Leading institutional policy implementation: Negotiating the complexities of policy implementation in higher education in the UAE.


  • Dean Vanvelzer Olds College of Agriculture and Technology in Olds, Alberta
  • Catherine Chua University of Calgary




Policy implementation, Leadership, Contextual Factors, Contextual Interaction Theory, Higher Education, United Arab Emirates


While it is widely understood that assessment policy and its implementation by actors profoundly affect the quality of student learning in higher education, there is a dearth of research highlighting the institutional factors that influence policy implementation in today’s globalized world. Although leadership is an often-cited factor influencing policy implementation, it is not well understood in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the Middle East. This paper discusses a qualitative case study that explored how leadership negotiates institutional factors and influences actors’ implementation of assessment in a Health Sciences department in an institution in the UAE. Adopting Hans Bresser’s (2004) Contextual Interaction Theory (CIT) as an empirically-based conceptual framework, the case study examined how institutional factors and leadership influence motivation, cognition, and power/capacity in a UAE institution. Data were collected from semi-structured interviews with key informants in a Health Sciences department and internal and external policy documentation. Findings indicated that the policy design and the institution’s top-down approach to governance influenced leaders’ implementation of assessment policy in particular ways. In addition, the institutional culture of change and the sizable multi-campus structure impacted the department's policy and leaders’ assessment implementation. Finally, there were findings on the nature of leadership and the nuances of supporting and influencing policy implementation that was contextualized in UAE society. The study results offer policymakers, institutional leaders, and department-level leaders (department and program leaders) a deeper understanding of how system-level influences impact policy implementation.

Author Biographies

Dean Vanvelzer , Olds College of Agriculture and Technology in Olds, Alberta

Dr. Dean Vanvelzer is currently the program and curriculum manager in the department of Continuing Education and Corporate Training at Olds College of Agriculture and Technology in Olds, Alberta.  He received his M.Ed from Murdoch University in Perth, Australia and Ed.D in Leadership, Policy, and Governance in Post-Secondary Contexts from the University of Calgary. He spent 10 years in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) working in the Faculty of Education at the largest public provider of higher education (Higher Colleges of Technology). During this time, he worked with the UAE Ministry of Education on quality initiatives such as the teaching licensure framework and teaching licensure exam. He was also seconded to work with the Emirates College of Advanced Education on leadership training for Principals in the UAE. In addition, he worked with the public-school systems in the Emirates of Dubai, Sharjah, and Abu Dhabi in with in-service teacher training programs. His research interests include leadership, assessment policy, policy implementation, teaching and learning, and strategic planning.

Catherine Chua, University of Calgary

Dr. Catherine Chua is an associate professor at the Werklund School of Education.  She received her MA in English at the University of New South Wales, and PhD in Educational Studies at the University of Queensland.  She returned to Singapore in 2006 and worked as an Assistant Professor with the National Institute of Education Singapore. In 2016, Catherine joined the Werklund School of Education at the University of Calgary where she teaches graduate courses in leadership and policy studies.  Catherine’s research focuses on educational policy, leadership studies, globalization and educational reforms, language planning policy, critical discourse analysis and competency-based education.




How to Cite

Vanvelzer , D., & Chua, C. (2022). Leading institutional policy implementation: Negotiating the complexities of policy implementation in higher education in the UAE. International Journal for Leadership in Learning, 22(2), 181–218. https://doi.org/10.29173/ijll24