Arshin Adib-Moghaddam, SOAS, University of London comes up with ‘Bani Adam: the 13th-century Persian poem that shows why humanity needs a global response to coronavirus’ to tell us that this novel pandemic per this poem is not locally that much of a novelty, not different from its predecessors and it is all about human connectivity.
Coronavirus is all about human connectivity. From a philosophical perspective, I’ve been thinking about how this virus is forcing us to confront our common fate, highlighting our connections in the process. The novel coronavirus defies geography and national borders. There is no escaping it – exactly because humanity is inevitably interdependent.
In a beautifully emotive poem called Bani Adam (human kind), drafted in the 13th century, the Persian-Muslim polymath Sa’adi used what can be employed as an analogy to our current challenge in order to visualise this common constitution of humanity. It reads:
Human beings are members of a whole, in creation of one essence and soul. If one member is afflicted with pain, other members uneasy will remain. If you have no sympathy for human pain, the name of human you cannot retain.
These verses from Sa’adi’s Bani Adam decorate the walls of the United Nations building in New York and the poem was quoted by US president Barack Obama in his videotaped New Year (Nowrouz) message to Iran in March 2009 to open up a new chapter in Iranian relations with the US. More recently, the British band Coldplay used the poem as the title of a song in their album Everyday Life. It’s a poem that speaks to the inevitability of a common fate of humanity, that unites us into an intimately shared space.
A common fate
This effort of conjoining what has been artificially divided through nationalisms, religious doctrines and other forms of ideology, was equally central to a poem by the German genius Johann Wolfgang Goethe. He was very much influenced by Persian/Muslim philosophy and poetry, in particular by the 14th-century poet Hafez-e Shirazi.
In his magnificent work West-Eastern Divan, a very early manifesto against cultural essentialism – viewing one’s own culture in complete separation of others – Goethe wrote:
When people keep themselves apart in mutual disdain. A truth is hidden from the heart. Their goals are much the same.
As a communicable disease, the coronavirus compounds our inevitable common fate. Our existence cannot be safeguarded in isolation, we can only survive together: my fate is yours, ours is theirs. Social media, for instance, has adopted terms such as “viral” to describe particularly successful Tweets or Facebook posts, which demonstrate the dialogues between our bodies and minds that are ongoing at every second of the day on this global canvass. This interconnected reality of ours merges (rather than divides) categories such as “us” and “them”, “self” and “other” which are at the heart of problematic ideas about today’s eternal cultural wars.
Our leaders continue to speak about the coronavirus in distinctly martial and psycho-nationalist terms. Even in a staunchly secular liberal-democracy such as France, president Emmanuel Macron described the crisis in war-like terms. US president Donald Trump used similar words when he likened himself to a “wartime president” in order to describe his fight against the virus.
And yet at the height of the pandemic, Trump’s administration pushed through more unilateral sanctions against Iran, which has been badly hit by coronavirus, and Venezuelan officials . At the time when countries such as China and Cuba are sending specialists to the epicentres of the crisis, Trump has punished the most vulnerable members of Iranian society for the sake of nationalistic power politics.
In search of a global response
In the meantime, many of us are concerned because we are finding out, tragedy by tragedy, that there is a lack of multilateral cooperation. Our elected leaders are incompetent or helpless and rampant capitalism has focused much of our resources on profit, rather than on institutions that serve the people.
The coronavirus transmuted into such an all-encompassing pandemic for two simple reasons. First, our common biology does not respect any of the mental and physical borders that were created to keep us apart. Second, coronavirus revealed how globalised our contemporary world is. Our lives are so closely interlinked and networked that this outbreak travelled all around the world within weeks.
The speed at which the virus spread demonstrates quite clearly the contracted space that we are all living in on Earth. Yet our politicians speak about national remedies and continue as if nothing has happened, as if we can insulate ourselves forever. It should be the World Health Organization and other UN bodies which take the lead to coordinate global policies for global problems.
Yet, in clear contradiction to what is needed, politicians continue to speak of coronavirus in terms of mere national emergencies. This approach compartmentalises what is conjoined, and contributes to the current crisis which can only be faced properly with global coordination and within multilateral organisations. But the UN and its auxiliary network is despised by the new breed of hyper-nationalist leaders all around the world. It is these leaders who have stunted our ability to resolve borderless challenges such as this current pandemic.
There is a common fate inscribed in our lives which demands global answers to global challenges. “No man is an island,” wrote the poet John Donne in 1624. It’s time that we act upon the science, with the empathy of a poet, and institute a new form of internationalism that acknowledges and celebrates our common humanity.
The following article titled Oliver Wyman: MENA youth’s perception of the private sector by Georgia Wilson – Leadership is worth reading to comprehend the peculiar situation of the MENA youth. In effect, the region despite having the highest youth population shares in the world, as well as the highest rates of youth unemployment, there seems to be still some sort of freedom of choice between private and public service employment.
Business Chief looks at Oliver Wyman, and INJAZ Al-Arab recently conducted research on the youth perception of the private sector.
Across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, over 2,400 young people between the age of 16 and 36 were surveyed to gain insight into the youth perception of the private sector.
“It is critical to capture the perspective of the youth and assess what they require to bolster the private sector of the future. We see a healthy inclination towards entrepreneurship, and a clear idea of what factors can facilitate lifelong learning. These are both indicators of their perception of the private sector, which is key to sustainable economic growth of their countries and the region. The youth are a key driver in the realization of economic stability, and we are proud to support INJAZ Al-Arab in helping the youth to fulfill their economic potential,” commented Jeff Youssef, Partner at Oliver Wyman.
