Leading scholar says region must place more importance on liberal arts, not just science and engineering, to build better societies by Anna McKie could be an unprecedented way of covering the recurring issue of underdevelopment not through traditional knowledge but by using the art and humanities knowledge. Let us see what is proposed as per the very words of a Professor: ‘certification’ mania hobbles Middle East development.
Professor: ‘certification’ mania hobbles Middle East development
April 8, 2021
Students in the Middle East and North Africa are too often more interested in “acquiring” a degree than developing the understanding that should come with it, a leading scholar has warned.
Safwan Masri, Columbia University’s executive vice-president for global centres and global development, said too many young people were steered into courses focused on science and engineering when critical thinking and intercultural understanding were desperately needed across the region.
Speaking at Times Higher Education’s MENA Universities Summit, Professor Masri said future leaders being trained in institutions across the region were “not fully prepared to lead”, the product of “technocratic societies led by a global technocratic class”.
“Students – and the parents who bankroll them – are often more interested in acquiring professional certification than truly understanding the world and the role of an educated citizen within it,” said Professor Masri.
“Here in MENA, young people fortunate enough to attend university are almost unilaterally steered into STEM training.
“But STEM competency is only half of the equation. We need people who also know how to organise societies, articulate and secure alignment on political ideals, and build robust civil societies that expand rights and freedoms to historically marginalised groups.”
Professor Masri, an expert on the contemporary Arab world and the head of Columbia’s study centre in Amman, Jordan, said the solution had to be a greater embrace of liberal arts education across the region.
He acknowledged that this “won’t be easy” because generations of Arabs “have been indoctrinated with hyper-nationalist propaganda, exclusionary rhetoric and dogmatic religious discourse at the expense of critical thinking and questioning skills”.
“Progress cannot be achieved without deprogramming and reprogramming this mindset, to learn to coexist with different points of view and ways of life,” Professor Masri said.
“Unless liberal arts training is more highly valued in this region, the region’s ambitions will be thwarted. We must achieve balance. We must help students – and the parents who fund many of them – understand the crucial interplay between content [of academic training] and context [understanding of society].”
At the summit, held online in partnership with NYU Abu Dhabi, Professor Masri also argued that at a time of geopolitical turmoil and “historic levels of misunderstanding” between countries and the people within them, knowledge diplomacy led by universities “may be our last and best tool if we are to rebuild a broken world”. He highlighted Columbia’s decision to maintain its global centre in Istanbul even in the face of increasing persecution of academics.
“The solution wasn’t to give in, we contended, but to dig in – to support academics and students, to continue to share knowledge,” Professor Masri said.
But Professor Masri expressed concern about the “weaponisation” of knowledge, highlighting that while Gulf states’ attempts to exercise soft power by funding Middle East studies centres in Western universities ostensibly had “no strings attached”, there were “uncomfortable stories” of researchers at these centres coming under pressure after writing about issues such as human rights and democracy.
A better model of knowledge diplomacy, he argued, was that of the Covid vaccines, which were the result of thousands of researchers crossing the globe over decades, generating the knowledge that informed the vaccines’ designs.
“The Covid vaccine represents decades’ worth, perhaps even centuries’ worth, of university-generated knowledge – distilled down to little more than an ounce of liquid, all concentrated in a single shot,” Professor Masri said.
“This medical and scientific breakthrough will reconnect the people of the world.”
The world – or at least a large and dominant part of it! – is increasingly being run by so-called “experts”, sometimes dubbed honestly as “technocrats”. Their fields of “expertise” are many, and that list is growing steadily longer. The fact is, universities and research institutions must be seen to be “torch bearers” of progress, values, knowledge, scientific inquiry, freedom, justice … or whatever other words sound good in a speech or on a website. In vicious competition for student fees, research funds, private donations and government grants, every institution must proclaim “excellence” – somehow, anyhow.
As in any other field of human endeavour, opportunities for gaming the system are many. The standard, time-tested techniques of cronyism, mutual back-scratching, feudalism, deception, hyperbole, playing to the gallery … et cetera … run rampant. These techniques are at work incessantly and brazenly, around the world, to further the careers of aggressive and ambitious old-timers, mid-lifers and new entrants.
