Impact of gender segregation in Kuwait university debated

Implementation of 1996 law comes as new emir accedes to throne of oil-rich state

February 7, 2024
Kuwait University

The implementation of gender segregation at Kuwait’s public university is another blow to gender equality in the oil-rich state, some experts believe.

Male and female students at Kuwait University will be taught separately after the country’s parliament voted to enforce a 1996 law. Student groups and some academics have expressed opposition to the move.

Mohammad AlMutairi, a research associate at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, wrote recently that the policy would affect how young Kuwaitis looked at equality, inclusivity and cultural identity.

With protests from students and pushback from some academics, Mr AlMutairi said, Kuwait University faced the “challenge of upholding tradition while adapting to changing student expectations”.

Manar Sabry, senior assistant director of strategic analysis at Binghamton University in the US, said some Kuwait University faculty had raised concerns about the autonomy of the institution, particularly around governmental decisions and interference.

“Some connect decisions, such as those regarding gender separation, to perceived violations of academic freedom and university independence,” she said.

However, Dr Sabry said, the effect of the ordinance would be limited because male and female students already sat in separate areas of Kuwait University classrooms.

Christopher Davidson, an expert on the region and associate fellow of the European Centre for International Affairs, said it was primarily a political manoeuvre – an offer of “low-hanging fruit” to Islamist candidates who performed well in National Assembly elections.

“In this case, reversing co-education in Kuwait’s national university is a relative straightforward and containable gesture,” he said.

“It’s very unlikely to be applied to private sector universities, including the various foreign branch campuses.”

The debate follows the accession of a new emir of Kuwait, Mishal Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, in December.

Dr Sabry said it was too early to tell how the new ruler would affect the higher education sector but noted that his appointment of Mohammad Sabah Al-Salem Al-Sabah, a Harvard-educated economist, as prime minister, along with a number of highly educated ministers, suggested a continued emphasis on quality of education.

“The emir’s vision aims to improve educational outcomes and make sure that university graduates are career ready as well as strengthen [the sector’s] accountability,” Dr Sabry said.

“He also vowed to fight corruption across the state including corruption in universities and issues of plagiarism.”

Dr Sabry added that the new emir was likely to continue with his predecessor’s policy of replacing foreigners in the workforce with Kuwaiti citizens.

“Overall, the nationalisation policy remains a key focus in Kuwait, [with the aim of producing] highly qualified graduates for diverse roles in the country’s economy,” she added.

“This approach tends to limit external engagement and competition, potentially limiting innovation and creativity as well as decreasing motivations.”

Register to continue

Why register?

  • Registration is free and only takes a moment
  • Once registered, you can read 3 articles a month
  • Sign up for our newsletter
Please Login or Register to read this article.

Related articles

Related universities