The aim of the paper is to examine the emergence of transnational higher education (TNHE) and international branch campuses (IBCs) in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The findings demonstrate that the emergence of TNHE and IBCs has been the result of interrelated political, economic, social, and academic factors. First, the formation of the GCC was a key moment during which member states sought to stimulate scientific progress through the development of higher education as part of a strategy to meet labor demands and economic development. Second, the commodification of education and the drive to increasing profits in educational institutions combined with decreases in government funding to Western universities during the neo-liberal era of capitalism have been an impetus for Western universities to seek 'new markets' beyond their borders. Third, the liberating of regional trade policies in services, including education, combined with the internationalization of education has enabled the cross-border movement of students, educators, and institutions. Fourth, the UAE's unique demographic group mix, which consists of a majority of international expatriates, combined with significant government funding in the education sector and international partnerships has resulted in the rapid expansion of TNHE and IBCs.