For so-called “experts”, however, one other very special trick is also available. The ability to define ever newer areas of “expertise” and “challenges” offers an easy option not available in other areas of human endeavour. As more and more people acquire Ph.D.s and fight for success and prominence, they build ever smaller boxes around their work. Each such group dubs its small box “the next big thing”, writes a few silly papers, and makes a big show of “fake it till you make it”. If one such “bold academic initiative” does not work out too well, another appears soon with a different flavour, another catchy label, and yet another round of hype. Thus the spectacle goes on from “progress” to “more progress”.
If a manufacturer claims to have developed a better quality of soap, potential customers have right to test the product, verify the claims and decide whether to spend their hard-earned money on the new soap. Validation by prospective customers is a crucial and essential step when a new product is sought to be introduced to society.
With new and unproven academic claims, however, ordinary citizens of the society have no right to opine. This is a tragic, anomalous and therefore also unstable situation, because the public policy burdens of new theories fall almost wholly on ordinary citizens. Any intelligent citizen can study a subject and formulate a cogent opinion, but a kind of intimidating “caste system” dubs large sections of population as being incapable of questioning theories and policies which impact their lives; and thus honest public debate is avoided.
This powerful new technique of deception is based on building ever narrower boxes of specialization. Instead of thinking out of a box, these “experts” build smaller and smaller boxes around whatever they are capable of thinking after twenty plus years of “formal” education; they are masters only of intellectual fencing and pointless one-upmanship.
Ordinary people do not question these “experts” because they have naive faith in the “hallowed halls of scholarship”, being unaware of the base emotions rampant inside.
One root cause of the problem seems to be that “well-being of fellow citizens” is not even a valid subject in academia! While each “expert” is fierce in defending his or her turf, what should be the central, common denominator – the well-being of society – receives at best a passing mention in support of some fashionable theory.
Examples can easily be cited of “specialist experts” bringing confusion to public debate, and often also immense misery to public life. This happens either because they disagree among themselves, or because they have in mind “private” goals, not public good.
Just a few prominent examples are given here, in what should never be mistaken for an exhaustive list.
The handling of the Covid 19 pandemic is a recent and glaring example. Experts in virology, public health, epidemiology, pharmaceuticals, practicing doctors, computer modellers – in short, just about every Tom, Dick and Harry – wanted to show how brilliant they were. Naturally, politicians joined in too, following the principle of “not letting any crisis go waste”. Who suffered?
Institutions such as IMF are staffed by allegedly “top notch” celebrity economists – ever so articulate, ever so politically savvy. Today they recommend unrestricted money printing for one group of countries, and unrelenting austerity for another. Plenty of “fuzz factor” is hidden in all economic theories, however, to spin either approach as being right.
The sad political reality, however, cannot be found in any textbook. The first group of countries are powerful, highly developed CREDITOR countries, while the second group has impoverished DEBTOR countries. Excess money with the creditors can always be made to earn juicy returns from economies struggling under debt burdens. All this makes very good business sense for the former – the CREDITOR countries – but should economists take sides in such cruel games of global usury?
Within any economy, there is a huge divide between ground reality and the official statistics. Statistics allow politicians and “expert” economists to congratulate themselves and play the endless game of blame-passing. People’s well-being goes by default.
Heartless decisions on bringing “democracy”, “freedom”, “progress” et cetera to other countries are routinely made by “experts” or “technocrats”. In reality, these people are no more than greedy, self-serving hatchet-men for ruthless power-grabbers.
Financial skulduggery in the name of capitalism engages the brightest minds of a society and the most powerful computers. Tactics such as high frequency front-running and algorithmic betting bring no benefit to agriculture, or manufacturing, or education, or health care or public well-being. Indeed, a few months ago, this author had the distinct impression that Donald Trump was testing and possibly teasing stock market investors by alternately making on-again, off-again comments about the possible trade deal with China.
As specialists, lawyers are a breed apart, tireless masters of evasion, innuendo and hair-splitting; truth, well-being or justice be damned. Climbing one level further up the food chain of corruption, many lobby ceaselessly for laws which subvert the public good.
Much is being made of the ongoing revolution in artificial intelligence (AI). A lot of it is hype, and much of it is ineffective and harmless. For example, if an AI bot sends me mostly uninteresting pieces of a news-feed, I will not bother to complain. Serious difficulties with AI will show up when it is applied in critical sectors such as health care or policing.
Wherever we turn, we see examples of a strong centrifugal tendency at work in human affairs, driven essentially by discontentment which compounds itself. True, holistic well-being of society is on nobody’s agenda, while the greedy behave like hyenas, tugging with bloody fangs at the remaining healthy parts of society until little remains.