Key findings of the youth survey:
79% feel positive about the private sector’s contribution to the economy – a 41% increase from 2018
75% expect the private sector to grow in the next five years – an 11% decrease from 2018
55% are discouraged from working in the private sector due to lack of opportunities and lack of competitive benefits – an 8% increase from 2018
50% perceive the “who you know” favouritism within organisations, to be the primary obstacle when seeking private sector employment
78% see themselves working in the private sector in the near future
84% feel inspired to start their own entrepreneurial venture in the near future
53% see leadership, creativity and communication as the most important skills for the private sector
“For young people today, it is extremely important that they are well equipped with skills, knowledge, and sense of entrepreneurship to enter the workforce. INJAZ’s collaboration with Oliver Wyman will further allow us to tackle the issue of youth unemployment in MENA, as we are certain that the findings are of great benefit to multiple stakeholders and that our initiative reflects on their potential to impact policy reform, program creation, and educational institution transformation,” added Akef Aqrabawi, CEO at INJAZ Al-Arab.
The value of a liberal arts education has become a pivotal discussion within the global higher education sector over the last decade. No longer confined to the hallowed halls of ivy-covered American colleges, this multidisciplinary approach, which focuses on developing creative thinking skills, has begun to transform the curricula of institutions worldwide.
To examine this further, the Times Higher Education MENA Universities Summit 2020, taking place at NYU Abu Dhabi on 10-12 March, will explore the benefits and challenges of broadening the liberal arts educational model across Middle Eastern and North African countries.
Fostering discussions on how to prepare students for a variety of career paths after graduation is high on the list of the summit’s objectives. Hoda Mostafa, director of the Center for Learning and Teaching at the American University in Cairo, will share useful practices to facilitate the leap between an interdisciplinary education and careers both in and out of academia.
Wasif Rizv, founding president of Habib University, Pakistan’s first liberal arts and science institution, will provide an instructional model from south-east Asia to demonstrate how a liberal arts education can develop talent to meet the demands of a global workforce.
Another key focus will be enhancing the research culture in countries where talent attraction has faced challenges. Rana Dajani, associate professor at Hashemite University, who established stem cell research ethics law in Jordan, will debate with other panellists which tools are needed to support the next generation of researchers in the MENA region.
Safwan Masri, the current vice-president for Global Centers and Global Development at Columbia University, who has written extensively on the role of Tunisia in the Arab Spring, will deliver the summit’s closing keynote, underlining the power of research and knowledge transfer in the region to ultimately promote a greater cultural understanding and bridge political boundaries.
The summit will include an exclusive THE rankings masterclass that will dissect the methodology behind the World University Rankings, giving an analysis of the MENA region’s successes and future opportunities. Additionally, delegates will enjoy a deep-dive into THE’s new University Impact Rankings, which are based on universities’ successes in working towards the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals.
John Gill, editor of THE, said: “We are at a crucial moment for the world on numerous fronts – from how to respond to global threats such as climate change, to how to navigate a path to greater understanding and collaboration. Higher education and research will play crucial roles in finding the answers.
“At this summit, we will discuss the role of liberal arts education, at a time of debate about how best to prepare students for the new economy, and how to support societies in transition. We will consider how a global perspective can transform the impact of education, and address the interplay between education and research in the MENA region. These topics touch on every aspect of what universities do, as institutions that educate, create new knowledge, and drive economic and social progress, so we are delighted to have such a diverse programme of speakers, and to be meeting at NYU Abu Dhabi, itself a great example of innovation.”
The Times Higher Education MENA Universities Summit 2020 will take place 10-12 March at NYU Abu Dhabi. Find out more.
Muscat: Enhancing skills and supporting job creation for locals is the new goal and vision 2020 for Knowledge Oman.
Speaking about the new plans, Tariq Hilal Al Barwanni, Knowledge Oman Founder said: “Supporting job creation by enhancing the necessary skills employers require from nationals to acquire is Knowledge Oman’s 2020 new goal and direction.”
This came as an announcement of the Sultanate’s multi-award winning knowledge-sharing platform’s strategic plan to make vision 2040 a reality. Knowledge Oman begins the new year with setting attainable goals, based on past achievements, which will support His Majesty Sultan Haitham bin Tarik in maintaining a prosperous and thriving country.
“Empowering the society with the necessary knowledge that is required to build a prosperous future is our key objective going forward. We will do this by aligning with vision 2040 and supporting His Majesty Sultan Haitham bin Tarik’s leadership,” he emphasised.
Since 2008, Knowledge Oman has managed within 12 years to solidify the vision of late His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said bin Taimour of transforming Oman into a knowledge based society by impacting hundred of thousands of people with 74 initiatives in the form of projects, workshops, seminars that positively impacted students from college and universities, women, entrepreneurs and professionals from various industries.
Projects were supported by over 35 partners locally and internationally attracting over 80,000 registrations and 700 volunteers across the years.
Knowledge Oman received 4 awards that includes the Outstanding contribution to the cause of education from the World Human Resource Development (HRD) Congress.
Members of the platform consist of multinational group of both locals and expatriates living in the country with the passion of creating, sharing and exchanging knowledge.
“In planning our strategy for 2020, we are focusing on three key areas to support Oman towards a society which is rich in human, economic and natural resources that aligns with the 2040 vision. We are launching Knowledge Oman Talks, refining our Knowledge Oman Seminars and collaborating with like-minded partners to deliver initiatives that benefit the society” outlined Tariq.
Knowledge Oman Talks will manage and invite experienced professionals to schools, colleges, and universities to bridge the gap between academia & industry. Knowledge Oman Seminars will be enhanced to organise periodic events that discuss contemporary issues and offer suggestions for development to society. Moreover, Knowledge Oman will invite partners to collaborate on initiatives that benefit the society.
