Dr. Sohair Wastawy, Executive Director of Qatar National Library

Dr. Sohair Wastawy, Executive Director of Qatar National Library

Dr. Sohair Wastawy, Executive Director of Qatar National Library, has more than 40 years of international library and university management experience in the Middle East and the US, and has practiced and taught librarianship in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the US.

Meet Dr. Sohair Wastawy, Executive Director of Qatar National Library

By: Dina Al-Mahdy on April 13, 2019

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Prior to her new role, Dr. Wastawy worked as Dean of Libraries at Florida Institute of Technology. She held the position of Dean of University Libraries at Illinois State University, and was the first Chief Librarian for the new Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Egypt. Dr. Wastawy also served as Dean at Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago.

As well as her work in library management, Dr. Wastawy has worked as a consultant to many not-for-profit organizations, corporations, and accreditation commissions, and has been the recipient of international awards, including a Peace Fellowship and a Fulbright Scholarship.

Dr. Wastawy began her library career at Cairo University Library, Egypt, and taught librarianship in the first women’s library program in Saudi Arabia. She holds a Doctor of Arts in Library and Information Management from Simmons College, Boston, MA; and a Masters in Library and Information Science from The Catholic University of America, Washington, DC.

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  1. Having an extensive international library experience in the US and the Middle East, we would like to know more about you, since the beginning of your distinguished career till now?And how did you come to leave Egypt and become an American citizen?

I hadn’t originally planned to study library science, and I later discovered that many who joined the profession had stumbled on it from different backgrounds.

Earlier, I majored in comparative linguistics, and I began with a BA degree in Semitic languages (Hebrew and Aramaic) from Cairo University then pursued an MA degree in African languages followed by a PhD in comparative linguistics at Cairo University. Before I could complete my PhD, however, my advisor Dr. Mourad Kamel, unfortunately, passed away. Because I was dealing with 6 languages as part of my thesis, it was difficult to work with any other advisor. At that time, I was working at the university library as a temporary job until I finished my PhD. Once I knew I wasn’t going to finish, I decided to stay on as a librarian and take up librarianship as a profession. However, I didn’t want to go into a profession without formally studying it.

After the Camp David Accords in 1978, the US was offering peace fellowships to a few Israeli and Egyptian students to pursue postgraduate studies in the US. I learned about this by walking past the AMIDEAST building in Cairo where I spot a big sign that read “Scholarships in the US”, so, I applied. Then, I didn’t know that in the US, unlike in Egypt, you could pursue a post graduate degree in a field other than your major. Knowing that I could choose any field of study, I shifted my career to library and information sciences.

After I completed my master degree, I was accepted in the second top program in the US: a private women school called Simmons College in Boston, Massachusetts, where I completed my PhD studies in 1987. After my PhD, I came back to Egypt and stayed for eight months, during which I met my then-husband. I eventually moved back to the US with him I started my career in the US as a part-time research librarian at Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago and I have been practicing librarianship since then.

  1. As a woman pursing her career and a working mother, what are/were the major obstacles and challenges that you had to face in your life and career?

Since 1988, my job has always been about building and managing libraries. I managed the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) main library with its 5 branches for 14 years, before I was appointed as chief librarian at the Library of Alexandria in Egypt, which also required building the library sector services and collections. After my tenure in Alexandria, I held the position of dean of university libraries at Illinois State University followed by similar position at Florida Institute of Technology.

Being a working mother is a difficult task; juggling between family and work is often relentless. It is also a delicate balancing act, especially when you are away from family and friends. I didn’t have the kind of support system that comes with living in your home country. You have to be extremely organized and very judicious with your time. In general, the responsibility of being a manager is challenging as you often don’t operate with fixed hours. It is all about getting the job done. If the job takes 10 hours or 15 hours, you owe that much time. Creating a balance between family and work requires super organizational skills. You have to organize activities for the kids and you have to share tasks with your partner.

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  1. Did you find any cultural gaps between women’s role in society in the Middle East and the US?

