WENR, July/August 2009: Middle East

Obama’s Plans for Educational Cooperation in the Middle East

US President Barack Obama announced plans recently for improved higher-education cooperation between the United States and Muslim States in the Middle East in a bid to promote the development of knowledge-based society in the Muslim world.

Obama launched the plan during his historic address, A New Beginning, at the University of Cairo [1] in June. “All of us must recognize that education and innovation will be the currency of the 21st century and in too many Muslim communities there remains under-investment in these areas,” he said.

In education, Obama’s plan for increased cooperation includes expanding exchange programs, increasing scholarships, encouraging more Americans to study in Muslim communities and to offer promising Muslim students internships in America, as well as investing in online learning and creating a new online network.

In science and technology, the plan includes launching a new fund to support technological development in Muslim-majority countries. This will help transfer ideas to the marketplace for creating new jobs, opening centers of scientific excellence in Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia, and appointing new science envoys to collaborate on programs that develop new sources of energy, create green jobs, digitize records, clean water, and grow new crops.

University World News [2]
June 7, 2009

Building a Regional Network of Quality Assurance Providers

States from the Islamic world agreed in June to cooperate in the creation of a network for quality assurance and accreditation of higher-education institutions to promote creativity, innovation, and research and development.

Proposed by Malaysia, the network initiative was announced at the 36th Session of the Council of Foreign Ministers of the 57 Member States of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference [3], held in the Syrian capital Damascus in late May.

It is intended to strengthen quality assurance of institutions in the Islamic region and to enhance cooperation between similar bodies in other regional and international organizations.

University World News [4]
June 28, 2009


British Universities in Iraq

According to a report published by the UK Higher Education International Unit [5], the British Universities Iraq Consortium [6], and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, British universities should be heavily involved in the rebuilding of Iraq’s higher education sector. The new report, UK Higher Education Engagement with Iraq [7], looks at opportunities and hindrances for increased academic cooperation between the two countries.

Higher education Minister David Lammy said the government was looking to support education development in Iraq with an infusion of £300,000 (US$480,000) from 2009-11 for a leadership and management-training program for Iraq’s universities. The report is positive about Iraqi higher education, noting that the government has already launched a US$1billion initiative to improve the Iraqi education system, part of which will be used to send 10,000 Iraqi students to study for undergraduate or graduate degrees in Australia, Canada, the UK, and the US over the next five years.

But the report also issues a warning to British universities: “Engaging with Iraqi higher education remains one of the more complex and challenging ventures in today’s international education world. From elementary personal safety considerations to basic learning and teaching infrastructure deficiencies, Iraq does not offer an engagement landscape which lends itself to easy success. Those who expect short-term gains stand to be disappointed.”

UK Higher Education International Unit [8]
June 2009

Saudi Arabia

Chinese, Saudi Universities Sign Raft of Agreements

Leaders from nine Saudi Arabian universities in June signed 24 agreements with Chinese universities in the presence of Higher Education Minister Khaled Al-Anqari and his Chinese counterpart. The educational agreements came after a summit between Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz and Chinese President Hu Jintao in Riyadh.

King Saud University [9] in Riyadh signed a research cooperation accord with the Chinese Academy of Sciences [10] (CAS) for its Nanotechnology Center. King Saud University signed nine agreements in total with various Chinese institutions of higher learning. Osama Tayeb, president of King Abdulaziz University [11] in Riyadh, signed three accords in alternative medicine and geology as well as to establish a joint research center.

Other agreements were signed by Imam Mohammed bin Saud Islamic University [12], Najran University, [13]King Faisal University [14], Madinah Islamic University [15], Um Al-Qura University [16], and Tabuk University.

Arab News [17]
June 10, 2009

United Arab Emirates

Scholar Says Foreign Universities in UAE Fighting a Losing Battle

An academic has issued a warning for foreign universities wishing to capitalize on the “branch-campus gold rush” in the United Arab Emirates. Kevin Schoepp, assistant director of the Abu Dhabi campuses of Zayed University [18], said that at least 55 overseas universities were operating in the UAE – a country of just 4.5 million people.

In the current edition of International Higher Education, the journal of the Boston College Centre for International Higher Education [19], Schoepp says that, “more often than not, the allure of financial gain for the home campus seems to be a major driving force for establishing branches.” Two high-profile overseas ventures in the UAE have failed – the University of Southern Queensland [20] closed its campus there in 2005 after just 12 months in operation, and George Mason University [21] shut its campus this year after only three years. Mr Schoepp, a doctoral student in higher education leadership at the University of Calgary [22], said that more failures were likely, adding that “the UAE is worse off than when it opened its doors.”

International Higher Education [23]
Summer 2009