Knowledge Oman’s mission in the past was driven by the vision of late His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said bin Taimour to create a knowledge-based society.
Optimistic about the year ahead and working under the leadership of His Majesty Sultan Haitham bin Tarik, Knowledge Oman will continue to build local and international partnerships and work towards providing people in Oman with the necessary knowledge and skills to meet the Oman Vision 2040.
Christmas has become important in the Palestinian territories as these hosting Bethlehem, the town in which Jesus was born, the once a year world festivities beginning in this part of the West Bank could be vitally important to their cause. Dorina-Maria Buda, Professor of Tourism Management, Leeds Beckett University explains in this story of Olive trees, markets and hikes: how the Palestinian West Bank welcomes tourists at Christmas.
There are often marches and demonstrations in support of Palestine in cities around the world, but for those who want to visit the region, a thriving tourism industry has emerged in recent years. “Solidarity tourists” arrive at all times of year to help improve the lives of ordinary Palestinians, with events like olive tree planting in February and olive harvesting in October organised by local Palestinian initiatives such as the Alternative Tourism Group and Joint Advocacy Initiative.
Given Palestine’s place in what is known as the Holy Land – the reputed birthplace of Jesus Christ – one of the busiest seasons for visiting is during the Christmas period. Despite the region’s troubled history, thousands make the trip each year.
Many will take the Masar Ibrahim – meaning the path of Abraham – a 330km-long trail running from the north to the south of the Palestinian West Bank. Tourists are encouraged to stay with local families, as the hiking trail passes through more than 50 communities, including villages that are entirely Muslim, entirely Christian or with mixed communities.
Christmas in Palestine is a season for neighbourly relations among the various communities, and a period to tell stories of the ancestors. During the first week of December, most Palestinian towns light a communal Christmas tree, while local bands and choirs perform, and international tourists are encouraged to take part.
Since September 2019, I’ve been researching tourism in the Palestinian West Bank and trying to understand how people celebrate their ancient heritage amid modern tensions and conflict. This is my second Christmas in the region, and on both occasions, I’ve had the opportunity to stay with a local family in Beit Sahour town, which is part of the Bethlehem area.
Peace and goodwill
Few visitors realise that three Christmases are actually celebrated in Palestine. The Latin churches, which includes Catholic worshippers, recognise December 25 as Christmas Day. But the Greek Orthodox church, which represents the majority of Christians in Palestine and Israel, observes Christmas according to the old Julian calendar created during the time of Julius Caesar in 45 BC. For them, Christmas Day falls on January 7, while the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem marks Christmas and Epiphany together on January 19.
It’s still warm enough to go outdoors, so most visitors at this time of year will explore the beautiful Palestinian landscape. Hiking in the hills of Battir between Bethlehem and Jerusalem takes tourists through a UNESCO heritage site, while in the north part of the country near Ramallah, the hills of Birzeit offer charming views of valleys and hillsides. Christmas markets are also popular and for children, there’s the traditional practice of decorating the al-burbara, a Palestinian dessert, at the Bethlehem Peace Center in celebration of Saint Barbara’s Day on December 4.
Violence flared after US President Donald Trump recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December 2017. According to one hotel manager in Palestine’s West Bank, the cancellation rate for bookings that month was around 80%. Palestine’s tourism industry seemed to recover in 2018, but the conflict can have a lasting impression that serves to turn away potential tourists.
Local authorities are quick to denounce the risk and insist that Palestine is safe to visit. Anton Salman, the mayor of Bethlehem said:
Bethlehem as a tourist destination is a secure and safe place. We are showing to the world with the lighting of the Christmas Tree ceremony that Bethlehem is a safe place … Tourists can visit and they can have the experience together with Bethlehemites, ours is a welcoming, hospitable community.
The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region significantly improved its T&T competitiveness since the last edition of the TTCI. With 12 of the 15 MENA economies covered by this year’s index increasing their score compared to 2017, the region was able to slightly outpace the global average in competitiveness growth. This is particularly important given that, in the aggregate, T&T accounts for a greater share of regional GDP than in any of the other four regions. MENA is also the only region where international visitor spending is greater than domestic visitor spending. Yet despite improved competitiveness and a strong reliance on T&T for overall economic growth, MENA continues to underperform the global TTCI score average.
MENA’s below-average competitiveness is primarily a result of low scores on indicators related to natural and cultural resources and international openness. The region’s historical and religious heritage and geographic features create the potential for significant natural and cultural tourism; yet, while some individual nations come close, no MENA country scores above the global average for natural resources and only Egypt and Iran score above for cultural resources. In fact, the entire region’s score in both of these areas has fallen in recent years. More needs to be done to expand habit protection and heritage sites. Moreover, digital demand for MENA’s natural, cultural and entertainment demand is fairly low, indicating potential gaps in marketing and traveller perceptions. One potential reason for this gap is continued safety and security concerns. Eleven MENA countries rank within the bottom 40 for terrorism incidents, with two among the worst 10 countries globally. Further, the region is plagued by geopolitical tensions, instability and conflict. Security concerns also play a role in why MENA members are some of the most restrictive when it comes to international openness, with only Qatar, Oman and Morocco making significant improvements. Consequently, travellers often face barriers when visiting the region, while the aviation and overall T&T sector is stifled by limiting bilateral air service and regional trade agreements.