Gender discrimination exists in most societies. The US has given me opportunities and leadership skills, and I was for the most part, treated equally and was selected on the basis of merit. When I got my first position as a dean, I was 37 years old. I was also the first female dean IIT since it was established in 1890. I was a woman with an accent; different in completion and background which made some people regard me with suspicion. When I attended a meeting with a number of male deans, my proposed ideas fell on deaf ears. When the other male deans reiterated what I said, their ideas were met with “Oh, wow! That is quite wonderful”. I took issue with this and long before equal pay became a big thing in the US, I told my president that I was no less intelligent than these men, and I demanded to be paid as much as the other deans.

I must say that in Egypt, women have assumed leadership positions in governmental and national institutions, but we still have not seen many women judges or some other high-ranking professions. We still have quite a journey ahead of us.

  1. Being an effective manager who has a broad repertoire of management styles, can you tell us more about the styles you used throughout your career with your employees all over the world? And how did you develop them?

There is no single management style that fits all. It is situational. You maintain certain values for equality, fairness, objectivity, and professionalism. You honor these core values, but remain flexible in how you execute them. In general, management techniques are not magic mantras but simply tools to be reached for at the right times.Some situations require the leader to hover closely; others require long, loose lines.

To be a manager does not merely entail giving orders. Being a leader is about understanding that strategy equals execution and that all the great ideas and visions in the world are worthless if they can’t be implemented in an efficient manner at the right time. As a leader, you delegate and empower others, but you also pay attention to details, every day, never above operational details. In a service profession like librarianship, loyalty to the ethos of the profession of equality and democracy are crucial. On the personal level, you must have a high-energy drive, a balanced ego, and the drive to get things done.

5- As a working mother, how did you raise your son? Has he understood the role you played in the cultural arena? How has that affected his perspective on life?

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The year my son was born, I was made dean for the first time. Meaning that my son has always seen me throughout his life in leadership roles. He has always been very proud of what I have achieved. He used to brag about me when he was little, telling his friends that I was the president of the university.

Because Kariem has always seen me in leadership positions, this has had both a positive and some unhelpful effect on him. As proud as he was, my son often thought that he has to do everything perfectly in order to get my approval.

Being an immigrant in the US, you are always judged. I didn’t want my son to acquire this trait: judging people or situations prematurely. I tried to instill in him empathy toward people, and I taught him to treat people equally and with respect. Kariem grew up in a post-9/11 America, which was a very hard time for all Arabs. He was bullied by kids at school who told him that all Arabs were terrorists. This was alienating to a child who cannot defend himself, had neither the vocabulary nor the understanding to be able to say that this wasn’t our fault or that these terrorists were different people.

The atmosphere was very difficult and Arab children, like my son, had to struggle through all that because of the name-calling. Some kids told him to go back home, and Kariem used to tell them that this was his home. I tried to help him understand that these children knew little, and to teach him empathy during this time of ignorance. I also taught him not to be defensive and help educate others. Those were some of the values I tried to instill in my son. I am proud to say that he has an amazing sense of empathy, kind, open and have friends of all backgrounds and religions.

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  1. Reflecting on how your parents raised you, what ideologies do you wish to instill in girls in Egypt to become future leaders in society?

Though my father was born in 1917, he was such a liberal man in his way of thinking. He supported me all the way, and I was the first girl in the family to study abroad. That was not very common then. For a man from a different era, I think it was all a matter of trust, which he tried to foster between him and his 5 children. He always wanted us to believe in what we did. He had such work ethics and was a real patriot. He wanted us to succeed not only for our own sake but also because we owed it to our country.

We were 4 girls and 1 boy, and he urged us to choose whatever we wanted to do with our lives. Two of my sisters are doctors, one is a pharmacist, and my brother is an engineer. His advice was to always be the best at whatever you choose.

