Sabic-El-Rayess, Amra (as2169)

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Sabic-El-Rayess, Amra
Associate Professor of Practice
-Project Director, Center for Benefit-Cost Studies in Education (Teachers College, Columbia University) -Affiliated Faculty, Harriman Institute for Russian, Eurasian and Eastern European Studies (Columbia University)
Education Policy and Social Analysis

Scholarly Interests

Scholarly Interests

Salafism, Radicalization & Social Norm Formation

Dr. Amra Sabic-El-Rayess is an interdisciplinary scholar who leverages fields of economics, sociology, and political science to address the questions of radicalization, social mobility, corruption, and exclusion of women. She works on concrete ways to facilitate women’s social mobility through better financial inclusion and access to financial services. Her work also examines the role of informal educational practices and formal institutions in creating new societal dynamics, norms, and behaviors. Dr. Sabic-El-Rayess’ current research examines how ultraconservative groups leverage education, both informal and formal, to instigate changes in social norms, values, and behaviors. Salafism, in particular, has developed innovative and transformative educational capacities that inject new social norms and ultraconservative beliefs into previously unreceptive societies. Even initially unreceptive populations are often transformed into supporters and eventually self-conformers to the new ideological platform and belief system. How education aids this path towards radicalization is at the core of Dr. Sabic-El-Rayess’ upcoming book on Salafism.

Scholarly interests

Social Mobility, Corruption, Radicalization, Formal and Informal Muslim Education, Social Justice, Elite Formation

Educational Background

▪ Ph.D. in Comparative and International Education with specialization in Economics
  Columbia University, Teachers College, 2012
▪ Masters of Philosophy in Comparative and International Education
  Columbia University, Teachers College, 2010
▪ Masters of International Affairs, Economic and Political Development with regional specialty in Persian Gulf
  Columbia University, School of International and Public Affairs, 2004
▪ Bachelors of Arts in Economics
  Brown University, 2000

Selected Publications

Media and Publications

Media Articles and Interviews     

▪        U.S. Embassy Brings Education Policy Expert Dr. Amra-Sabic-El-Rayess to Azerbaijan (2018). Available online at: 

▪        Columbia Law School, The Center for the Advancement of Public Integrity (2017). Available online at:

▪        Sabic, El-Rayess, A. (2017). Melania’s New Shoes, or Trouble Afoot in the Balkans? Available online at:  

▪        Sabic-El-Rayess, A. (2016). Who gets radicalized? What I learned from my interviews with extremists disciples. Available online at:

▪        Sabic-El-Rayess, A. (2016). 2016’s best and worst states for teachers. Available online at:

▪        Sabic-El-Rayess, A. (2016). Interview with China’s State Press Agency, Xinhua, on 2016 Presidential Elections in the US. Available online at:

▪        Sabic-El-Rayess, A. (2016). Interview with Bosnia’s Dnevni Avaz on radicalization, Islam, and development in the Balkans. Available online at:

▪        Columbia University Teachers College Newsroom (2016). Report from Bosnia: Why “Top-Down Education” Isn’t Winning the Battle for Hearts and Minds. Available        online at:

▪        Sabic-El-Rayes, A. (2012). Interview with Film Annex on education of women in Afghanistan.  Available online at:

Columbia University Media Articles

▪        Columbia University Teachers College Newsroom (2017). Beware "Familial Tribalism in the White House, warns TC's Sabic-El-Rayess. Available online at: 

▪        Columbia University Teachers College Newsroom (2017). Watching Her Steps: Melania’s choice of footwear for the Inauguration will have implications for the Balkans. Available online at : 

▪        Columbia University Teachers College Newsroom (2016). Report from Bosnia: Why “Top-Down Education” Isn’t Winning the Battle for Hearts and Minds. Available online at:

Scholarly Articles

▪        Sabic-El-Rayess, A. and Jackson, M. (Forthcoming). Buying into American values: Examination of the Fulbright Program.

▪        Sabic-El-Rayess, A.; Son, H. and Wanta, V. (Forthcoming). Mentors Not Mosques are Key to Radicalization.

▪        Sabic-El-Rayess, A. and Naheed, N. (Forthcoming). Costs of educational inputs and unintentional consequences for equity and access to education Available online at:

▪        Sabic-El-Rayess, A. & Mansur, N. (2016). Favor reciprocation theory in education: New corruption typology. International Journal of Educational Development.50, 20-32.

▪        Sabic-El-Rayess, A. (2016). Merit matters: Student perceptions of faculty quality and reward. International Journal of Educational Development. 47, 1-19

▪        Sabic-El-Rayess, A. (2014). Acting and reacting: Youth’s behavior in corrupt educational settings. Peabody Journal of Education, Taylor & Francis, 89, 1-15.

▪        Sabic-El-Rayess, A. (2013). Befriending Bosnia’s diaspora and EU-nionizing higher education: Limitations and possibilities. European Education: Issues and Studies, M. E. Sharpe, 45/2, 6-27.