More positively, stability, safety and security have started to recover throughout the region, slightly reducing travel fears and underlying one of the key reasons for the recent pickup in arrivals. Furthermore, it seems that there has been greater recognition of T&T’s importance, with broad regional improvements in T&T prioritization, including increased government funding and more effective marketing campaigns to bring back or attract new visitors. Greatly enhanced environmental sustainability also has the potential to pay dividends for natural assets (note that environmental sustainability comparison is influenced by the use of new data to measure marine sustainability). In addition, prices have become more competitive among countries within the region, amplifying MENA’s single biggest advantage relative to the global average. As one of the world’s main producers of fossil fuels, MENA includes some of the world’s lowest fuel prices, with some governments offering subsidies. Moreover, many of the region’s economies offer visitors greater purchasing power (especially Egypt, Algeria, Iran and Tunisia), which has been increased by lower exchange rates. Yet it is reductions in ticket taxes and airport charges as well as lower hotel prices that have primarily driven regional price competitiveness in recent years.
Infrastructure has also improved, with particularly impressive growth in the number of airlines and route capacity. Despite these gains, world-class infrastructure remains concentrated among the Arab states of the Persian Gulf. The Gulf countries have been able to use their natural resource wealth, central geographic location and relative security to develop world-class T&T infrastructure, defined by quality airports, ports, roads, tourist services and some of the world’s leading airlines. These efforts are in stark contrast to some other MENA nations that—due to a lack of investment and ongoing instability—have yet to develop competitive infrastructure, especially regarding air transport. Similarly, the region’s above-average score on the Enabling Environment subindex is due to the performance of the Gulf countries and Israel, which have developed economies, strong business environments, ICT readiness and some of the highest scores in safety and security. Finally, most regional economies also score near the bottom when it comes to female participation in the labour market, depriving the T&T industry of a greater labour and skills pool.
The Middle East subregion is by far the more competitive of the two subregions, outscoring North Africa on nine pillars. Thanks to the Arab states of the Persian Gulf and Israel, the subregion is wealthier and more developed than the North Africa subregion. Consequently, it is no surprise that the Middle East scores above the global and regional averages on indicators related to enabling environment and infrastructure, with particularly high ranks on ICT readiness and business environment. Nevertheless, the subregion does trail the world and North Africa on T&T prioritization and policy and natural and cultural resources. In particular, many Middle East nations score relatively low on the International Openness and Natural Resources pillars, which represent the subregion’s greatest disadvantages relative to global competition. One of the Middle East’s highest-scoring pillars is Price Competitiveness, with some economies leveraging their fossil fuel abundance to offer lower fuel prices. Since the 2017 edition of the report, the subregion has improved across all pillars of T&T policy and enabling conditions, safety and security, ICT readiness and much of infrastructure, but declined or stagnated on other pillars.
This year, eight out of the subregion’s 11 members improved their TTCI score since 2017. Oman demonstrated the greatest improvement, moving up eight places to 58th. MENA’s safest (3rd) country recorded the subregion’s fastest improvement for its human resources and labour markets (103rd to 65th), and is among the most improved when it comes to international openness (116th to 97th), environmental sustainability (109th to 57th) and overall infrastructure (60th to 52nd). Yet some of the improvement in environmental sustainability is exaggerated due to new marine sustainability metrics. In contrast, the UAE had the Middle East’s largest decline, falling from 29th to 33rd, including the biggest percentage decline in score on the Safety and Security pillar (falling from 2nd to 7th) and Ground and Port Infrastructure (19th to 31st) and the subregion’s only decline on Environmental Sustainability (40th to 41st). Nevertheless, the country remains in the lead in the Middle East and is MENA’s top TTCI scorer, leading on ICT readiness (4th), air transport (4th) and tourist service (22nd) infrastructure. The Middle East’s—and MENA’s—largest T&T economy is Saudi Arabia (69th), which scores above the subregion’s average on most pillars, but near the bottom on international openness (137th). Plagued by ongoing conflict and a lingering humanitarian crisis, Yemen (140th), ranks at the bottom of the global index.
North Africa scores lower than the Middle East, but demonstrates far greater improvement in overall competitiveness. The subregion outscores the Middle East on five pillars and bests the global average on four. North Africa is the most price competitive subregion in the world, with three out of its four members among the 12 least-expensive economies covered in the report. North Africa’s greatest advantage relative to the Middle East is its natural and cultural resources—although it still underperforms the world on both the Natural Resources and Cultural and Business Travel pillars. The subregion also bests the MENA average in prioritization of T&T and environmental sustainability, areas where it has improved since 2017. On the other hand, North Africa has underdeveloped infrastructure and T&T enabling environment, contrasting some of the high performers in the Middle East subregion. In particular, North Africa trails when it comes to tourist service infrastructure and ICT readiness. The subregion’s strong rate of improvement is due to enhanced safety and security, overall T&T policy and enabling conditions and air transport and ground infrastructure.
All four members of the North Africa subregion increased their TTCI scores over 2017. Egypt (65th) is the subregion’s top scorer and its largest T&T economy. The country is also MENA’s most improved scorer. Egypt is price competitive (3rd) and has MENA’s highest score for cultural resources (22nd). Its improvement comes from increases on 11 pillar scores. These include the world’s second-best enhancement of safety and security (130th to 112th), albeit from a low starting base. Morocco (66th) demonstrates North Africa’s slowest improvement in TTCI performance. The country is a close second to Egypt when it comes to overall competitiveness, boasting the MENA region’s top TTCI scores on natural resources (63rd) and North Africa’s best enabling environment (71st) and infrastructure (69th). However, TTCI performance improvement is tempered by declining safety and security (20th to 28th), which remains well above the subregion’s average, and a deteriorating combination of natural and cultural (41st to 54th) resources. North Africa’s lowest scoring member is Algeria (116th), which nonetheless did move up two ranks globally. The country ranks low on business environment (118th), T&T prioritization (132nd), tourist services infrastructure (136th), environmental sustainability (133rd), natural resources (126th) and international openness (139th). On the other hand, Algeria is one of the most price-competitive countries in the world (8th).