Both my parents were teachers who believed in girls’ education and independence. They were like any good parents who give their children wings to fly. That’s why each and every one of us led the life they wanted without being hindered by any limitations. Those are values that I wish all parents instill in girls in Egypt. If they do not acquire them at a young age, they will become more difficult to acquire as adults.

  1. Having contributed to promoting an excellent image of inspiring remarkable Egyptian women and change makers, what advices do you wish to pass on to women of Egypt all over the world?
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To believe in what they do, have a purpose in life, and to try to make a difference. It doesn’t matter if it is going to be gardening, teaching, a factory worker, a doctor, or engineer. Just try to make a difference. Being a stay home mom, in my opinion, is a tough job. Raising future leaders and good citizens is not for the faint of hearts. Women, who have the ability to give, can volunteer at any institution and receive a sense of accomplishment for being able to give something back to their community—either their time or energy.

Your self-worth and self-esteem rise when you contribute to the welfare of others. It is not about making money or attaining a high position; it is about what you want to be remembered with. No matter what profession you belong to, what is really important is to ask yourself these questions: how can I make any difference in my brief time on earth? If you find answer to such a question, then you will be able to find your path.

  1. What are your future plans on both the professional and personal levels?

On the personal level, I am very much looking forward to retirement. I want to pursue hobbies that didn’t have time for when younger. I like to write, and I have been writing a collection of short stories for over 25 years now that I would like to finish. I would also like to take digital photography, gardening, creative writing and ballroom dancing classes. I also plan to volunteer with Doctors Without Borders and other humanitarian organizations that help in the relief of human suffering.

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Egypt to develop a sustainable knowledge-based economy

Egypt to develop a sustainable knowledge-based economy

Egypt is working on formulating a strategy for artificial intelligence (AI) which will include the establishment of the country’s first faculty of artificial intelligence and artificial intelligence academy in the coming academic year, in a bid to produce the scientific workforces needed to develop a sustainable knowledge-based economy.

First AI faculty unveiled at Global Forum meeting

By Wagdy Sawahel,5 April 2019

This AI strategy was highlighted by Egyptian Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research Khaled Abdel Ghaffar during his opening speech at the three-day Global Forum for Higher Education and Scientific Research, held under the theme “Between the present and the future” in the Egyptian new administrative capital from 4-6 April.

Located at Kafr El-Sheikh University in Egypt’s north Delta, the faculty of artificial intelligence (FAI) aims to build the knowledge economy in line with the vision of Egypt 2030’s sustainable development strategy.

The FAI will start student enrolment in the next academic year, 2019-20, as a centre of excellence for artificial intelligence research, education, teaching and training.

Besides establishing an artificial intelligence academy specialising in innovation and new thinking in artificial intelligence, several AI departments will also be set up at higher education institutions to develop capacity and boost innovations.

AI is the science of developing computer systems capable of carrying out human tasks.

Economic impact

According to a 2017 PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) report entitled The Potential Impact of AI in the Middle East, it is estimated that 7.7% of Egypt’s gross domestic product could come from the AI sector by 2030.

“We estimate that the Middle East is expected to accrue 2% of the total global benefits of AI in 2030. This is equivalent to US$320 billion,” the report stated.

“In the wake of the fourth industrial revolution, governments and businesses across the Middle East are beginning to realise the shift globally towards AI and advanced technologies.

“They are faced with a choice between being a part of the technological disruption, or being left behind. When we look at the economic impact for the region, being left behind is not an option.”

The biggest opportunity for AI in the Middle East and Africa region is in the financial sector where it is estimated that 25% of all AI investment in the region predicted for 2021, or US$28.3 million, will be spent on developing AI solutions. This is followed by the public services, including education among other sectors, according to the PwC report.

‘Pioneering initiative’

Samir Khalaf Abd-El-Aal, a science expert at the National Research Centre in Cairo, welcomed news of the FAI as a “pioneering initiative” that will have an impact on Egypt as well as North Africa.