Comprehending the well-being of others requires compassion – without which no amount of materialistic development, hyped-up “progress” or “research”, politics, fashion, academic claims, brilliance, spin or propaganda can serve a legitimate, durable purpose. This is the simple, central truth that all “experts” evade like the plague. The don’t “do” compassion.
This frenetic, ceaseless evasion in all directions creates a strong divisive, centrifugal tendency. The priceless core of well-being is abandoned as “experts” run ragged in every conceivable direction except towards the core of well-being and contentment.
Fortunately, for the discriminating individual, that core is ever-present, deep within – waiting patiently to be discovered and its treasure unlocked.
Dr Naresh Jotwani is a semi-retired academic living in India and a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace Development Environment. Apart from part-time engagements in engineering education and consulting, he engages in an in-depth, personal exploration of how Gautam Buddha’s profound discoveries and teachings can be applied to the acute problems of modern life. Tags: Elites, Humanity
The first large-scale study of the risks that countries face from dependence on water, energy and land resources has found that globalisation may be decreasing, rather than increasing, the security of global supply chains. Here is the latest on the effects of the pandemic, in perhaps its most important aspect:
Globalized economy making water, energy and land insecurity worse: study
Countries meet their needs for goods and services through domestic production and international trade. As a result, countries place pressures on natural resources both within and beyond their borders.
Researchers from the University of Cambridge used macroeconomic data to quantify these pressures. They found that the vast majority of countries and industrial sectors are highly exposed both directly, via domestic production, and indirectly, via imports, to over-exploited and insecure water, energy and land resources. However, the researchers found that the greatest resource risk is due to international trade, mainly from remote countries.
The researchers are calling for an urgent enquiry into the scale and source of consumed goods and services, both in individual countries and globally, as economies seek to rebuild in the wake of COVID-19. Their study, published in the journal Global Environmental Change, also invites critical reflection on whether globalisation is compatible with achieving sustainable and resilient supply chains.
Over the past several decades, the worldwide economy has become highly interconnected through globalisation: it is now not uncommon for each component of a particular product to originate from a different country. Globalisation allows companies to make their products almost anywhere in the world in order to keep costs down.
Many mainstream economists argue this offers countries a source of competitive advantage and growth potential. However, many nations impose demands on already stressed resources in other countries in order to satisfy their own high levels of consumption.
This interconnectedness also increases the amount of risk at each step of a global supply chain. For example, the UK imports 50% of its food. A drought, flood or any severe weather event in another country puts these food imports at risk.
Now, the researchers have quantified the global water, land and energy use of189 countries and shown that countries which are highly dependent on trade are potentially more at risk from resource insecurity, especially as climate change continues to accelerate and severe weather events such as droughts and floods become more common.
“There has been plenty of research comparing countries in terms of their water, energy and land footprints, but what hasn’t been studied is the scale and source of their risks,” said Dr. Oliver Taherzadeh from Cambridge’s Department of Geography. “We found that the role of trade has been massively underplayed as a source of resource insecurity—it’s actually a bigger source of risk than domestic production.”
To date, resource use studies have been limited to certain regions or sectors, which prevents a systematic overview of resource pressures and their source. This study offers a flexible approach to examining pressures across the system at various geographical and sectoral scales.
“This type of analysis hasn’t been carried out for a large number of countries before,” said Taherzadeh. “By quantifying the pressures that our consumption places on water, energy and land resources in far-off corners of the world, we can also determine how much risk is built into our interconnected world.”
The authors of the study linked indices designed to capture insecure water, energy, and land resource use, to a global trade model in order to examine the scale and sources of national resource insecurity from domestic production and imports.
Countries with large economies, such as the US, China and Japan, are highly exposed to water shortages outside their borders due to their volume of international trade. However, many countries in sub-Saharan Africa, such as Kenya, actually face far less risk as they are not as heavily networked in the global economy and are relatively self-sufficient in food production.
In addition to country-level data, the researchers also examined the risks associated with specific sectors. Surprisingly, one of the sectors identified in Taherzadeh’s wider research that had the most high-risk water and land use—among the top 1% of nearly 15,000 sectors analysed—was dog and cat food manufacturing in the U.S., due to its high demand for animal products.
“COVID-19 has shown just how poorly-prepared governments and businesses are for a global crisis,” said Taherzadeh. “But however bad the direct and indirect consequences of COVID-19 have been, climate breakdown, biodiversity collapse and resource insecurity are far less predictable problems to manage—and the potential consequences are far more severe. If the ‘green economic recovery’ is to respond to these challenges, we need radically rethink the scale and source of consumption.”