Peter Welby in his December 15, 2019, write up describes An alliance of people of goodwill in the Gulf, as More than 500 religious and political leaders, academics and civil society activists from over 80 countries gathered in Abu Dhabi last week to launch a set of principles that champion the shared values of different religions and promote joint action for the global common good and against extremism.
The image above is: A group of the world’s most respected Islamic scholars and faith leaders, joined by experts from governments and representatives of civil society organizations signed a new charter to build global peace, based on tolerance and religious freedom. (WAM)
It is notable that this took place in the Gulf, and not in Europe or the US. The UAE has long prided itself on its promotion of tolerance — naming this past year the Year of Tolerance — but the event was attended by religious leaders from across the region, including Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdul Karim Al-Issa, Secretary General of the Muslim World League in Saudi Arabia. The Charter of the New Alliance of Virtues is devoid of most of the usual platitudes that can form interfaith charters, and is based on an idea that could be embraced by all without being seen as owned by any one religion. This is because while the original Alliance of Virtues upon which this project was based is known of through the Islamic tradition, it predates Islam. The story goes that following the period of conflict around Makkah known in Islam as the Sacrilegious War, a Yemeni trader brought some goods to the city, and sold them to a Makkah nobleman, who refused to pay what was owed. The trader climbed Mount Safar, the place for public appeals at the time, and denounced his fraudulent purchaser and all those from Makkah who allowed one of their own to act unjustly. Other noblemen were appalled by the treatment meted out to this guest, in violation of the rules of hospitality let alone the rules of trade, and so convened an Alliance of Virtues that committed to defend the values deemed common among them, including the defense of the weak against the powerful. We know about this because Muhammad, before his prophethood, was there, and spoke about it later. And although it took place in pre-Islamic Makkah, he said that such was the value of this alliance that if he had been asked to join after the coming of Islam he would have done so. And despite this endorsement from the Prophet of Islam, the alliance can be viewed with equal approbation by other faiths too. The Alliance of Virtues was not formed by Christians or Jews, but by people whose goal was simply to do good work. This means that although this new Alliance of Virtues is designed with the Abrahamic faiths specifically in mind, it is open to any who share the values it espouses.
The Charter of the New Alliance of Virtues is devoid of most of the usual platitudes that can form interfaith charters, and is based on an idea that could be embraced by all without being seen as owned by any one religion.
But in the idea of shared values between the faiths lies the question. The interfaith world has long been dominated by a philosophy that seeks to downplay differences and focus on commonalities. There are plenty of commonalities to choose from, particularly in the Abrahamic faiths; for example, the belief in one God who created the universe and all that’s in it, and is directly concerned with the actions of humanity. But there are also profound differences, which will not be overcome by ignoring them. Moreover, the classical interfaith model is dominated, particularly among the Christian and Jewish participants, by religious liberals, occasionally operating well outside the orthodox parameters of their faiths. This domination leads to fears among many conservative believers of syncretism that the purpose of interfaith work is to deny that differences between religions are significant, and to push the belief that all paths to God are equally valid. The problem is that the social hostility and mutual suspicions between religions, at both a local and the global level, are often dominated by the conservatives. Gatherings dominated by liberals will fail to make significant movement toward overcoming these hostilities — they are preaching to the converted. Herein lies the delight of the new Charter. Not only are its values truly shared, at least in orthodox theologies of the Abrahamic faiths (values including human dignity, freedom of conscience, justice, mercy and peace), but it is backed by a number of US evangelicals, who among the Christian groups are most vocally hostile to Islam. They are also within the Christian tradition focused on the truth of the bible and the imperative to proselytize. They are not even close to syncretism between religions. The purpose is to draw on those shared values not to edge toward some specious “ever closer union,” but for shared action. Between them, the Abrahamic faiths account for more than half of the global population; if these principles are acted upon, it can have a powerful and wide-ranging effect. But here lies the challenge. Writing the Charter is only the beginning. Unlike many documents, it has been written, targeted at and signed by individuals rather than institutions or governments. Modeled upon the previous Alliance, it is an alliance of people of goodwill. But as with any Charter, its only value will come if it is acted upon. It must turn into practical reality. This will be the challenge for its signatories over the coming years.
Peter Welby is a consultant on religion and global affairs, specializing in the Arab world. Previously he was the managing editor of a think tank on religious extremism, the Center on Religion and Geopolitics, and worked in public affairs in the Arabian Gulf. He is based in London, and has lived in Egypt and Yemen. Twitter: @pdcwelby
Global Trends posted on November 19, 2019, The Dilemma of English-Medium Instruction in International Higher Education written by Philip G. Altbach, Research Professor and Founding Director, and Hans de Wit, Professor and Director at the Center for International Higher Education, Boston College. This article gives us an instead glance at the worldwide debate that is emerging about the role of English and languages in general in higher education. The issue in the MENA region has been de facto settled sometime back, despite resurging questions as to the position of the local language utilisation in the universities. Hence the featured picture above.
WENR would like to congratulate our partners at Boston College’s Center for International Higher Education (CIHE) for its upcoming 100th issue of International Higher Education. Enjoy this advance look into the issue with Philip G. Altbach and Hans de Wit’s article on the increasing global dominance of English-language instruction.
By the mid-twentieth century, English had become the global language of science and scholarship. With the rise of the internet and globalization in the latter years of the century and in the new millennium, this domination has only increased. The top 50 scientific journals are published in English, as are the vast majority of internationally circulated scholarly articles.
The advent of mass student mobility (more than five million students now study outside of their home countries, the majority of whom choose countries where English is spoken) has also increased the attraction of English. An increasingly mobile professoriate, including thousands of postdocs, gravitate to English-speaking universities. In non-English-speaking countries such as Ethiopia, academic programs and even entire universities use English as a language of instruction, or even as the only language of instruction. In Africa, Rwanda moved from French to English as a country and in higher education; and Algeria’s minister of education recently announced a shift from French to English in higher education.
