WENR, March/April 2003: Middle East
Need for Regional Accreditation Agencies Addressed
The Eighth Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) meeting of higher education ministers ended in March with a resolution to open agencies for the accreditation of academic programs in universities throughout the Persian Gulf region.
The meeting laid the groundwork for a new commission to handle the process of regional academic accreditation. Currently, the individual ministries each have their own processes.
Other high-priority issues addressed at the meeting include the need to mobilize resources and funds to support technological and scientific research through existing courses and the opening of scientific research centers.
Ministers also discussed the importance of supporting the development of private institutions as an important contribution to the overall quality and efficiency of the higher educational system.
March 6, 2003
War Forces Kurds to Shut Universities
Since 1991 and the Allied implementation of the northern no-fly zone, Kurds have administered their own universities in the autonomous regions of northern Iraq. Now, with war raging in the region, the three institutions – the Universities of Dohuk, Sulaimani and Salahaddin — have suspended operations.
The three institutions serve 15,000 students in a variety of undergraduate and graduate programs. On March 19, the Kurdish Parliament declared an official state of emergency, forcing the closure of universities and all primary and secondary schools. Kurdish officials said the biggest fear among Kurds was being struck with chemical weapons. A chemical attack on the town of Halabja in 1988 killed 5,000 people. For that reason alone, the region’s universities were ordered closed.
The Chronicle of Higher Education
March 24, 2003
13th-Century University Bombed
Al-Mustansiriya University, which was founded in 1233, was hit by a bomb March 23 during the U.S.-led bombing campaign of Baghdad. According to Reuters, classes were not in session at the time of the blast, which injured several bystanders.
The university was built to promote Sunni Islam at a time when Baghdad was the center of a vast Islamic empire. It has been part of the University of Baghdad since 1962, when it was incorporated as a new university college.
The university is situated behind the Ministry of Defense, making it vulnerable to stray “precision-guided missiles.”
The Chronicle of Higher Education
March 25, 2003
University of Babylon Reopens
The University of Babylon recently reopened after its closure during the U.S.-led military campaign to oust Saddam Hussein. Several of the school’s buildings were looted in the aftermath of the collapse of Saddam Hussein’s regime. As of April 30, about 3,000 students – half of those registered – had returned to class.
University officials say they plan to make changes to Babylon’s curriculum, particularly the teaching of history, to reflect the post-Saddam era and to extirpate the influence of the Baath Party.
April 29, 2003
School System in Disarray
Iraq’s school system is in a shambles after the war to oust Saddam Hussein. Many schools have been looted and vandalized, and teachers say they are trying to cope with children traumatized by deaths of siblings and parents.
Some students have begun returning to those schools that have been cleaned up, but only for shortened days. Most parents continue to keep their children at home for safety reasons.
Iraq – with its lucrative oil industry – once boasted one of the best education systems in the Middle East. Until sanctions were imposed in 1990, the government allocated US$230 million a year to education.
The United States recently announced plans to revamp the country’s curriculum and to rewrite history and other textbooks that were heavily weighted with references to Saddam and the Baath Party. There is no indication yet as to when teachers will see paychecks again.
May 1, 2003
Minister Outlines New Credit-Hour System
Jordan is preparing to introduce a new credit-hour system for the next academic year to unify secondary education into a single stage divided into four semesters. The new system eliminates the 11th and 12th grades and changes them into “the secondary phase,” Minister of Education Khalid Touqan said recently.
Under the new strategy, students will register for 27 to 32 credit hours per semester to fulfill 100 to 110 hours over two years. Students who excel can finish the high school period in three semesters, while others can continue for four or more semesters, up to eight.
Touqan believes the change will maximize ministry resources and allow some schools to eliminate the two-tier plan, which has long been subject to criticism. The new program will allow students to make their own decisions and will likely relieve some of the Tawjihi (General Certificate Exam) trauma that students and families feel during their final term, according to Touqan.