Today, social responsibility goes beyond its old concepts, such as altruism and humanitarian aid, and covers the range of government activities at the local, national, and international levels. Since the social responsibility of the government exists in different areas; Therefore, economic policy-making should be done in relation to issues such as social rights, health, private sector activity and the role of companies in economic development. Each of these areas is part of the process of social responsibility and economic policy of governments. Therefore, the government can take more responsibility in the social sphere if, first, it has infrastructural capabilities; Second, to be able to use its capabilities in relation to its social responsibility to society and the power structure in the country.
Moreover, economic development, driven by the promise of eradicating poverty and increasing the well-being of societies, not only failed to overcome poverty, according to statistics; Rather, it had trapped many social classes and nations in the trap of institutionalized and structured poverty. The wealth of the world is increasing by year; But this increase in wealth is not something that is felt by all sections of society, and often, certain groups benefit from it. Another problem of economic development related to social issues has been and is the destruction of the environment. In the 1970s, various voices were heard in human societies about another scandal involving economic development. In fact, it has become widely known that this growth, dependent on increased production and consumption, requires more use of “natural resources” and produces a vicious cycle that results in the destruction of natural resources, environmental pollution, population growth, and so on. It will reduce the quality of life and endanger life on earth, which is contrary to the three principles of sustainable development. Levels related to social responsibilities in a developed society, starting from the individual, reach large government departments, and as we move from individual responsibilities to government social responsibilities, these responsibilities go from components and micro-indicators to Towards the components and macro indicators are inclined.
Levels related to social responsibilities in a developed society
The first level of involvement of social responsibilities in a developed society is individual levels: Individual social responsibility includes the participation of each individual in the society in which he lives and can be attributed to the interest in what happens in society and active participation. Defined to solve some local problems. Citizenship is a concept that is associated with the responsibility and accountability of individuals in society. In civil society, every citizen realizes that the irresponsibility of the people around him puts him on a path of fluctuation, and if he is irresponsible about the phenomena of the environment, he damages his own environment and the lives of others. The most beautiful pleasant feeling in the category of citizenship is the effort to cooperate and bear the responsibility of oneself and others.
Being socially responsible; That is, individuals and organizations must be ethical and sensitive to social, cultural, and environmental issues. Striving for social responsibility helps individuals, organizations, and governments make a positive impact on achieving sustainable development. The life-giving school of Islam, as a complete religion, has moral laws and advice for various aspects of human life, including social life, which every Muslim is required to follow in social relations and behaviors. “Purposefulness”, “being responsible”, “authority”, “having eternal life” and “being two-dimensional” are among the most important anthropological foundations in the school of Islam that make a Muslim a responsible and committed citizen to society can be one of the most important elements in improving the quality of life in the urban structure or sustainable urban development. Of course, every society is changing and has its own life, and every human being can determine his / her responsibility in the society according to the beliefs and culture of his / her society, available hardware and software facilities, governing laws and other variables.
The second level of involvement of social responsibilities in a developed society is the corporate and organizational levels: In many developed countries of the world, companies are more successful that value their corporate social responsibility. These companies are always striving to create shared value by implementing creative and practical ideas. These ideas are implemented with the support of long-term and very accurate plans that these companies have in the past set goals related to their corporate social responsibility. Sometimes these programs are made available to citizens so that they know what happen, for example, a company will create a common value for society in the next five years and what interests will protect society. The role of companies in sustainable development is divided into three categories: social, environmental and economic. In fact, it is a “sustainable” development in which, in addition to the economic dimension, its environmental and social consequences are also positively managed. With such a view, the exploitation of natural resources and human capital today should not jeopardize the earth, life, benefit and happiness of present and future generations. In fact, demanding organizations to “act responsibly” towards society is an issue that, as their influence grows on the pillars of sustainable development; That is, “economy”, “society” and “environment” intensified in the last decades of the twentieth century and led to the emergence of a concept called corporate social responsibility (CSR) in the world of management to understand the impact of organizations and businesses on sustainable development, it is enough to note that among the top 100 economies in the world, there are more than ten companies. Therefore, the issue of “corporate social responsibility” or CSR has become particularly important in guiding the development process towards sustainability. CSR in a nutshell; That is, organizations are accountable to the community in which they operate; Because they use its human, natural and economic resources. Contrary to the traditional view of management and business, organizations are no longer responsible only to shareholders and should not look only at the profitability of shareholders and based on short-term benefits. Thus, organizations that are in contact with other stakeholders are expected to consider their legitimate demands as well. Beneficiaries; Entities are groups and individuals that affect or are influenced by the organization and cover a wide range; From employees, customers, business partners and local communities to the environment, the media, public institutions, citizens and the government. From this perspective, CSR can be called the integration of social and environmental goals with the organization’s operations and the inclusion of those issues in interactions between the organization and related groups. In general, corporate social responsibility, in a simple definition, includes the responsibilities that firms have towards the community in which they operate. Thus, social responsibility is a voluntary activity based on the ethics of an organization or institution that goes beyond the legal requirements and aims to meet the expectations of stakeholders. In addition, one of the most important features considered for this concept is the emphasis that organizations place on the social system of communities. On the other hand, activities should be such that they have the least adverse effect on society.