Indeed, most countries now have English-medium universities, branch campuses that use English, or complete graduate programs in English. For example, one can obtain an English-medium Master of Business Administration from more than 30 universities in China. Universities in Russia are offering academic programs in English that target mainly Russian students, who seek such degrees to boost their prospects in local and international job markets. Chinese universities urge their faculty members to publish in prestigious English language journals and offer them handsome financial rewards for doing so—while, at the same time, publishing in Chinese journals yields few benefits. Indeed, the number of journals in English in China is growing exponentially. The same is true in South Africa and other countries. Without question, English will remain the key global scientific language and an important language of instruction for the foreseeable future. Even in these days of nationalism and populism, its role is likely to increase. Countries, institutions, and individuals are seeking to adapt to the impact of global English on academic life worldwide. Yet, at the same time, a worldwide debate is emerging about the role of English and of languages in general in higher education.
Questions Worth Asking
It is worth raising questions concerning the impact of the tide of English. In the broader sense, there is no use in rejecting it; just as globalization is an inexorable force, so is the role of English in higher education.
Language is more than just a means of communication; it is also an aspect of culture. The implications of using English as a key language for higher education in non-English-speaking countries may affect culture and ways of thinking. The French and the Italians, historically protective of their culture, have long resisted the use of English in higher education, but even they have recently yielded. There are now a growing number of English-medium courses in France and Italy, despite intense protests not only by nationalists and advocates of safeguarding their national cultural heritage, but also by academics.
Using English also has implications for research methodology, publication, and academic orientation. This is true for several reasons. The prestigious English-medium journals are edited almost exclusively by academics in English-speaking countries, and these editors rely in large part on reviewers also located in these countries. Even the most internationally minded editors will bring a bias toward the methodologies and academic orientations favored in English-speaking academe, as will most reviewers. Studies show that the journals and articles that are most cited are written in English, disadvantaging academics from non-English-speaking environments in several ways: The academics’ command of the English language will often be imperfect. More important, in general, they will be pressured to conform to the methodological strictures of mainstream English-dominated trends in their disciplines. This may be less consequential in the natural sciences where methodologies may be more universal, but it has considerable salience in the social sciences, where cultural and national realities shape scholarship. And researchers and scholars in all fields may be tempted to orient their research topics toward what will appeal to journal editors and publishers in the dominant English-medium markets.
Another implication, especially for the humanities and social sciences, is that the pressure to publish in English-medium international journals limits opportunities to contribute to the debate in local language media and to contradict fake news. Academics in the Netherlands have argued against this pressure. In International Higher Education No. 88, Winter 2017, Akiyoshi Yonezawa noted that “limited publication in English in these fields is becoming a serious obstacle to the further development of the humanities and social sciences in Japan,” and that “it is unlikely and undesirable that English as an academic language should continue to monopolize fields such as the humanities and social sciences, which are deeply rooted in multilinguistic and multicultural activities and values.”
A consequence of offering English-medium courses and programs in many non-English environments is the poor quality of the instruction offered by many faculty whose command of English may be only rudimentary, or whose ability to teach in the language is limited. This low-quality instruction, often combined with limited English comprehension on the part of many local and non-Anglophone international students, creates an environment where little actual learning is taking place. Additionally, knowledge of and access to current course texts and other materials in English may be limited. In short, offering high-quality programs in English is a complex undertaking that requires a high level of fluency on the part of both faculty and students.
A little-noticed consequence of the rise of global English in universities is the deteriorating status of learning other languages by students in English-speaking countries. Enrollments in “foreign language” courses and programs throughout the English-speaking world have declined, with many students (and faculty) feeling that they can communicate anywhere in the world in English. This trend has also led to declines in courses on world cultures and world civilizations, thus reducing in-depth knowledge of cultures among native English-speaking students. An additional concern is the increasing sophistication of machine translation of academic materials of all kinds, further reducing the perceived need to learn languages other than English.
There is also a consideration about the role of colonial languages in the developing world, particularly in Africa. Local languages are used in public primary and secondary education but, with some exceptions, are not the language of instruction in higher education. The risks of such policies are high and can result in or exacerbate elitism in higher education access, lower quality education and research, lack of alignment with local needs, and the dominance of Western paradigms.
The Debate in the Netherlands
Resistance to the use of English as a language of instruction in the developed world is increasing. In Italy and the Netherlands, academics have gone to court to stop universities from adding more English-taught programs to their course offerings. Arguments vary, from concerns about maintaining the national culture and the quality of education, to claiming that internationalization is a source of revenue that is promoted at the expense of good education for local students. These last two arguments are dominating the current debate in the Netherlands, where there is a general feeling that the spread of English as a language of instruction, with its lack of a strategic approach, has gone too far and become a liability.
The following are among the questions that have been raised:
Why should subject areas such as Dutch literature, history, or law be taught in English?
Are disciplines like psychology taught in English in order to attract international students and compensate for a decline in interest among local students?
Should the substantial contribution that international students make to institutional budgets and to the local and national economy count more than investing in quality education for local students?
Why should local students have to compete with international students for limited student housing?
How does one counteract the declining interest of local students in Dutch language and literature?
The Dutch minister of education, culture, and science along with institutional leaders is caught between the pressure to compete internationally and the imperative of responding to these arguments—as well as those of nationalists in parliament. Finding a compromise is not easy. Other countries, like Denmark and Germany, are having similar debates.
