Professor: ‘certification’ mania hobbles Middle East development

Professor: ‘certification’ mania hobbles Middle East development

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.

The picture above is for illustration and is of another article on how a MENA summit weighs liberal arts’ role in post-Covid recovery by the Times Higher Education.

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.

Professor: ‘certification’ mania hobbles Middle East development

Degree Certificates
Source: iStock

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.”

anna.mckie@timeshighereducation.com

Twitter: @annamckie

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Upsizing could become key travel trend

Upsizing could become key travel trend

With the advent of the pandemic and its ensuing lockdown, life changed for the many peoples of the UAE. But of all aspects of life, travelling is to do with remote working and all its direct consequences reviewed here. So despite the Grim short-term Forecast for the Coronavirus-era Economy why upsizing could become a significant travel trend?

Upsizing could become key travel trend, says study

DUBAI, Financial situations worsening for consumers has been widely discussed amid the Covid-19 pandemic. However, many consumers managed to bypass this financial squeeze and have incidentally become efficient savers. 

Upsizing could become key travel trend

This trend should not be overlooked by tourism companies which need to realise that not all travelers will be wanting a budget-friendly option for their next holiday, says GlobalData, a leading data and analytics company.

With saved cash that has accumulated during the pandemic, many travellers may be planning to spend more than usual on their next trip. 

According to GlobalData’s survey, when global respondents were asked if they were concerned about their personal financial situation, 13% stated that they were ‘not concerned’. Although this is still significantly less than the 34% that stated they are ‘extremely concerned’, it means that over one in ten of the global travel market could be financially unaffected by the pandemic and have even saved a considerable amount.

Ralph Hollister, Travel and Tourism Analyst at GlobalData, comments: “Many of the travellers that make up this 13% are likely to be white-collar workers that can work effectively at home. Due to spending the vast majority of their time being confined to their homes in the past year, the urge to travel would have built up. This urge, combined with a significant increase in savings, could mean that many of these travellers will have developed a ‘treat yourself’ mentality, to combat the impact of the pandemic which has increased boredom and frustration for many. This mentality could be present as these consumers start planning their next holiday, which could result in them spending more on room upgrades, business class flights and higher quality rental vehicles.

“As well as saving money on commuting, eating out and on other recreational activities, many of these consumers who have been unaffected by the pandemic have also saved by not booking a holiday last year, or by having their cancelled trip refunded. This could mean that for their next trip, they will go bigger and better on more luxurious travel services and products. This trend could also be driven by a ‘now or never’ mentality, as when travellers have the opportunity to go on holiday, they will spend significantly more and stay for longer in case another situation like the Covid-19 pandemic reoccurs,” Hollister said.  –TradeArabia News Service

Qatar hugs and makes up with its warring neighbours

Qatar hugs and makes up with its warring neighbours

Gulf blockade: Qatar hugs and makes up with its warring neighbours – but will it last? wonders Mustafa Menshawy, Lancaster University, elaborating on a situation at one end of the MENA that lasted hardly more than three years, whereas the similar one at the other end of the region continues unabated for the last forty years. It is that of the ongoing North African situation, but that is another story. In the meantime, let us read Mustafa’s.


Shortly after four Arab countries – Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt – imposed an embargo on Qatar in 2017, I flew into the country’s capital Doha. Hamad airport – usually buzzing with visitors from the Gulf countries (one of every four visitors to Qatar in 2015 came from Saudi Arabia) – was eerily quiet.

The four countries severed ties with Qatar in June 2017 after they accused Doha of supporting terrorism. They demanded the shutdown of Qatari news network Al Jazeera as well as calling on the country to downgrade its relations with Iran. Doha defiantly rejected the accusations and agreed to mediation from Kuwait and the US to end the standoff.

Qatar has estimated its losses from the blockade in the billions of dollars – citing factors such as “industrial-scale theft of content from its sports broadcaster BeIN by rival Saudi network BeoutQ and the manipulation of its currency by the four countries. So, when they agreed on January 5 to lift the embargo and restore diplomatic relations with Qatar, all sides were keenly anticipating any economic benefits the restored detente might bring.

