WENR, July/August 2010: Middle East


Parliament Rejects Ahmadinejad University Reform Bill

Legislators rejected an education bill on June 20 in a debate that is closely linked to Iranian political rivalries, pitting supporters of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad against the reformist camp and one of its main leaders, Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.

The proposed legislation dealt with the administration of Tehran’s Islamic Azad University [1], one of the country’s (and world’s) largest universities with 1.4 million students and tens of billions of dollars in assets. The private school is closely linked to Rafsanjani, a former president and rival of Ahmadinejad. Ahmadinejad’s bill would have replaced the current head of the university, Abdullah Jasebi – a close Rafsanjani ally – in a move that had the appearance of attempted retribution for the university’s alleged support for opposition candidates in the 2009 presidential election. The legislation also would have changed the members of Azad University’s governing board.

Mir Hussein Musavi, a Rafsanjani ally who officially came second to Ahmadinejad in last year’s presidential election, had been on the Azad University board but was removed more than one month ago as part of a political shake-up.

Matters came to a head on June 19 when the university’s board secured a temporary injunction that prevented the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution from enforcing its revision of the university’s charter. The next day, a bill was rushed through the 270-member parliament that effectively circumvented the government takeover of Azad, by allowing universities to endow their properties to the public. Azad University’s board had previously decided to endow the properties of the university, which has 357 branches and satellite campuses throughout the country.

The stakes are high — and not just because of the university’s immense assets. Politics and control reign supreme in this dispute. If Ahmadinejad wins, Rafsanjani stands to lose influence in Iran’s political scene and the university’s campuses could be controlled by the government’s security and military apparatus. The university is seen by the current establishment as one of the centers of power in Iranian society that still remains in the hands of their rivals.

RFE/RL [2]
June 27, 2010

ETS Resumes Testing Operations in Iran

Educational Testing Service [3] (ETS) has announced it is resuming registrations in Iran for its Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) and GRE (Graduate Record Examination) tests. According to a statement on its website: “The brief suspension was the indirect result of tighter U.N. Security Council restrictions on financial transactions involving Iran, which resulted in ETS’s banking arrangements being discontinued.

Students wishing to take the tests may register through Iran’s National Organization of Educational Testing, or with credit/debit cards issued by banks that are not prohibited under U.N. or U.S. sanctions. ETS has permission from the Office of Foreign Assets Control of the U.S. Department of the Treasury to conduct its testing business in Iran.”

The suspension of the testing had angered some Iranians, who pointed to the fact that the sanctions imposed against Iran over its sensitive nuclear work was not supposed to affect ordinary Iranians.

ETS [4]
July 29, 2010


US-Iraq University Partnership Program Launched

A new U.S. State Department program [5], announced in July, is looking to build links between U.S. and Iraqi universities as equal partners in the revitalization of Iraq’s universities. The U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Christopher R. Hill, described the project, known as the university-linkages program, to American and Iraqi educators at a conference in Baghdad in July at the program’s launch.

Under the program, five American institutions and five universities in Iraq will look at ways to improve curriculum; develop online courses and real-time instruction via videoconferencing; boost career development; and increase the level of faculty, staff, and student exchanges.

Representatives of four of the American institutions involved—Ball State University [6], Oklahoma State University [7], the University of Cincinnati [8], and the University of Kentucky [9]—were in Baghdad to begin working out the specifics of their collaborations with their Iraqi counterparts. (Delegates from the fifth American institution, Cleveland State University [10], were unable to attend because of travel difficulties.) The $6 million program is being administered by the Academy for Educational Development [11], a non-profit organization that is administering the three-year program’s grant in partnership with the State Department.

Iraqi universities involved in the project are the University of Basrah [12] (partnered with Oklahoma State); the University of Kufa [13] in Najaf; (University of Kentucky), the University of Salahdin in Erbil (University of Cincinnati); the University of Tikrit (Ball State University); and the University of Baghdad [14] (Cleveland State University).  Their linkages will focus on petroleum sciences, English, education, engineering, computer sciences, and business (among other fields).

U.S. Embassy Baghdad Press Release [5]
July 3, 2010

Palestinian Territories

Israel Maintains Ban on Gaza Students Wishing to Study in West Bank

Israel’s High Court has decided that Israel’s move to ease the blockade on Gaza will not also enable students there to study in the West Bank. In a ruling in July, the Court denied a petition by Fatima Sharif, a lawyer in Gaza, to attend classes at Birzeit University [15] in the West Bank, where she has enrolled in a master’s program in human rights and democracy.

The Israeli army effectively banned all Palestinian students in Gaza from attending West Bank universities several years ago and lately has been arresting and deporting those found in violation of the rule. In 2007 the court instructed the army to reconsider the blanket ban and recommended that exceptions be granted in “cases that would have positive human consequences.”

Israel has not issued a single permit to a student from Gaza since that recommendation was passed down, according to the Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, a human-rights group that represented Ms. Sharif. Ms. Sharif said she believed her case fitted the criteria laid down by the court in 2007 because the course is not available in Gaza, where she works for an advocacy organization, the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights.

The Chronicle of Higher Education [16]
July 7, 2010

Saudi Arabia

International Business Schools Looking at Saudi Arabia

Business schools with international expansionist plans are reportedly looking to Saudi Arabia, where a still-strong economy and government backing to boost management skills have created a pool of potential management students.

