Kayan-Fadlemula, F., Sellami, A., Abdelkader, N., & Umer, S. (2022). A systematic review of STEM education research in the GCC countries: trends, gaps and barriers. International Journal of STEM Education, 9(2). https://stemeducationjournal.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/s40594-021-00319-7
Kelley, H., LeBaron, A., Hill, E. (2021). Family matters: review from Journal of Family and Economic Issues. Journal of Family and Economic Issues, 42, 20-33.

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