“It is a good step forward for raising awareness of the potential of AI for sustainable development as well as contributing in facing regional challenges to fully harness the deployment of AI, including infrastructure, skills, knowledge gaps, research capacities and availability of local data,” Abd-El-Aal told University World News.

“The FAI is an important initiative in training students in AI, which will become one of the tools of future jobs, as well as building AI applications in Arabic, which can easily go to all Arabic-speaking countries including North African states.”

“The FAI could also act as a regional focal point for carrying out mapping for local artificial intelligence start-ups, research centres and civil society organisations as well as serving as an incubator for skills development and promoting AI entrepreneurship oriented towards solving North African problems,” Abd-El-Aal said.

Virtual science hub

The Egypt government also announced the launch of a virtual science hub at the Forum. The hub, affiliated to the Academy of Scientific Research and Technology at the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, aims to enable integration, management and planning of Egyptian technological resources, work on the international information network, and includes an integrated database for all Egyptian technological resources.

It also includes all scientific and technical resources as well as material assets and academic research contributions, which will make it possible to measure the degree of technological readiness of all Egyptian academic and research institutions. The general objective of the system is to provide the necessary information to support decision-makers in research projects and to facilitate the follow-up of research activities.

Engineering Education for MENA’s future Leaders

Engineering Education for MENA’s future Leaders

From Saudi Arabia and the UAE to Egypt and Jordan, these are the institutions offering engineering education for MENA’s future leaders.

Top 25 universities in the Middle East to study engineering [2019]

By Gavin Gibbon, 26 March 2019

The Middle East's top engineering schools have been revealed.
© Pixabay / wwwslonpics

The Middle East’s top engineering schools have been revealed.

The significance of young engineers in the oft-traditional construction industry is well known around the world, as well as in the Middle East. But which colleges and universities will produce the engineers needed to build the tourist attractions, solar parks, and transport infrastructure projects – among various others schemes – that are needed support the economic diversification plans under way in the GCC and the wider Middle East?

Construction projects worth $1.1tn (SAR4.2tn) are at various stages of development in Saudi Arabia, and various multibillion-dollar schemes are also progressing in other parts of the Middle East. Regionally, the building sector is showing signs of growth despite financial headwinds causing global economic uncertainty.

The UAE Ministry of Education’s Majors in Demand Study 2018, published in January 2019, revealed those who studied civil engineering were the most likely to be snapped up when entering the job market in the UAE. Read the study on the education ministry’s website here.

For young professionals seeking exciting and rewarding careers, the good news is that there is plenty of choice when it comes to studying engineering in the region. From Saudi Arabia and the UAE to Lebanon, Jordan, and Egypt, every Middle Eastern country has engineering institutions to be proud of. The UAE is also the home of various international universities from Australia and the UK, which have established regional centres in the Emirates.

In the following list, Construction Week takes a look at 25 of the best universities in the Middle East offering engineering qualifications.

The Middle East’s 25 best universities to study engineering are:

  • The University of South Wales
  • American University of Science and Technology
  • Kafr El Sheikh University
  • Holy Spirit University of Kaslik
  • German Jordanian University
  • La Sagesse University
  • Tafila Technical University
  • UAE University
  • Westford University College
  • Heriot Watt University Dubai Campus
  • Al Ain University of Science and Technology
  • Bahrain Polytechnic
  • American University in Dubai
  • University of Wollongong Dubai
  • Jordan University of Science and Technology
  • Misr University of Science and Technology
  • Lebanese International University
  • King Abdulaziz University Saudi Arabia
  • Khalifa University
  • Higher College of Technology Oman
  • Imam Abdulrahman bin Faisal University
  • Sharjah Women’s College
  • Abu Dhabi Vocational Education and Training Institute
  • American University of Sharjah
  • Ajman University

Please note that this article is not a ranking and has been published in random order.

Various engineering education options are available in the Middle East [ITP / Shutterstock].