Qatar may be the smallest of the Gulf states – but it’s the richest. So when, hours after the agreement, foreign minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani talked about the possibility of the country’s sovereign wealth fund investing in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, his hint would have been well received in Riyadh.

Dangling the carrot of investment is a good way of appeasing Saudi Arabia, which is keen to attract foreign investment to back Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s grandiose modernisation projects as well as respond to the country’s long-term need to secure new export markets and diversify its oil-dependent economy.

Fraternal relations

But the biggest sign of the new detente has so far been in the tone of Qatar’s news media. Top of the list of the 13 demands placed on Qatar by the four countries was shutting down Al Jazeera.

Qatar didn’t shut the network down – but watching the network in the days after the blockade ended, one could feel the difference. Bulletins no longer include regular news on “violations” by the Saudi regime. The channel even rebranded the Saudi Crown Prince, who it had vociferously attacked just a few weeks ago for “tarnishing the image of the Saudi state”. Now Bin Salman is represented as a rising peacemaker engaged in relations of “fraternity”. This was symbolically reflected in the way he hugged Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani when the Qatari emir arrived in Riyadh for their meeting on the sidelines of the Gulf Cooperation Council meeting in Saudi Arabia on January 5.

Coverage of Qatar by Saudi network Al Arabiya has also softened considerably, something picked up on by the BBC, which even hosted analysts to comment of the repeatedly screened scene of the hugging between the two leaders. “It was a hot hugging”, commented one analyst, of the enthusiastic way the two leaders embraced when meeting at the airport in Riyadh.

The reconciliation has brought a sense of relief in all four countries. Ordinary people paid a deep humanitarian price – many are linked by close tribal ties and there are thousands of cases of cross-border intermarriage (to give you an idea of how close the Saudi Arabia and Qatar are, consider that it takes just an hour to drive from Doha to Saudi territory).

In Qatar, I heard many stories of families split apart when Qatari nationals were ordered to leave their three Gulf neighbours within 14 days. More than 12,000 residents in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and UAE were also ordered to leave Qatar. Social media is now full of videos of families jubilantly crossing “Abu Samra”, the land border between Saudi Arabia and Qatar within hours of the agreement.

Happy talk

This may all sound like a return to normality, but sceptics pointed to the fact that, while the two feuding leaders talked of “brotherly unity” and desires for “Gulf unity”, neither mentioned an agreement on any of the issues that caused the crisis. On the one hand, everyone’s a winner – but, on the other, we don’t know how or why. The situation has been described as a “detente borne more of exhaustion than compromise”.

The 13 demands made by the other Gulf states of Qatar remain unmet. For example, the Qatari foreign minister has already scotched a demand for Qatar to reduce its ties with Iran by shutting down diplomatic posts in Iran or expelling members of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard, saying a couple of days after the agreement that his country would not alter relations with Tehran.

So this dispute is far from ended and there is a lot of tension brewing under the surface. Saudi Arabia, for its part, sees Iran as an “existential threat” and is unlikely to take no change as a negative answer.

Others believe that for Bin Salman, temporarily easing the tension with Qatar is “low-hanging fruit” – something achieved with relative ease ahead of the inauguration of Joe Biden as the 46th US president. Biden is known for his critical attitude towards Riyadh’s approach to human rights.

There is no sign that Qatar is also heeding the other demands, including closing Turkey’s military base outside Doha. Turkey is popular among Qataris. You’ll see cars with number plate stickers featuring the Turkish flag – or even with the image of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

With so few issues apparently actually resolved, it’s little wonder that it took just days for new signs of tension to reappear after the agreement. The UAE’s minister of state for foreign affairs, Anwar Gargash, said following the GCC summit that Doha still has questions to answer, including: “How is Qatar going to deal vis-à-vis interfering in our affairs through support of political Islam? Is Turkey’s presence in the Gulf going to be permanent?”

These are the same questions asked of Qatar long before the four countries issued their ultimatum in 2017. It’s tension that is likely to outlive the warmth engendered by those televised hugs.

Mustafa Menshawy, Postdoctoral Researcher in Middle East Politics, Lancaster University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Conversation

God Bleeds – Oil Graduates Aren’t Finding Jobs

God Bleeds – Oil Graduates Aren’t Finding Jobs

God Bleeds – Oil Graduates Aren’t Finding Jobs by Jennifer Sensiba could be considered some sort of warning to all MENA’s oil exporting countries‘ students as to which future awaits for them. So let us see how the story is developed.