There are no easy solutions to what some are calling “English imperialism.” It is a fundamental reality today that English is the dominant language of science and scholarship, and increasingly of communication, both formal and informal, among students and academics globally. Understanding all the implications of selecting the language of instruction of a program or of an entire institution, including the costs and benefits of that decision, is crucial, and decision makers bear a heavy responsibility.
EF Education First (EF): MENA Countries Ranked for English Proficiency by Global Index of 100 Countries shows clearly that the ranking of each country has if only culturally, little to do with, as it were, its specific historical track record. The top ten middle eastern countries are as follow.
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia, Nov. 12, 2019 / PRNewswire/ — EF Education First released the ninth annual edition of its EF English Proficiency Index (EF EPI), analyzing data from 2.3 million non-native English speakers in 100 countries and regions, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE, and other Arab countries. The Netherlands topped this year’s index, placing Sweden, last year’s top-scorer, in the second position.
In the MENA region, Bahrain scored the highest. However, the region has continued to lag behind the other regions of the world. The index has also found that in the MENA region, young adults have a somewhat similar English proficiency level as adults over 40 years of age. This suggests that English instruction in the region’s schools has not been evolving over the years. The results have also shown a great convergence in the levels of proficiency among adults in the region, with only 9 scores separating Bahrain, MENA’s best achiever, from the weakest performing country, Libya.
The EF EPI has shown a direct relationship between the average per capita income and standard of living in a country, and the average proficiency in the English language among its adults. Moreover, with exports accounting for nearly 20 per cent of world trade output, adopting English as a language of communication will further reduce costs for businesses and governments. These findings indicate the potential returns of investing in English instruction to qualify the young human capital in MENA for the major economic transformations that the region is witnessing.
In speaking about Saudi Arabia, EF Education First‘s country manager in the Kingdom, John Bernström, said: “This year’s ranking arrives as Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 and its National Transformation Program are in full swing to transform the Kingdom’s economy. As the country invests tremendously in the education and training of its youthful human capital, our report aims to assess how local English language proficiency fits within this frame and what are the best methods to optimize it in the future”.
The EF EPI is based on test scores from the EF Standard English Test (EF SET), the world’s first free standardized English test. The EF SET has been used worldwide by thousands of schools, companies, and governments for large-scale testing.
The EF English Proficiency Index for Schools (EF EPI-s), a companion report to the EF EPI, was also released with the index. The EF EPI-s examines the acquisition of English skills by secondary and tertiary students from 43 countries.
EF Education First is an international education company that focuses on language, academics, and cultural experience. Founded in 1965, EF’s mission is “opening the world through education.” With more than 600 schools and offices in over 50 countries, EF is the Official Language Training Partner for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
But, like women elsewhere, they lag when it comes to careers in these fields. As recent research shows, bridging this gap matters not just for women, but for the future of us all. So, how come Arab women are thriving in science and math education? The New York Times tells this story.
Here’s a strange paradox: In the Middle East, where many countries face stark gender inequality, women earn more science and math degrees per capita than their counterparts in the United States and Europe. In fact, up to 57 percent of all STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) graduates in Arab countries are women, according to Unesco.
On the other hand, take Qatar, a small country with a population of just 2.8 million. The country’s first university, Qatar University, opened its doors only in 1973, with separate faculties for men and women. But by 2012, there were almost twice as many female students enrolled in the university as there were males.
Bolstered by the country’s fervor for higher education, more women are attending Qatar’s private universities — and more are pursuing traditionally male-dominated career paths, including engineering and science. Qatar Foundation’s 3,000-acre Education City campus, home to eleven K-12 schools and nine leading universities — including branches of Georgetown, Cornell and Texas A&M — standing alongside a science and technology park, global innovation forums, a modern art museum, start-up incubators and more.
Many of these Qatari campuses are already drawing much greater percentages of women in their programs than similar ones in the U.S. At Texas A&M University at Qatar, women account for 51.6 percent of all undergraduate engineers — more than double the U.S. national average of 23.4 percent.“For people who have never been to the Middle East, they may well think women here are somehow oppressed, covered up and kept at a different level,” says Lama Al-Oreibi, reservoir engineer at Shell and former student at Texas A&M University in Qatar. “But engineering and science are professions that are looked upon highly in this part of the world. And I was encouraged by my family to pursue this path.”
In contrast to stubborn stereotypes elsewhere, adds Mashael Al-Sabah, a cybersecurity scientist at Qatar Computing Research Institute inside Education City, Qatari people don’t generally perceive men to be better at science and math.
“THE WOMEN IN ENGINEERING AND SCIENCE HERE OUTNUMBER MEN AND, OFTEN, THEY PERFORM BETTER.”
Up to 57%
of all STEM graduates in Arab countries are women.
This sentiment is echoed by Rana Dajani, a Jordanian molecular biologist and associate professor at Hashemite University, who is currently writing a paper about this subject, slated for publication later this year. “[Middle Eastern] women’s attraction to STEM studies is something that runs much deeper than the region’s modern history,” she says. “A theme in Islamic culture is that you are respected for your mind. Therefore, if you go into science, this is something respectful, because it celebrates your mind — and this was the same for boys and girls.”
THE WOMEN CHALLENGING STEM’S STATUS QUO IN QATAR
From current students to alumni, here are the stories of some women of Education City who have broken through stereotypes in Qatar to pursue their dreams in STEM.
For 14-year-old Al Shamari, technology “is the solution to everything.” “Take astrophysics, for example. If we have a way to control it, we have a way of sustaining life on Earth without having to go back to traditional ways.”
Now a student at Qatar Academy for Science and Technology, she says she enrolled because the only other STEM school for her age group in Qatar is an all-boy school. “Here, everyone puts gender aside because that doesn’t matter in education. We all know how to work together,” she says. And for the future? “I want to go to MIT. There was a girl who graduated from MIT who figured out the algorithm for the black hole picture. It’s like a 900,000-line algorithm to figure out where to put the pieces, and I’m really impressed by her.”
