Public Vs. Private Kuwaiti Universities Introduction

Excerpt from Introduction :

The modern university is essentially an alien phenomenon in the Arab world where it lacks the societal support base enjoyed by the western university. Moreover, many of the new Arab universities, like Kuwait University, established in 1966, were either modeled after the French influenced Egyptian university -- in-turn based on semi-independent colleges -- or received their initial administrative and teaching faculty from Egypt. From this legacy is derived a significant share of the obstacles hindering organization and management reform. At the same time a variety of governmental traditions and regulations binding the university to general civil service regulations, an under-developed tradition of university autonomy and faculty participation in university decision-making, and a utilitarian concept of formal education which associates degress with employment status are among the more serious problems confronting the Arab university.

Kuwait University can be seen as a microcosm of the organizational, management and academic problems encountered in the Arab university. Although Kuwait University enjoys adequate financial support and is not forced to accommodate an unreasonable number of students, it has peculiar problems arising from unequal admissions standards (Kuwaiti and non-Kuwaiti), traditional societal values, paucity of indigenous staff, inexperienced administrators, lack of balance in academic ranks, absence of tenure, a fragmented physical plant, inadequate support staff as well as insufficient societal understanding and support. Like most other Arab universities Kuwait University not only reflects the rudimentary societal development but is located on the frontier of that development. Given the small population of Kuwait, the university is especially important in this development role. As the university and its distinctive needs become better understood the total society will be strengthened.

We examine the empirical determinants of student achievement in higher education, focusing our attention on its small-group teaching component (classes or seminars) and on the role of attendance, number of students per class, peers, and tutors. The empirical analysis is based on longitudinal administrative data from a major undergraduate program where students are allocated to class groups in a systematic way, but one which is plausibly uncorrelated with ability. Although, in simple specifications, we find positive returns to attendance and sizeable differences in the effectiveness of teaching assistants, most effects are not significant in specifications that include student fixed effects. We conclude that unobserved heterogeneity amongst students, even in an institution that imposes rigorous admission criteria and so has little observable
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heterogeneity, is apparently much more important than observable variation in inputs in explaining student outcomes.

The causal relationship between educational investments and student outcomes continues to attract attention. The majority of studies have examined the effectiveness of public school expenditures or private school attendance on student outcomes. This paper contributes to the literature by examining the effectiveness of an unexplored dimension of educational inputs -- private tutoring expenditures of Kuwait parents. In the face of difficulties in causal estimation, the paper employs a nonparametric bounding method that is recently gaining popularity. With the method we show that the true effect of private tutoring remains at most modest. The tightest bounds suggest that a 10% increase in expenditure raises a student's test score by 0.764% at the largest. Such a modest effect remains similar across male and female students, and across students of different ability levels.

Our paper contributes to the understanding of the higher education productionfunction. This is a topic that we feel has received less attention than it should. One reasonwhy it is expensive is because of its lower class sizes, leading many institutions to makeextensive use of PhD students as teaching assistants to reduce the cost. Thus, in practice themarginal costs of classes can be quite low and the question we ask here is - what is theirmarginal benefit? We therefore focus on the role of several dimensions of small groupteaching (class size, attendance, peers and tutors) in terms of students' performance, asmeasured by their examinations.

We exploited rich data from a large department of a leading UK university -- namelythe availability of multiple observations for each student and the plausibly random allocationof students to classes. The research framework that we use here can, and should, be easilyexported to other universities and departments, where our study can be replicated andextended.

Two main results emerge from the present analysis. The first suggests that there areno significant effects from class attendance. The second indicates that smaller classes do nottranslate into gains in achievement. Other results include the lack of significant peer effectsand evidence of variability in teaching effects, which is, however, also not significant.These findings need to be interpreted carefully. For instance, the result of noattendance effects may not necessarily indicate that attendance does not matter per se: on thecontrary, it can instead be the case that attendance does matter but that the students in ourdata choose optimally how many classes to attend, so that marginal variation around thatattendance level does not translate into any gains…

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