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ERIC Number: EJ969129
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2011-Mar-6
Pages: N/A
Abstractor: ERIC
ISSN: ISSN-1931-1362
Arab Protests May Open Door for U.S. Scholars
Wheeler, David L.; Wilhelm, Ian
Chronicle of Higher Education, Mar 2011
As protesters across the Arab world demand an end to autocratic regimes that have drained universities of resources and suffocated critical thinking, scholars see some hope of an Arab renaissance and a new opening for American involvement. From the ancient Library of Alexandria to a new Islamic-arts museum in Qatar that holds 700-year-old astrolabes and ornate calligraphy, the Arab world's rich tradition of learning, science, and literature is clear. But across much of the Middle East and North Africa, that intellectual culture has taken a beating in the past century. High fertility rates have led to demographic youth "bulges." Such large college-age populations, combined with the belief in many countries that universities should be free, have led to unworkable enrollments. The students who graduate from such institutions have few skills and compete for few jobs, but are educated enough to know that they are idle bystanders in the global economy. Despite the scale of the problem, many American scholars feel compelled to help, and see the regime changes as providing new avenues for aid. "I definitely view it as potential opportunity for more engagement with those countries in science and technology more broadly," says Cathleen A. Campbell, chief executive of the Civilian Research and Development Foundation, a U.S.-government-supported fund that fosters scientific collaboration. The foundation is providing $1.5-million to build a virtual library for Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia. While the program has been hampered by the recent unrest, Ms. Campbell says the library could be expanded to Egypt and other North African countries to improve their digital connections to scientific literature. Norman J. Peterson, vice provost for international education at Montana State University, says scholars on the ground need to gather information about what is going on in the Middle East and North Africa and digest it, giving international offices on campuses in the United States analyses that they might otherwise never get. That information, he says, can in turn be used by universities to determine what overseas programs would work best. Mr. Peterson also sees strong value in a standard of the academic-exchange repertoire: delegations of presidents, vice presidents, and other academic leaders visiting countries where governments have changed, once the countries are relatively safe. Those trips, he says, create good public relations in the countries visited and help American universities identify what is possible and welcome. American universities considering raising their involvement in the Middle East and North Africa could learn from those with experience adapting the American higher-education model to the needs of the Arab world. At the American University of Beirut, an office of regional external programs consults throughout the Middle East and North Africa. Hassan B. Diab, the vice president in charge, says the office has helped about 25 universities with services ranging from standard consulting to providing temporary deans or building institutions from the ground up. The Beirut consultants also know about regional developments that might affect new programs or inform choices of partners. American educators who want to work in the Middle East and North Africa need to be prepared to deal with poor facilities and lack of technology, says Kim Schatzel, dean of the University of Michigan at Dearborn's College of Business. The college earned a U.S. government grant to help modernize business and economic courses at the University of Garyounis, in Libya, in 2006, making it one of the few American universities to work in that country in recent years. Ms. Schatzel says the Libyan faculty members were highly educated and motivated but often lacked basic tools, like access to the Internet or textbooks. Greater engagement may turn out to be a goal for many institutions and scholars, but continuing political turmoil also means that some projects are going to come to a halt. Norman R. Smith, a former college president, has been involved in an effort to establish Alamein University at a seaside resort near Alexandria. The ambitious, $350-million plan was to transform 200 acres of land to build a campus that would cater to students from across the Middle East, with the first class starting in 2012. But construction was halted after protesters took to the streets in January. Mr. Smith says the project was backed by real-estate developers linked to the Mubarak government. He is not optimistic about its future. Other universities say they may have to return money for programs they have started in countries like Yemen and Libya, which face even more-uncertain futures. In Egypt and other parts of the region hit by mass protests, some academic programs operated by American institutions are slowly returning to life after being disrupted. Higher Education for Development, a Washington nonprofit that administers 19 U.S. government-supported university partnerships in the region, has announced $360,000 in new grants to American community colleges to develop plans to teach entrepreneurship and business development at Arab technical and vocational schools. With some of the partner institutions located in hot spots like Bahrain and Yemen, government officials are keeping a close eye on safety concerns.
Chronicle of Higher Education. 1255 23rd Street NW Suite 700, Washington, DC 20037. Tel: 800-728-2803; Tel: 202-466-1000; Fax: 202-452-1033; e-mail:; Web site:
Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Descriptive
Education Level: Higher Education; Two Year Colleges
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A
Identifiers - Location: Africa