▪        Sabic-El-Rayess, A. (2009). Internationalization in the education system of a weak state: Examining multiple identities of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s higher education, Special Issue on “Interculturality and Higher Education”, Intercultural Education, 20/5, Taylor & Francis,  October 2009: 419-428.

Conference Publications

▪       Popov, N. & Sabic-El-Rayess, A. (2013). William Russell on schools in Bulgaria. In Education in one world: Perspectives from different nations. BCES Conference Books,     Volume 11, 29-34.

Technical Papers

▪       Sabic-El-Rayess, A. (2013). School uniform cost reduction in Mongolia: Standardization, simplification and supply policy.

▪       Guest-edited article on corruption in higher education for Transparency International’s 2013 Global Corruption Book.

▪        Sabic-El-Rayess, A. (2011). Powerful friends: Educational corruption and elite creation in post-war Bosnia and Herzegovina, a research brief targeting policy community.

▪        Moratti, M. and Sabic-El-Rayess, A. (2009). Missing link between DDR and transitional justice: The case of Bosnia and Herzegovina, NYC: International Center for Transitional Justice – Research Unit.  

▪        Alexander, J., DePiazza, J., Flory, A., Mosseley, A., Reza, R., and Sabic-El-Rayess, A. (2004). From barracks to business: An evaluation of IOM's Transitional Assistance Program to Former Soldiers in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Book Chapters

▪        Alexander, J. and Sabic-El-Rayess, A. (2005). A book chapter titled DDR evolution: Learning from the case of Bosnia and Herzegovina. In Ann M Fitz-Gerald and Hillary Mason (Eds.) From Conflict to Community: A Combatant’s Return to Citizenship (pp. 8-24). Shrivenham: UK: Global Facilitation Network for Security Sector Reform - Cranfield University.  

Foreign Media

▪        Women Exclusion and Economic Development (2018) Available online at:

▪        Sabic-El-Rayess, A. (2016). Krajiska Dijaspora. Available online in Bosnian at:

▪        About Dr. Sabic-El-Rayess, A. (2016). Mojusk. Available online in Bosnian at:

 ▪       About Dr. Sabic-El-Rayess, A. (2016). Bosnian-Herzegovinian American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Available online in Bosnian at:

▪        Sabic-El-Rayess, A. (2014) Stagnation in Bosnia equates success abroad. Op-ed for Kliker news. Available online in Bosnian at:

▪        Sabic-El-Rayess, A. (2013) 60-minute interview with Bosnia’s Face TV on Bosnia post-war.

▪        Women Exclusion and Economic Development at:

Principal Publications


Systemic Corruption in Education

Course Description

Today, one third of the world’s population sees its educational institutions as corrupt (Transparency International, 2011). Systemic corruption in education has adversely impacted development for decades, but institutional efforts to better understand and address the impact of corruption and its social implications have emerged only in recent years. In fact, organizations – such as Transparency International, International Institute for Educational Planning, and Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development – have all increased their efforts in this arena. The focus of this course is on understanding systemic corruption in education, its social implications, and to what extent the actors and types of corruption vary throughout different educational contexts. The survey course provides students with a venue to critically analyze key corruption trends and anti-corruption efforts in corruption-prone settings. Research studies by OECD (Integrity of Education Systems Program ‘s case studies) and work by other international actors to critically examine and better understand severity of corruption’s impact on development.

This course examines questions of why corruption occurs in education, when it becomes systemic, how it impacts societies, and what preventive and punitive measures can be used to lessen its presence in education today. By the end of the course, students are well versed in the issues surrounding corruption and ways in which the same could be better addressed in a variety of educational settings participants may later encounter in their professional careers. In the process, students gain knowledge on a variety of issues, including:

1. Educational corruption taxonomies,

2. Educational corruption’s impact on educational quality, labor market dynamics, development, mobility, teacher/student conduct/behavior/reactions…etc.

3. Facilitators of corruption and assessment of corruption proneness,

4. Prevention/anti-corruption planning and policies.


Education and Economic Development

Course Description

This course surveys the links between education and economic development. We examine differentials in educational attainment and schooling investments across the globe. We additionally look at the factors that influence primary and secondary school enrollment in developing countries; the role of higher education in economic development; and the nature of inequities in educational outcomes on the basis of income, gender, race, and ethnicity. The course then moves to understanding the demand for educational investments, the supply and costs of educational inputs, and the theory and measurement of cost-benefit analysis in education. We also discuss alternative approaches to the public financing of education, issues of decentralization, and governance. Throughout the course, there is a focus on key policy issues in education and economic development, such as the gender gap in schooling, child labor force participation, adult literacy programs, the role of international organizations (such as the World Bank), the impact of the IMF-based structural adjustment programs on educational investments, and the relative impact of public versus private spending on primary, secondary and tertiary education.


Quantitative Analysis in Comparative and International Education

Course Description

Familiarity with the quantitative methods is essential to a broad spectrum of professions in education, ranging from those related to policy making to those in the area of educational research. Specific considerations are needed as we analyze issues involving practices and policies addressing educational challenges in international settings. Throughout the course, students will be provided with weekly opportunities to employ statistical techniques in SPSS, using primary datasets. By the end of the course, students will gain a high level of statistical literacy and understanding of the quantitative methods’ applicability in research, an in-demand skillset in the field of international and comparative education and beyond.