The University of South Wales in Dubai

The University of South Wales (USW) is the first international campus to be launched by USW.  Based in Dubai South’s business district alongside Al Maktoum International Airport, the campus is ideally placed to prepare students for entry into employment. 

Home to its aircraft maintenance engineering degrees, students can look forward to a learning experience that combines academic study with practical training using impressive facilities. 

To help meet the skills demand in the aerospace sector, the university works in partnership with organisations to offer staff development opportunities through prior experiential learning. Employees can top-up to a recognised qualification by having some of their prior learning accredited; some of the training and development that staff have already undertaken can normally be taken into account by the university and, in many cases, count towards completion of a degree – a cost-efficient way to gain a higher education qualification. 

Read more of this article and all related in ConstructionWeekonline.

Egypt partnering with American Universities

Egypt partnering with American Universities

The three Centers of Excellence are a part of the investment by the American people in Egypt’s human and economic development.

Partnering with American Universities to Create Centers of Excellence in Energy, Water, and Agriculture in Egypt

WASHINGTON D.C., United States of America, March 27, 2019 / APO Group/ —

The Centers of Excellence will align with the current needs of Egypt’s commercial, academic, and public sectors by solving local problems

Today, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Mark Green announced a $90 million investment in three leading universities in Egypt, which will form partnerships with American universities to create Centers of Excellence in energy, water, and agriculture.

  • The three Centers of Excellence will establish linkages between Egyptian universities and leading counterparts in the United States, help forge relationships between Egyptian and American researchers and experts, and drive research and innovation in sectors that are key to Egypt’s future economic growth. The three partnerships will be the following:
  • The Massachusetts Institute of Technology will partner with Ain Shams University to establish a Center of Excellence in Energy;
  • Cornell University in New York will partner with Cairo University to create a Center of Excellence in Agriculture; and
  • The American University in Cairo will partner with Alexandria University to develop a Center of Excellence in Water.

Through the establishment of the Centers of Excellence, USAID and the Egyptian Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, will increase the capacity of Egypt’s higher-education institutions and create linkages between research and the public and private sectors in the areas of agriculture, water, and energy. Each Center of Excellence will use applied research to drive innovation and competitiveness in the public and private sectors, strengthen Egyptian Government policy to stimulate economic growth, and contribute solutions to Egypt’s development challenges. The three Centers of Excellence are a part of the investment by the American people in Egypt’s human and economic development.

The Centers of Excellence will align with the current needs of Egypt’s commercial, academic, and public sectors by solving local problems, driving innovation, and leading to lower unemployment and improved performance in the private and public sector.

  • The main activities of the partnership will include the following:
  • Creating lasting partnerships between Egyptian public universities and U.S. universities;
  • Updating university curricula and teaching methods to align Egyptian university education with the needs of local industry; and
  • Establishing undergraduate-and graduate-level scholarships for students with high financial need; and
  • Implement exchange programs to foster cross-border learning.

Since 1978, the American people have invested $30 billion to further Egypt’s human and economic development based on our shared ideals and interests.

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of Africa Regional Media Hub.

Ensuring the future of a networked world

Ensuring the future of a networked world

Or as put by Mounir Mahjoubi, author of this article below, @mounir as “Ensuring the next thirty years of a networked world.”

The responsibility for a sustainable digital future

On March 12, 2019, we celebrate the 30th anniversary of the “World Wide Web”, Tim Berners-Lee’s ground-breaking invention.

In just thirty years, this flagship application of the Internet has forever changed our lives, our habits, our way of thinking and seeing the world. Yet, this anniversary leaves a bittersweet taste in our mouth: the initial decentralized and open version of the Web, which was meant to allow users to connect with each other, has gradually evolved to a very different version, centralized in the hands of giants who capture our data and impose their standards.

We have poured our work, our hearts and a lot of our lives out on the internet. For better or for worse. Beyond business uses for Big Tech, our data has become an incredible resource for malicious actors, who use this windfall to hack, steal and threaten. Citizens, small and large companies, governments: online predators spare no one. This initial mine of information and knowledge has provided fertile ground for dangerous abuse: hate speech, cyber-bullying, manipulation of information or apology for terrorism – all of them amplified, relayed and disseminated across borders.

