Higher Education Systems and Institutions, Sultanate of Oman
HE System Development
Oman is a developing country, situated in the Middle East. It is one of the six Arab Gulf States, bordering with the United Arab Emirates, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Iran. Since 1970, when His Majesty the Sultan Qaboos became the Sultan, Oman has witnessed major reform in all aspects of development. Before 1970, there were only three schools and no higher education system at all. Since then, oil and gas, as the main contributors in the Omani economy, has made the Omani government to invest heavily in education. The Omani population is around 4.5 million (2.5 Omanis, 2 expatriates), in a land area of 309,980 km2.
It is important to mention that the Omani higher education system started officially with the establishment of Sultan Qaboos University (SQU) in 1986. Indeed, SQU is the only public university till now and regarded as the premier university carrying His Majesty’s name. Before that, between 1970s and 1980s, the Omani government runs colleges that were specifically founded to give certificates in health and teaching, serving the needs of the country from teachers and nurses at that stage of development (Carroll and Palermo 2006). In 1994, the Ministry of Higher Education was established to mark a key step in the development of the system. Furthermore, the 1990s recorded the beginning of the private higher education in Oman.
Currently there are 31 public higher education institutions (1 university, 29 colleges, 1 institutes) and 29 private institutions (8 universities, 21 colleges), together making 60 higher education institutions. More than 141 thousand students are enrolled currently in these institutions (81 thousand females, 60 thousand males). The Omani system is young in age with fast expansion and diversity in institutions and specializations (Al’Abri 2015).
Higher Education Governance
The governance of the Omani higher education and number of institutions
Number of institutions
Ministry of Higher Education
College of Education
Colleges of Applied Sciences
Private Universities and Colleges
Diploma, bachelor, masters
The University Council (Independent)
Sultan Qaboos University
Diploma, bachelor, masters, PhD
Ministry of Health
Oman College of Health Sciences
1 (8 campus around the Governorates)
Higher Health Specializations Institute
Ministry of Manpower
Colleges of Technology
Vocational College for Marine Sciences
Ministry of Awqaf and Religious Affairs
College of Shariah Sciences
Central Bank of Oman
The College of Banking and Financial Studies
Diploma, bachelor, masters
Royal Oman Police
The Royal Oman Police Academy
Ministry of Defense
National Defense College
Diploma, bachelor, masters
Sultan Qaboos Military College
Royal Air Force Technical College
Military Technological College
As it is clear from Table 1 above, the Omani higher education system governance is scattered between different ministries and authorities. However, there is the Education Council which is considered the highest-mandated authority in the Omani government, under his Majesty and Council of Ministers, to oversee the higher education system (public &private), make its policies and assure its quality. The Education Council is affiliated. The Council is reporting to the Diwan of Royal Court, a powerful body in the Omani government directly working under His Majesty. To be that important, the Council is presided by the Minister of the Diwan of Royal Court and deputy-chaired by the Minister of Higher Education. In its membership, the Council includes the Minister of Education, Minister of Manpower, Minister of Civil Service, Secretary General of the Supreme Council for Planning, Secretary General Research Council, Chief Executive Officer of Oman Academic Accreditation Authority, General Secretary of the Education Council, vice-chancellor of a public university, a vice-chancellor of a private university, three members of a highly academic and respected status, and two members from the private sector.
According to the mandate, the Council is responsible for making the overarching policies of the whole system, approving establishment of higher education institutions, organizing admission to higher education institutions, and proposing draft laws to the government (The Ministry of Legal Affairs 2012).
Besides, it is important to point out to two other key apparatuses in the Omani higher education system. The first is the Oman Academic Accreditation Authority, entrusted to regulate the quality of all higher education institutions running in the Sultanate. The authority is also mandated to do institutional and program accreditation as well as developing the national qualifications framework. The second is the Higher Education Admission Center, under the Ministry of Higher Education. The Center is responsible for coordinating the enrollment of students who finish grade 12 or its equivalent in all public and private higher education institutions. The mission of the center is facilitated by an electronic system that is connected to the Ministry of Education and the higher education institutions.
