Arabs love 'American,' at least in higher education
July 27: Public opinion polls show that while Arab
popular support for US foreign policy is at an all-time low, the popularity of
American-style higher education in Arab society is at an all-time high.
Given the difficulties of obtaining student
visas and the higher costs of education in the United States, many Arab students
are seeking American-style higher education closer to home. These are the
findings of the first in-depth and comprehensive study on the state of American
higher education in the Arab world commissioned by the Washington Institute for
Near East Policy.
The establishment of new, private
universities in the region continues to increase, yet questions remain: Do these
universities adhere to the equivalent standards in the United States, and do
they truly implement the American model of liberal higher education?
What distinguishes American-style higher
education is its liberal nature, its emphasis on classroom interaction,
teamwork, research, and its effort to create effective communicators and
critical thinkers. The student becomes a partner in the educational experience
while institutional support for faculty members encourages their professional
American-style universities throughout the
Arab world fall into four categories: institutions of higher education; branches
of Western institutions (international institutions with local connections);
local institutions with international connections; local institutions where the
language of instruction is English.
The American University of Beirut, the
Lebanese American University and the American University in Cairo are three
examples of true American-style universities. The American University of Sharjah
will soon join this group. All are US-accredited, non-profit institutions
focused on education.
Although these universities provide the best
in American-style education, they lag behind for several reasons: the absence of
faculty co-governance, local regulations on hiring locally, a workload that
hampers faculty research and proper course preparation, and limited access to
study trips or study-abroad programs.
The Qatar Foundation's ability to attract
leading universities such as Cornell, Carnegie Mellon, Georgetown, Texas A&M
and Virginia Commonwealth makes it a potential leader in regional education.
This is the second category of institutions - international institutions with
local connections. However, such institutions face the challenge of integrating
local culture and laws without losing academic integrity.
The third category comprises local
institutions having an international advisory connection with an American
university in the US. However, successfully planting the seeds of quality
education in these institutions - the majority of which are for-profit - depends
on the extent of their commitment to quality and the depth of the affiliation
with their Western counterpart.
The fourth category consists of public
universities that teach both in English and Arabic, where there is always the
need for reform and higher quality education. These institutions could benefit
from outside affiliations to help them implement the American model more fully.
American-style universities are making
remarkable strides in the Middle East. They all still face important challenges
in faculty co-governance, the integration of Western ideas and local traditions,
student focus, and university life. Yet the new for-profit, privately-owned
universities in the region face far more challenges in these areas when compared
to the non-profit universities of the first and second category.
For the region to establish American-style
higher-education institutions that can meet the standards of US universities,
the concepts of good governance and solid policies and procedures must be
embraced. Good governance will lead to a positive university culture with a
distinctive role for faculty co-governance, which in turn will impact faculty
morale, turnover, tenure and evaluation, and clarity of procedures.
The educational quality of a university is an
expression of its student focus. This means concentrating on the all-around
development of students not just through academics, but also art, sports,
travel, internship programs, student governance, quality of life and access to
excellent facilities. It also means seeking quality faculty and low
Presently, there is no Arab or regional
American accreditation body to monitor and ensure the quality of institutions
that claim to be based on the American model. At a minimum, a ranking authority
should provide an annual ranking report of all universities and colleges in the
Arab world that claim to be American.
American higher education in the Arab world
is a positive expression of two positive forces - American impact on education
in the Arab world and Arab eagerness to learn from the US despite the current
political divide. American education has been a force of change and peace in the
region since its inception with the American University of Beirut in 1866. If we
are to build for the future between the two cultures, we cannot afford to ignore
education. THE DAILY STAR
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