A small, but growing, group of international schools have launched programs in the country, and more are recruiting Saudi students to home campuses. Anxious to broaden an economy heavily dependent on oil, King Abdullah and his government are investing billions in new industries, and overseas business schools may help provide the trained domestic executives they expect to need.

Saudi Arabia is spending an estimated US$90 billion to build four new “economic cities,” foreigner-friendly business zones that are designed to serve as hubs for new industries and intended to be home to several big new universities. King Abdullah Economic City, the flagship, recently hosted a module of the customized month-long Saudi Oxford Advanced Management and Leadership Program [17], run by the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School [18] since last year.

The Ecole Supérieure des Affaires [19]’ business school in Lebanon is launching an executive master’s program in Islamic finance at Effat University [20], a women’s school in Jeddah, in collaboration with the Netherlands’ Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University [21].

The number of Saudi students taking the GMAT business school entrance test annually nearly quadrupled between 2005 and 2009, to 1,200, and the government is offering scholarships to students who go overseas to earn MBAs, suggesting that recruiters should be looking long and hard at Saudi operations.

With the Dubai economy still languishing, a number of international business schools that opened campuses there during the boom years are reportedly looking to Saudi Arabia as demand in the emirate diminishes. Some are holding information sessions in Riyadh or Jeddah, and a big jump in Saudi student numbers has helped keep Dubai classrooms full.

Wall Street Journal [22]
June 17, 2010


Full-face Veils Banned at Universities

Female students wearing a full-face veil, or Hijab, will be barred from Syrian university campuses, the country’s minister of higher education has said, stating that the practice ran counter to the academic values and traditions of Syrian universities. His ruling was said to be in response to requests from students and parents.

In 2009, Egypt’s then foremost Muslim cleric, Sheikh Mohammed Sayed Tantawi, barred female students from wearing the full-face veil at the al-Azhar University [23], Sunni Islam’s center of learning and scholarship.

He also upset other Muslim scholars by saying French Muslims should obey any law that France might enact banning the veil.

Earlier this month, France’s lower house of parliament overwhelmingly approved a bill that would ban wearing the Islamic full veil in public. It must be ratified by the Senate in September to become law. Belgium’s lower house of parliament has also passed a bill to ban clothing that hides a person’s identity in public places, although it does not specifically refer to full-face Islamic veils.

BBC News [24]
July 19, 2010

United Arab Emirates

After Two Years Michigan State Closes Undergraduate Programs in Dubai

Two years after opening a campus at Dubai International Academic City [25], Michigan State University [26] has announced that it will discontinue its undergraduate programs due to under-enrollment. In those two years, just 85 students enrolled, and all 85 will have to seek alternative arrangements.

MSU Dubai opened its doors in fall 2008, just as the dominoes were beginning to fall in the global economic crisis. Original plans for MSU Dubai envisioned an enrollment of 100 to 150 students per entering class. The reality was an enrollment that was insufficient to support five different undergraduate programs — for both financial and academic reasons. MSU Dubai offered majors in business administration, child and youth development, computer and electrical engineering, construction project management, and media management and research.

Michigan State will continue the sole graduate program it offers in Dubai’s International Academic City — a master’s of human resources and labor relations — and the university has plans to refocus and expand its presence in Dubai in study abroad, executive education, research, and consulting, according to officials.

The National [27]
July 6, 2010

Edinburgh & Wollongong Thrive in Dubai

In contrast to the fate of Michigan State in Dubai (as outlined above), Edinburgh-based Heriot-Watt University [28]’s branch campus [29] in Dubai International Academic City [25] enrolled approximately 800 new students last fall, bringing total enrollment to 1,500 within five years. Its tuition fees, at Dh39,500 (US$10,600) to Dh45,000 ($12,100) a year, are lower than Michigan State’s full annual fees of about Dh58,000 ($15,600).

At the local branch [30] of Australia’s University of Wollongong [31], with a 17-year presence in the Middle East, 2,500 students enrolled last semester, its biggest student body yet, while London’s Middlesex University [32] plans to award its 1,000th degree in Dubai [33] this year.

Scheduled to open in September 2011, Heriot-Watt’s is about to begin construction on a 300,000-square-foot branch campus in Dubai that will allow it to triple the size of its student body to 4,500.

The National [27]
July 6, 2010

Abu Dhabi Announces $1 Billion Higher Education Reform Plan

The government of Abu Dhabi has launched a reform plan to reform higher education with funding equivalent to US$1 billion. The plan aims to build research capacity as the oil-rich emirate looks to diversify its economy to more innovation-based sectors and away from oil and gas.

Announced in June, the Higher Education Strategic Plan is the first step towards implementing the ‘Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030’. Under the strategy, Abu Dhabi will gradually boost public expenditure on research and development from its current share of less than 0.01% to 0.75% of GDP, or about AED3.75 billion (US$1 billion), in 2018.

Under the provisions of the plan, scholarships will be offered to research students focused on fields deemed in need by the emirate’s emerging industries, including aerospace, alternative energies, semiconductors and health care.

To boost the quality of instruction at local institutions, the government will provide incentives for universities to seek international accreditation and encourage them to hire more highly trained faculty. It will expand access to higher education by creating a tiered system, including community colleges to draw in more students, among them older students.

Khaleej Times [34]
June 8, 2010