God Bleeds – Oil Graduates Aren’t Finding Jobs


15 January 2021

“Did you ever hear of a solar panel?”

That’s the question Sabrina Burns, a petroleum engineering student got from an Uber driver in 2018. She and some fellow students were headed to a petroleum industry banquet, and at the time it seemed a little silly. While many younger people questioned the wisdom of going into the oil industry, conventional wisdom held that the oil industry is a great career.

While students in other majors and other people she knew questioned the wisdom of being an oil major, her parents persuaded her to stick with the oil industry. Her father, who worked as a helicopter pilot, met a lot of successful women working as engineers on offshore oil rigs. On top of that, older generations probably have a harder time imagining a world in which the oil industry isn’t stable, lucrative, and essential to everyone’s lives.

2020 threw these older generations and any younger believers a curveball, though. “We got a slap in the face, an entirely unforeseen situation that rocked our entire mind-set,” said Ms. Burns when asked about her prospects by Clifford Krauss at The New York Times. “I have applied for every oil and gas position I’ve seen, like all my classmates, and nothing really has turned up. I’m discouraged.”

What was once seemingly invincible was now stumbling and couldn’t be counted on.

The biggest blow to graduating oil students was the sudden drop in oil demand due to the pandemic. Oil products like gasoline and jet fuel weren’t needed nearly as much because people worked from home, many businesses were closed, and travel was avoided. With all of this lost demand despite ample supplies, prices tanked.

With such low demand and low prices, the industry took a big hit. Over 100,000 people were laid off. Workers weren’t needed in the field to pump oil that wasn’t needed, and refineries were closed. Some oil companies even declared bankruptcy.

This stands in stark contrast to the better years, when these students started their college careers. The oil industry and the faculties of colleges felt they could promise great careers, with lots of job security and a good income. Under Donald Trump, shale drilling and “fracking” took off, and the United States became the world’s largest producer of oil. There had been booms and busts in the industry in the past, but those seemed to affect less educated field workers, and not people with engineering or geology degrees.

With these prospects gone, and future climate change issues seeming likely to hurt the industry even after the pandemic is over, oil students are looking at other options going forward. Sabrina Burns told The New York Times that she’s looking to intern in a related but different field, and that she may need to go back to school for a graduate degree in Environmental Science to have a better career. She is even considering moving in with family to make ends meet while recharting a new course for her career.

In the same article, Krauss goes on to interview a number of other students in the industry. Their stories are all pretty similar. Some expect the industry to bounce back, and are biding their time. Others are looking to take on a graduate degree while waiting, but are hedging their bets by majoring in something else for their master’s degrees.

One student actually landed a job, but the company is looking at diversifying to avoid future exposure to what could be a failing industry in future years. He is glad to have found a job, but worries that his education and skills he’s building won’t transfer well to other parts of the energy economy.

Some Things We Can Learn Here

Readers of CleanTechnica are probably having an “I told you so” moment reading this. People following the energy industry could see that renewables, battery storage, and other technologies aren’t competing with oil just yet, but have a much brighter future than oil, which isn’t growing. Oil is still big, though, and has a lot of inertia, so it’s not going away now or even in the next four years under Biden and then likely Harris.

What many (even among us) didn’t foresee was how oil’s newfound weakness would leave it more vulnerable to crises, like the one we currently face with COVID-19. Oil is weakening and growth has less potential than ever, but at the same time it wasn’t shrinking. A sudden jolt in demand for gasoline, jet fuel, and diesel hit them hard, though.

Diversity=Resilience

Few people fully avoided the impacts of the tsunami of COVID, but electricity is a lot more diversified. In my home, we use electricity for heating, cooling, and most of our driving. We use it for lighting, entertainment, cooking, and security. The cats and dog even have toys powered by electricity. When we turn on the tap, electric pumps somewhere else in town provide the pressure. LED street lamps light the street in front of our home.

Sure, I drive a lot less now not taking the kids to school, but our overall power bill didn’t take a huge drop.