March 17, 2003
UNITED ARAB EMIRATES
University of Edinburgh to Enter Knowledge Village
Plans are underway to establish British University at Knowledge Village in Dubai this October. It will be the only research-based university in the region, initially offering master’s and doctoral courses in the field of informatics.
According to Mirza Al Sayegh of the Al Maktoum Charitable Foundation, British University will bring the best of British education to local students and professionals. Initially, courses will be provided by the lead university, the University of Edinburgh; other top institutions will contribute as the university develops.
March 27, 2003
Study: UAE Most Advanced e-Learning Country in Region
The United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) academic subject review project has highlighted UAE as the most advanced e-learning country in the Arab region, where overall standards as a whole are quite low.
The project, which studied 15 universities from the Arab world, selected Ajman University as the top university for computer science in the UAE.
The project is part of the UNDP’s program to enhance the quality assurance and institutional planning process at Arab universities. The objective is to introduce systems to assess program quality in Arab universities according to internationally accepted criteria.
March 6, 2003
Overseas Students Face Quandary
Saudi students looking for higher education overseas are caught in a dilemma brought on by current events and a rigid Ministry of Education.
Due to the events of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and their aftermath, many of the countries traditionally favored by Saudi students are making it very difficult for them to enter. Paradoxically, the Ministry of Education does not recognize qualifications from many of the countries that are more welcoming.
The ministry has released a list of more than 800 universities it recognizes worldwide, but 500 of them are in the United States alone, with the rest in Britain, France, Germany, Austria and some Arab countries, according to Arab News.
Due to financial constraints, many students have appealed to the Ministry of Education to recognize qualifications from universities other than those in the United States and Western Europe.
Dr. Khalid Al-Sultan, assistant director at the Ministry of Education, said the ministry will soon release a revised list containing new universities, allowing students a broader choice of study destinations and well-reputed international institutions.
Feb. 20, 2003
Educational Reforms Spark Debate
Students are learning fewer verses from the Koran and more irregular verb conjugations in English class in Qatar. Prestigious U.S. universities, such as Cornell Medical School and Carnegie Mellon’s business school, are being lured to set up branch campuses. In January, the country’s ruler, Sheik Hamad Bin Khalifa Thani, announced sweeping reforms for the public school system under the development of Rand Corp.
Dubbed by some as a revolution in education, Thani hopes the reforms will turn Qatar into “a model state” for the Persian Gulf of the future, a glimpse of the liberalization that some Bush administration officials say would emerge if President Saddam Hussein’s government in Iraq were destroyed.
For many conservative Muslim leaders, visions of Americans not only occupying military bases but also influencing classrooms in an Islamic country is their worst nightmare. Ever since the events in New York on September 11, 2001, leaders have warned of a U.S.-led campaign to rewrite textbooks, change time-honored teaching methods and cut back on the amount of religion in the curriculum.
In some Arab nations, such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, the debate focuses on how or whether the religious curriculum promotes intolerance and extremism. But Qatar has chosen to not just rewrite textbooks but also to prepare its citizens for a more participatory and economically competitive future.
Elsewhere in the Middle East, the role of the United States in promoting change has at times overshadowed the education debate. “American occupation,” is how one Jordanian writer described a State Department initiative to promote education and other reforms. Kuwaiti religious leader Abdul Razak Shuyji dubbed curriculum-reform efforts “American interference.”
“A curriculum should present our identity, our own history, our own religion,” Shuyji declared. “It’s not for others to come and try to change it.”
Others in the region see a chance to push through educational reform. “We in the gulf countries have debated among ourselves some of the shortcomings in our developmental path, and we recognized we need to reform our system,” said Mohammad Salem Sabahm, Kuwait’s minister of foreign affairs. “First of all, in education. Not because the United States asked us, but because we generally don’t provide people with the skills [that are] up to the standards of the marketplace.”
Feb. 13, 2003