The third level of involvement of social responsibilities in a developed society is government levels and the involvement of politics in social responsibilities to create a developed society: The attractiveness of government social policy has no boundaries and relates to all aspects of life at the local level. National, regional and global are considered. All issues related to social security, housing, education, health and social care fall into this area. Planning to achieve such goals will not be achieved through social processes alone. The economic components must also be formed in parallel with the social goals of the government. Topics such as health, education, livelihoods, jobs and money are vital issues that, with the help of government, officials, companies, social groups, economic groups, charities, local associations and other non-governmental are research groups.
In general, the government is not only concerned with social welfare; Rather, it is accountable to economic classes, the mechanism of action of multinational corporations, trade unions, financial institutions, importers, exporters, shareholders, owners of economic enterprises, and other social forces. Theorists believe that economic policy-making in the present age is formed by various government authorities and groups. In other words, various sectors are involved in the economic policy-making process. Each of these sections is a symbol of social activities in communities. Therefore, economic policy-making must be done in a way that meets social needs. Any possible scenario in social policies that lead to the welfare, comfort and cooperation of different social strata; It is part of the governance necessity. In other words, for the welfare of the society, the economic growth of the country, the promotion of the income of various industrial and economic complexes, as well as the reconstruction of the national and global economy, there is no choice but to play the role of government in economic policy; Therefore, it is not possible to consider conditions in which social welfare, economic development and technological advancement can be done without considering the role of government in social accountability and economic policy-making.
If the government fails to pay effective attention to goals such as social welfare and the promotion of national incomes in the economic policy-making process, then there will be manifestations of a welfare state as well as a non-developmental government. In such a process, some theorists emphasize that the main function of the state can not be overshadowed by any other issue. If economic development takes shape; In those conditions, a platform will be provided to increase the level of welfare of the society. That is why in the period of economic growth, the income of the government, society and economic groups increases in parallel. Also, the reduced government budget deficit provides a platform for economic prosperity, investment and the of development infrastructure.
The spread of China’s “techno-authoritarianism,” its pursuit of the “innovation advantage,” and its incompatibility with the liberal democratic model is the focus of a new report. The underlying dynamics and tensions between markets, non-state actors and governments are compelling governments to pursue strategic alliances and partnerships, and the inherent ideological differences between the Chinese system and those of open market, liberal democracies will influence outcomes, argues analyst Alex Capri.
Beijing’s imposition of the national security law in Hong Kong, as well as its internment of ethnic Muslim minorities in China’s western Xinjiang autonomous region, were just several of the latest provocations causing European policymakers to rethink relations with China. Thus, for Beijing, it has become increasingly difficult to find sympathy in Europe regarding Washington’s campaign to crush Huawei….New partnerships, including the Global Partnership on Artificial Intelligence* (GPAI) and the G7 AI Initiative, that are designed to guide the liberal and transparent development of AI, stand in contrast to China’s export of techno-authoritarianism.
A question that has begun to circulate in trade policy circles is: could a coalition of willing nations form a new global trade institution with standards that require open market principles and democratic ideals? RTWT
In “Artificial Intelligence and Democratic Norms,” the fourth in the “Sharp Power and Democratic Resilience” series from the International Forum for Democratic Studies, Nicholas Wright explores how to establish democratically accountable rules and norms that harness the benefits of artificial intelligence-related technologies, without infringing on fundamental rights and creating technological affordances that could facilitate authoritarian concentration of power.
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