On the other hand, our use of gasoline took a HUGE hit. In the last nine months, we’ve spent far less than $200 on the stuff. The occasional trip to the next town makes our Nissan LEAF struggle for range, and we’ve driven there on gasoline power only twice. The prior year, we probably did this dozens of times. Trips to see family, where we need to pile the whole family into the family SUV, are also a lot more rare. A tank of gas used to last one to two months in those vehicles, but now last three to four, if not more.

We don’t use gasoline for anything else, so oil companies are taking a much bigger hit than companies involved in electricity generation, whether they’re renewable or fossil fuel-powered. Even when fossil fuels are used to generate, very few power stations run on oil. Natural gas is far more common, and comes from a related but different industry than oil.

Another important lesson we can find here is that it’s wise to question the prevailing narrative. Yes, oil has been very strong in the past, but that doesn’t mean it will necessarily be strong in the future. No industry is a sure bet, but this was an area where generational bias caused parents to mislead their children into a bad career move.

This is no trivial thing. Most of the students will go on to find another career, and some will eventually succeed in oil as the pandemic ends. However, they’ll still have tens of thousands of dollars of debt that they wouldn’t have had, and a harder time servicing that debt than they would have had if their parents had been more forward looking.

Oil is Not Invincible

On the other hand, there’s a silver lining. Seeing oil stumble shows us that it’s not invincible. As Ivan Vanko in Iron Man 2 says, “If you could make God bleed, people would cease to believe in Him. There will be blood in the water, the sharks will come. All I have to do is sit back and watch as the world consumes you.”

If you don’t remember the film, Iron Man (a character partially modeled after Elon Musk) is at the top of the world and the top of his game, giving global leaders security with his unique Iron Man suit. He seemed invincible until someone with his father’s arc reactor technology attacks him, only narrowly losing the fight. Once he didn’t seem invincible, a variety of enemies emerged, including business competitors and government officials who wanted to take him down when he seemed weak.

A similar moment is happening with oil. It seemed like a god, but now it’s a god that failed. Its blood is in the water, and the sharks are definitely circling. It might sound too dramatic to use the imagery of sharks here, but imagine being a student $50,000 in debt with no job prospects. The fear is quite real for some.

Don’t assume that oil is some Goliath that can’t be beat. All it took was a rock in just the right place (COVID-19) to bring him down. 

God Bleeds – Oil Graduates Aren’t Finding Jobs

Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to explore the Southwest US with her partner, kids, and animals. Follow her on Twitter for her latest articles and other random things: https://twitter.com/JenniferSensiba 

Do you think I’ve been helpful in your understanding of Tesla, clean energy, etc? Feel free to use my Tesla referral code to get yourself (and me) some small perks and discounts on their cars and solar products. https://www.tesla.com/referral/jennifer90562


 

Government Corruption Leads to Youth Unemployment

Government Corruption Leads to Youth Unemployment

A piece of News by Priya Shah come to add to the diverse and countless woes of the MENA region. The social media buzz reflecting the general sentiment that Government Corruption Leads to Youth Unemployment is more than skin deep. It is believed that the new vaccine might eradicate the pandemic and all fossil fuels usage but not cure the peculiar condition of most with prospects of lower quality life.

The MENA region where the UAE rated the least corrupt country, per Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index (CPI) in 2019 happen to be the least populated areas where Government Corruption appears because of local Youth low levels of Unemployment.

However, in the same region, North African tend to be in the middle of the table with Morocco’s neighbours not precisely to be in a better situation with all current socio-economic upheavals mainly resulting through a generally spread corrupt system of governance.

Algeria and Egypt being notoriously at a much higher level, with Tunisia having the lowest level of corruption could be classed as the most socially street noisy that currently were joined by Iraq and Lebanon. Syria followed by Yemen score worse with significant decliners in corruption diversity.

Government Corruption Leads to Youth Unemployment

In the Middle East, Government Corruption Leads to Youth Unemployment

20 December 2020

The Middle East boasts one of the largest youth populations in the world. However, corruption and conflict, often instigated by Iran’s influence, have caused economic decline and rampant unemployment. Indeed, the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic has further compounded these problems. Since late 2019, anti-government protests have swept across Middle Eastern nations such as Iraq and Lebanon, seeking to eradicate their corrupt leaders and give rise to a new era of progress and prosperity in the region. However, for this to happen, these conflict-ridden nations must escape from Iran’s expansive influence and invest in economic and social development.