As we mentioned earlier, the governance of the Omani higher education is scattered between different authorities, and therefore the expenditure on the system is not clear. Though, it is clear that the Omani government fully fund and finance the public institutions. There are no fees to enroll in these public institutions, and students get financial assistance in the form of allowances. Indeed, the government has been using the oil revenues to finance the higher education system.
Although the government does not finance the private institutions as in the case of the public ones, the government still supports them in an indirect way by land grants, tax exemptions, and scholarships (Al’Abri 2015). The government sends annually around 8,000 students to these institutions in which fees are paid by the government.
In terms of funding research, the Research Council was established in 2005 by a Royal Decree. Believing in the importance of research in the nation’s development, the government has invested by funding national research projects through several funding schemes (strategic research program, open grant research program, graduate research support program, social observatory research program). The Council is aimed at achieving research excellence via building national research capacity, transferring knowledge and providing an enabling environment for innovation and research. All academics working in Omani higher education institutions (public or private) have the right to apply for funding their research.
Academic Profession, Students, Administrative Staff
Number of employees according to type of work
Type of work
Academics with administrative positions
The distribution of admitted students in the academic year 2017/2018 according to their majors
Administration and commercial studies
Engineering and technology
Society and culture
Natural sciences and physics
Agriculture and environmental studies
Religion and philosophy
External scholarship (various majors)
Other Main Issues
The Omani higher education system has a rapid expansion in the number of institutions and students in a short period of time. That has pushed the government to focus quality assurance, leading to the “establishment of a comprehensive system of quality assurance and quality enhancement” (Carroll and Palermo 2006). This was translated in the creation of the Accreditation Council in 2001 that was upgraded to the Oman Academic Accreditation Authority in 2010. The authority almost finished the first stage of auditing the quality of all institution, resulting in a report submitted to the institutions with commendations, recommendations, and affirmations. After 5 years of the quality audit, institutions have to undergo the assessment against the national standards, resulting in accreditation, probation, or not-accredited. Till this moment, around ten institutions went through the process. The process of accreditation is still new to the institutions.
Internationalization is considered a remarkable feature in the Omani higher education system (Al’Abri 2016). The modes and practices of internationalizations differ from one institution to another. To illustrate, the private higher education institutions are forced to have affiliation with an international higher education institution as a requirement for founding and licensing. The public higher education institutions, as the case of Sultan Qaboos University, have decided to obtain international accreditation from well-recognized professional bodies. Currently, seven colleges at the university have been successful in gaining international accreditation. Overall, there are some global discourses of internationalizations that can be clearly noticed in Omani higher education institutions such as English as the medium of instruction, international curriculum in almost all programs across institutions, 70% of academics are international, and competing in global ranking.
- Al’Abri, K. 2015. Higher education policy architecture and policy-making in the Sultanate of Oman: Towards a critical understanding. Doctoral dissertation, The University of Queensland, Brisbane.Google Scholar
- Al’Abri, K. 2016. Internationalization of higher education in Oman: Practices of affiliation and accreditation. The European Conference on Educational Research (ECER), Ireland, Dublin, 23–26 August.Google Scholar
- Carroll, M., and J. Palermo. 2006. Increasing national capability for quality higher education the case of the Sultanate of Oman. Paper presented at the 2006 Australasian Association for Institutional Research annual forum, Coffs Harbour.Google Scholar
- Ministry of Legal Affairs. 2012. Royal Decree 48/2012, Establishing the Education Council and its system. Official Gazette, 984.Google Scholar
- The Education Council. 2017. The annual report of education in Oman. Muscat: Author.Google Scholar
- The National Center for Statistics and Information. 2017. Higher education statistics. Muscat: Author.Google Scholar