Laissez-faire or control: between Scylla and Charybdis

Faced with these excesses, some countries have decided to regain control over the Web and the Internet in general: by filtering information and communications, controlling the flow of data, using digital instruments for the sake of sovereignty and security. The outcome of this approach is widespread censorship and surveillance. A major threat to our values and our vision of society, this project of “cyber-sovereignty” is also the antithesis of the initial purpose of the Web, which was built in a spirit of openness and emancipation. Imposing cyber-borders and permanent supervision would be fatal to the Web.

To avoid such an outcome, many democracies have favored laissez-faire and minimal intervention, preserving the virtuous circle of profit and innovation. Negative externalities remain, with self-regulation as the only barrier. But laissez-faire is no longer the best option to foster innovation: data is monopolized by giants that have become systemic, users’ freedom of choice is limited by vertical integration and lack of interoperability. Ineffective competition threatens our economies’ ability to innovate.

In addition, laissez-faire means being vulnerable to those who have chosen a more interventionist or hostile stance. This question is particularly acute today for infrastructures: should we continue to remain agnostic, open and to choose a solution only based on its economic competitiveness? Or should we affirm the need to preserve our technological sovereignty and our security?

Photo courtesy of Getty Images/chombosan

Paving a third way

To avoid these pitfalls, France, Europe and all democratic countries must take control of their digital future. This age of digital maturity involves both smart digital regulation and enhanced technological sovereignty.

Holding large actors accountable is a legitimate and necessary first step: “with great power comes great responsibility”.

Platforms that relay and amplify the audience of dangerous content must assume a stronger role in information and prevention. The same goes for e-commerce, when consumers’ health and safety is undermined by dangerous or counterfeit products, made available to them with one click. We should apply the same focus on systemic players in the field of competition: vertical integration should not hinder users’ choice of goods, services or content.

But for our action to be effective and leave room for innovation, we must design a “smart regulation”. Of course, our goal is not to impose on all digital actors an indiscriminate and disproportionate normative burden.

Rather, “smart regulation” relies on transparency, auditability and accountability of the largest players, in the framework of a close dialogue with public authorities. With this is mind, France has launched a six-month experiment with Facebook on the subject of hate content, the results of which will contribute to current and upcoming legislative work on this topic.

In the meantime, in order to maintain our influence and promote this vision, we will need to strengthen our technological sovereignty. In Europe, this sovereignty is already undermined by the prevalence of American and Asian actors. As our economies and societies become increasingly connected, the question becomes more urgent.

Investments in the most strategic disruptive technologies, construction of an innovative normative framework for the sharing of data of general interest: we have leverage to encourage the emergence of reliable and effective solutions. But we will not be able to avoid protective measures when the security of our infrastructure is likely to be endangered.

To build this sustainable digital future together, I invite my G7 counterparts to join me in Paris on May 16th. On the agenda, three priorities: the fight against online hate, a human-centric artificial intelligence, and ensuring trust in our digital economy, with the specific topics of 5G and data sharing.

Our goal? To take responsibility. Gone are the days when we could afford to wait and see.

Our leverage? If we join our wills and forces, our values can prevail.

We all have the responsibility to design a World Wide Web of Trust. It is still within our reach, but the time has come to act.

Mounir Mahjoubi is the French Secretary of State for Digital Affairs.

Top Image Credits: Anton Balazh (opens in a new window) / Shutterstock

Who must lead fight against intolerance of migrants ?

Who must lead fight against intolerance of migrants ?

International students: universities must lead fight against intolerance of migrants

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International students are a valuable cultural and economic asset for universities.
Shutterstock

Divya Jindal-Snape, University of Dundee; Bart Carlo Rienties, The Open University, and Jenna Mittelmeier, University of Manchester

What happens when the president of the world’s leading superpower makes inflammatory comments about immigrants and wins an election based largely on a racist and nationalist platform? As we’ve seen over the past two years, his followers feel emboldened and righteous in their discrimination against immigrants, despite their hopes, ambitions and rich personal histories.