“I LOVE SCIENCE AND ESPECIALLY ASTROPHYSICS. PEOPLE ALWAYS LOOK TO THE GROUND FOR SOLUTIONS. WHY DON’T WE LOOK UP?”
As a part of her course, Abdalla, a student at Texas A&M University in Qatar, is currently making an innovative type of low-fuel vehicle — from scratch. But even for a pioneering engineer like her, gender expectations have been hard to escape. “We were taking the car from the garage to the lab,” she says, “and this guy shouted at my [male] friend, saying he should help me carry it!”
The 22-year-old, who is studying mechanical engineering, says she likes that engineering opens up many different areas of work. “I feel that there will always be a need for scientists and engineers. As an engineer, you feel like you’ve got some skills that other people may not have — and I like that.” After graduation, Abdalla is set to start a Ph.D. in Virginia, in the U.S.
“ONE OF THE THINGS I REALLY LIKE ABOUT GOING INTO ENGINEERING IS THAT YOU CAN ACTUALLY GO INTO SO MANY OTHER AREAS. I LIKE THAT IT TRAINS YOUR MIND IN A CERTAIN WAY AND I FEEL THERE WILL ALWAYS BE A NEED FOR SCIENTISTS AND ENGINEERS.”
Al-Oreibi was among the first groups of students to attend Texas A&M University in Qatar. “I wanted to stay in Qatar for university, and Texas A&M was opening here at the time,” she says. “It’s still a male-dominated industry, but in my class there were six girls and five guys, so we had a pretty good head start.”
Now a reservoir engineer at Shell, Al-Oreibi says she’s excited to be a part of the transition toward sustainability in oil and gas. “We have more awareness around our carbon footprint, something that wasn’t as strongly driven when I first joined the industry,” she says. “I’m very proud to be contributing to the global energy supply and doing so in a safe, environmentally friendly manner.”
“WITH SCIENCE, FOR ME, THE SKY’S THE LIMIT. YOU CAN DO ANYTHING WITH IT, AND YOU CAN HAVE AN IMPACT. AT THE END OF THE DAY, I’D LIKE TO THINK THAT WHAT I DO ON A DAY-TO-DAY BASIS HAS A POSITIVE IMPACT ON MY SOCIETY AND THE HUMAN RACE.”
But for Veronica Bermudez, senior research director for energy at Education City’s Qatar Environment and Energy Research Institute, the real issue comes after university, when these highly educated women enter the job force — or rather, don’t. In fact, although Qatar’s female labor-force participation ranks higher than the world average, the proportion of Qatari women in the work force still lags slightly behind that in developed countries. “In the renewable energy sector, for example, the growth expectations in terms of jobs are going to triple in the next 10, 20 years,” says Bermudez. “We really need to engage more females in STEM to be able to address that challenge.”
Despite regional differences in female participation in STEM education, getting more women into science and math jobs remains a challenge across the world. High female participation in STEM education doesn’t necessarily translate into employment. Across OECD countries, 71 percent of male graduates in STEM subjects work as professionals in STEM fields, compared with only 43 percent of female graduates, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
For Arab women in particular, a number of barriers block them from finding employment in their respective STEM fields: Unesco’s “Science Report: Towards 2030” points to everything from low awareness about what a career in STEM entails to a lack of female role models and a family bias against working in mixed-gender environments. A dearth of suitable positions can hold women back, too. “We simply don’t have a market like Silicon Valley,” says Sana Odeh, clinical professor of computer science at New York University in Abu Dhabi, who’s working on a study on Middle Eastern women’s participation in STEM. “There aren’t thousands of jobs that are opened up by these large companies.”
Then, of course, there are the more universal issues, which for Dajani are every bit as important. “The workplace as we know it today was created around 100, 150 years ago by men, for men,” she says.
“THE FUNDAMENTAL DIFFERENCE IS BIOLOGICAL, EVOLUTIONARY — WOMEN HAVE BABIES AND NEED TO NURSE THEM. AND THE MODERN WORKPLACE DOESN’T FIT THIS.”
of the total student body at Texas A&M University in Qatar are women.
Anna Paolini, director of Unesco’s regional office in Doha, agrees. “We see willingness and interest from women to continue working, but once they get married many don’t go back to work, and that’s a loss for the system and for countries as small as Qatar.”
This “loss” that Paolini points to takes a toll on the bottom line, too. A growing body of evidence shows that more diverse organizations enjoy greater creativity, stronger governance, better problem-solving skills — and increased profitability. What’s more, an International Monetary Fund report from this year states that the growth gains from adding more women to the labor force are larger than previously thought — closing the gender gap could increase GDP by an average of 35 percent for much of the developing world.
And nowhere is diversity so valuable as in scientific study itself, according to Andrei Cimpion, associate professor of psychology at New York University, who has conducted studies on gender stereotypes in STEM. “The reality of what scientists do is that they work in teams. They work for socially important goals that help humanity,” he says.
“SCIENCE CAN ACCOMMODATE — AND NEEDS — THESE DIFFERENCES. SCIENCE DOES NOT EXCLUDE NOR DOES IT PREVENT SUCCESS BASED ON PERSONALITY CHARACTERISTICS.”
of female STEM graduates in OECD countries work in STEM fields, vs. 71% of male graduates.
However, for Bermudez, the costs of a lack of diversity in STEM could be even greater than that. “Men and women see things from a different point of view,” she says. “And if we keep this male dominance in STEM, we are skipping 50 percent of human resources around the world. With a diverse group, you have more opportunities to find the right way to solve problems.”
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