Corruption isn’t a new phenomenon in the Middle East, especially in Lebanon in Iraq, but the rise in anti-government sentiments shows that people have grown weary with their corrupt leaders. Indeed, the struggle to overcome their corrupt institutions and their legacies is proving to be a difficult task. According to Transparency International’s 2019 Global Corruption Barometer for the Middle East and North Africa, the Lebanese people demonstrated the highest perceptions and experiences of corruption out of the six countries evaluated. 89% of these individuals reported that corruption in government was particularly an issue in the country, and 68% believed that most or all government officials were involved in corrupt practices in some way. It is, therefore, no surprise that Lebanon scored a mere 28 out of 100 in the 2019 Corruption Perceptions Index, which assesses public sector corruption. Evidently, political corruption has gradually undermined citizens’ faith in the government, eroding the notion of administrative legitimacy.

Similarly, a comprehensive opinion poll conducted in 2019 found that 82% of Iraqis were concerned or very concerned about the role corruption played at the highest levels of government, and 83% believed that corruption in the country was worsening. While both Iraq and Lebanon have survived numerous conflicts over the years, corruption remains the primary threat to prosperity and stability in the nation.

Both Lebanon and Iraq have been the subject of violent conflicts and Iran’s meddling, exacerbating their stability. Over the past few decades, Iran has sought to expand its influence in the Middle East by embedding itself in domestic affairs, often through the use of proxies. To gain greater control, it utilizes corruption to establish an incentive for those in positions of power to follow the regime’s orders. This has proven beneficial for those in positions of power while leaving ordinary citizens behind. Today, the Ayatollahs have managed to establish a strong foothold of influence in nations like Lebanon, Palestine, Yemen, Syria, and Iraq, yielding greater instability throughout the already vulnerable region.

In Lebanon, Iran has established deep roots in the country’s political system through its proxy Hezbollah, a Shiite political party and military group that has been a significant facet of the Lebanese government since 1992. While Hezbollah remains a major fixture of the Lebanese political system today, its actions prove damaging to the country’s economy. The terrorist organization has adopted many of Tehran’s geopolitical policies, leaving the Lebanese suffering under the numerous sanction regimes, which have ruined the country’s already shaky economy.

In Iraq, Iran saw the apex of the Islamic State insurgency as a prime opportunity to insert itself into the country’s domestic affairs. By aligning itself with Kataib Hezbollah, an Iraqi Shia paramilitary organization that forms the backbone of the pro-Iran Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), it has been able to obtain significant control over Iraq’s political, cultural, and economic life. The Iranian regime has also been able to embed corrupt Iranian intelligence officers in cabinet and military level leadership positions in Iraq. Today, Kataib Hezbollah has been able to establish a sub-state in the country, which undermines the legitimacy of the legitimate state to advance Iranian interests and encourage corruption.

If Lebanon and Iraq maintain corrupt regimes and systems, they will not be able to rebuild their economies and offer valuable growth opportunities for their citizens. Indeed, corruption is a major obstacle to achieving economic growth and development. Corrupt regimes and practices negatively impact areas of commerce, the public sector, and daily life including investment protocols, taxation, public expenditure operations, access to and the quality of health and education services and human capital development and retention. This illicit activity also impacts the employment opportunities that are available to a country’s youth, who are usually the backbone of the workforce. Favoritism and bribes often form the pillar of recruitment processes rather than an equitable evaluation of skill sets. For a government to effectively undo the legacies of corruption, it must invest in social and economic development programs that emphasize education in important areas such as digital skills and English language skills. Without these qualifications, a labor force cannot be competitive in the global economic market.

Corruption remains rife in Lebanon and Iraq and it is time to usher in a new era, one that is free from corrupt regimes and their legacies. However, for these renewal efforts to be successful, both Lebanon and Iraq must work to eradicate Iran’s corrupt influence. The people need leaders who invest in the growth of their citizens and who will establish critical social and economic development programs, rather than advancing their own interests.

Government Corruption Leads to Youth Unemployment by Priya Shah

Priya Shah