Similarly in the UK, after the referendum to leave the EU, some voters felt free to vent their racist views. International students have also been feeling unwelcome due to high tuition fees, tight immigration laws and the introduction of charges to use the NHS.

This has profound implications for the higher education sector, where international students bring numerous social, cultural and financial benefits to their host institutions and country. In the US for example, in 2017-18, there were 1,094,792 international students who contributed US$39 billion to the economy, supporting 455,622 American jobs – equal to three jobs per seven international students.

Yet prejudice against international students is on the rise in the US and the UK. A recent US study found that this prejudice was predicted by support for Trump. Its author suggests that students who champion Trump’s vision of America might see international students through a racist lens, viewing them as unwelcome “others”.

A small study of just 389 home students, it can’t be used to generalise attitudes of all Trump supporters, but it can provide a window on what might be happening on university campuses across the the country where there are international students. And it serves as an important reminder for other countries, such as the UK, to consider how political debate can have an impact on international students.

Dealing with change

Regardless of the political context of the country they choose to study in, international students typically experience many changes, including moving to a new country and city with different educational, social care and health systems. They also face separation from family and friends and the need to make new friends and establish relationships with staff and the local community.

They encounter different cultures and languages, experience new expectations and realities and have to deal with issues such as housing, finances and health care. Most international students not only adapt well to these changes, they thrive. But for some, the challenges can have a negative impact on their well-being – particularly in places which are less than welcoming to international students.

There is a large body of research, including our own highlighting the fact that for international students, mixing with home students can be challenging – even without a political climate that discriminates against them as immigrants. We, and other researchers, have found that most visiting students don’t have much interaction with home students, which can explain why they are often perceived as “other”.

How well students are able to develop academic relationships and social friendships has an impact on their ability to cope with the complex demands of higher education. Some are more at risk in terms of isolation and stress, which can seriously affect their education and well-being. These consequences also come at a cost to the university and the wider community beyond, where positive experiences between different cultures can contribute to more tolerant, inclusive societies.

It is also important to remember that international students choose to go abroad to learn about other cultures, an experience that can also benefit home students. It can lead to a better understanding and appreciation of the world, an ability to think critically and consider different perspectives in their studies. When there is so much to gain, failure to integrate international students is a wasted opportunity for host communities and visiting students alike.

Role of university staff

Academic staff can be one of the most important support networks for international students. In their new environment – cut off from friends and family ties – they often see staff as the most familiar and trusted people, especially before they’ve had a chance to make new friends.

So how can universities encourage and nurture meaningful integration, especially in environments which can be hostile towards immigrants? Our studies have documented the positive impact of authentic group-work activities. By mixing up students’ normal groupings, teachers can influence the academic and social learning of both international and home students.

In the same way, using culturally relevant learning materials, such as books by authors from different countries, exploring topics like international human rights, and using case studies that include international contexts, can encourage students to share their own diverse range of perspectives in inclusive ways.

The responsibility of a university is not limited to just providing a good learning environment – it must provide a good social environment too. Our award-winning research into social transitions of international doctoral students in the UK found that participants wanted staff to see them as more than just students – to see them as human beings first. Mixing socially and sharing cultural events provides an enjoyable social setting for students and staff to get together, helps to break down stereotypes and enhances understanding of different cultures.

In a climate of rising intolerance across the world, it is more important than ever that universities step up and lead by example when it comes to being inclusive.The Conversation

Divya Jindal-Snape, Professor of Education, Inclusion and Life Transitions, University of Dundee; Bart Carlo Rienties, Professor of Learning Analytics, Institute of Educational Technology, The Open University, and Jenna Mittelmeier, Lecturer in Education (International), University of Manchester

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