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Analysis of the attrition phenomenon through the lens of university dropouts in the United Arab Emirates

Sanaa Ashour (Al Ain University of Science and Technology, Al Ain, United Arab Emirates)

Journal of Applied Research in Higher Education

ISSN: 2050-7003

Article publication date: 6 August 2019

Issue publication date: 7 April 2020



Theoretical models of attrition have failed to address the interwoven factors from the perspective of undergraduate students that influence their decision to drop out. The purpose of this paper is to unravel these complexities using a qualitative phenomenological approach to gain systematic descriptions of the experience of non-completion.


Tinto’s (2004) and Bean and Metzner’s (1985) models serve as the theoretical construct for the study’s design and analysis. In-depth interviews were conducted with 41 students who discontinued studies at universities in the United Arab Emirates, to understand the situations that led them to drop out of university and how they experienced this event in their lives.


Several issues were identified as contributing factors for dropping out that are consistent with those found in the international literature. Additional issues were more gender or culture specific and, to some extent, represented the differences that signal a social development that is in a transitional stage. The findings revealed that institutional factors, poor pre-college preparation, environmental factors (work-education conflict), early marriage responsibilities, well-paid job opportunities and financial concerns were most influential.

Research limitations/implications

Despite the limitations of relying on a small sample to generalize findings, the rich detail of this inductive study has added to the understanding of the dropout phenomenon in a new context.

Practical implications

The paper recommends both remedial and early intervention strategies to be undertaken by the Ministry of Education and universities. Remedial strategies include re-examining the desired standard of English as a condition for admission and adjusting the grading system. Early intervention measures that accommodate the needs of at-risk students are also proposed. At local, regional and international levels, higher education should be freed from commodification and inflated fees.


The paper presents a significant departure from the largely North American and European literature on the university dropout, by offering a broader knowledge of this phenomenon in another regional and national context.



Ashour, S. (2020), "Analysis of the attrition phenomenon through the lens of university dropouts in the United Arab Emirates", Journal of Applied Research in Higher Education, Vol. 12 No. 2, pp. 357-374.



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