Department of Social & Policy Sciences

Research student insight

Sophie Olver

Sophie Olver

  • Department of Social & Policy Science
  • First supervisor: Dr Theodoros Papadopoulos
  • Second supervisor: Dr Rana Jawad
  • Research title: A comparative analysis on the recent changes in labour market policies and state governance in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Qatar

Sophie is conducting research on a topic that until recently has had little academic attention; the changes in the labour market and governance in the Middle East.

This study will contribute much needed data and literature analysis to identify how numerous political economies in the Gulf region are diversifying away from being oil dependent economies.

It will also identify who has influence of the policy process and content and how the policies are being implemented to overcome the key political economic challenges which the case study countries face in the present day.

The Middle East

Sophie’s interest in the Middle East began during her teenage years when her family were based in Saudi Arabia.

This invaluable experience provided the foundation of my interest in the Gulf region and during my Bachelor’s degree I decided to investigate the governance of labour migration in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia for my final year dissertation.

This dissertation further enhanced her interest in the Gulf region and in doing so, she has studied the governance of labour migration and labour market policies throughout her university experience.

The Gulf Cooperation Council

The Council comprises the states of:

  • Saudi Arabia
  • Kuwait
  • Qatar
  • Oman
  • Bahrain
  • United Arab Emirates

All Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member states, which are classified as being oil dependent and labour importing economies, are facing profound challenges which range from the increasing unemployment of the national population, the increasing presence and dependence on labour migrants and society’s demand of a more representative and accountable political regime.

These socio-political and economic challenges have been at the forefront of the political economy over the last four decades since the 1970s oil boom era and are projected to continue for at least the next decade. As a result, these interconnected and complex challenges provide the core area which the national governments are focusing their policy agenda on and thus, this will shape and inform the future political economies of the GCC states.

Research approach

Through reviewing recent events in the media, academic journals and conducting a policy analysis on the selected labour market policies of the Kafala system and the Nationalisation Policy, Sophie has found evidence that the political economies of these states are diversifying away from being oil dependent economies and experiencing significant reforms.

The Gulf states have actively implemented labour market policies which are attempting to reform the role of both the National population and migrant labour in the national political economies.

With the national labour force, the Nationalisation policy has been implemented. Through the use of mechanisms such as set quotas and economic benefits to private businesses, the main goal has been to increase participation of the National labour force in the private sector and in turn, reduce the role of the public sector as the dominant employer of the domestic labour force.

Whereas in regards to the migrant labour, the governments have been implementing the Kafala system, which is a sponsorship system which controls the influx of migrant labour where employment visas are being restricted through mechanisms such as set quotas.

This is the main premise of Sophie’s study, which aims to comparatively analyse the recent changes in labour market policies and state governance.

In implementing these labour market based policies, they are continually being developed in order to overcome the profound challenges which the states throughout the region are facing which range from the increasing unemployment of the national population, the increasing presence and dependence on labour migrants and society’s demand of a more representative and accountable political regime.

Currently Sophie is undertaking fieldwork, where she is conducting interviews with government officials, ministries and private sector companies to further her research.

Research community at the University of Bath

Sophie has been highly involved with the research community in the Department of Social & Policy Sciences by attending the weekly seminars series, enabling her find out about other student’s research projects as well as presenting some of her own work as part of a friendly atmosphere.

The library and online facilities have also proved useful for her as she has been able to find a vast of information on her subject matter.

The library has been of exceptional help especially for my research, as I have been able to have a one-to-one session with our subject librarian who offered me assistance in finding databases which would have the relevant information which is vital to my study.

Through her University experience, Sophie was also able to participate in a summer voluntary programme in the Dominican Republic. Through volunteering she helped implement development programmes such as educating the local youth population, distributing medical and food aid to local villages and hospitals, and developing the local infrastructure and housing for the displaced populations from both the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

Looking ahead

Sophie hopes in the next few years to complete her PhD, write some journal articles, and present her work more widely to kick start her career as a researcher, either in an academic setting or by working with organisations such as the ILO, World Bank or OPEC.

Further information

To find out more about Sophie's research, you can contact her by email:

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