Qualitative Research and Evaluation in International Education

Course Description

Our ability to successfully conceptualize and align a methodological framework for a research project with the project’s broader theoretical context and ultimately research objective is essential to the overall quality of our research. The implications of the poorly specified methodological frameworks can be costly both short- and long-term. Therefore, this course will aim at helping advanced students – those interested in either expanding or effectively applying their research capacities – formulate a qualitative methodological framework for a research project of their choice. Students already working on their dissertations or those interested in pursuing research projects within their professional settings will benefit from a broad examination of qualitative approach discussed in the class. Students will ultimately expand their skills in the arena of applied social research. They will build their own critical perspectives by examining, as well as building on, the methodological approaches currently employed in the field of education.


1. Bridge gaps between theoretical conceptualization of a research question and actual implementation of the research plan;

2. Critically examine methodological frameworks of research projects and published writings in the field;

3. Be able to point to key methodological weaknesses, advantages and/or disadvantages of a chosen approach;

4. Learn ways to optimize their own research goals by devising a methodological framework tailored to the goals of their research;

5. Optimize their sample by formulating effective interview guides and select appropriate analytical tools.


EDPE 4199-0001 Issues: Education and Social Transformations

Course Description

Drawing from several bodies of literature, this course explores critical bridges between education, on one hand, and the complex dynamics of the elite formation, corruption, and economic development, on the other hand. Students will examine the elite dynamics in crises or developing contexts; what role economics and education play in those contexts; and how education systems work to validate or delegitimize the old or new elite. Current events will be incorporated into discussions and presentations.

Biographical Information

Dr. Sabic-El-Rayess started her work in education as one of the youngest teachers working under the military siege during Bosnia’s devastating war. More recently, Dr. Sabic-El-Rayess obtained her PhD (2012) in Comparative and International Education with specialization in Economics at Columbia University’s Teachers College. Her doctoral research employed mixed methods to examine the intricacies of favor reciprocation and corruption in education, providing empirical evidence on how such phenomena usurp merited social mobility and equality in education.

Dr. Sabic-El-Rayess holds a Masters of Philosophy (2010) from Columbia University’s Teachers College and Masters in Economic and Political Development from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs (2004), as well as a B.A. in Economics from Brown University (2000). She is a recipient of multiple awards, including grants from the Smith Richardson Foundation; Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and Kennan Institute; International Research and Exchange Board; Harriman Institute for Russian, Eurasian, and Eastern European Studies, and others.

Dr. Sabic-El-Rayess has worked in various capacities for Columbia University, Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank, UNDP, IFES, IMC, OSCE, UNICEF, ICTJ, and other globally renowned institutions. Dr. Sabic-El-Rayess is the Board Director of the International Center for Transitional Justice; Board Director of the Tuxedo Park School; Board Director of the Good Samaritan Hospital Foundation; Visiting Scholar at the Center for Benefit-Cost Studies in Education; Affiliated Faculty Member at the Harriman Institute for Russian, Eurasian and Eastern Europe Studies; Member of the World Association of International Studies; Member of the International Institute for Middle East and Balkan Studies; and Member of Bosnian-Herzegovinian American Academy of Arts and Sciences.


Office Location

Office Location, 230 Thompson Hall

Department of Education Policy & Social Analysis

Teachers College, Columbia University

525 W. 120th Street, Box 11

New York, NY  10027-6636

Office Hours

*By appointment only 

Forthcoming Article

  • Sabic-El-Rayess, A. (Forthcoming Article). Costs of educational inputs and unintentional consequences for equity and access to education.

Professional Organizations and Memberships

▪         Core Team Faculty Member, Online Leadership Program Development Initiative, 2016-present;

▪         Academic Advisory Board, Center for Development and Social Science Research, 2016-present;

▪         Member, American Educational Research Association (2016-present);

▪         Director, Board of Directors, Tuxedo Park School (2015-present);

▪         Director, Board of Directors, International Center for Transitional Justice (2014-present);

▪         Board Member, Good Samaritan Hospital Foundation (2012-present);

▪         Visiting Scholar, Center for Benefit-Cost Studies in Education (2014-present);

▪         Affiliated Faculty Member, Harriman Institute for Russian, Eurasian and Eastern Europe Studies at the School of International and Public Affairs (2014-present);

▪         Member, World Association of International Studies (2014-present);

▪         Reviewer, Comparative Education Review (2015-present);

▪         Reviewer, International Journal of Educational Development (2014-present);

▪         Reviewer, European Education (2012-present);

▪         Member, International Institute for Middle East and Balkan Studies (2013-present);

▪         Executive Editor, Current Issues in Comparative Education Journal (2012-2014);

▪         Member, Bosnian-Herzegovinian American Academy of Arts and Sciences (2007-present);

▪         Member, Cum Laude Society;

▪         Member, Omicron Delta Epsilon.


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