Leading scholar says region must place more importance on liberal arts, not just science and engineering, to build better societies by Anna McKie could be an unprecedented way of covering the recurring issue of underdevelopment not through traditional knowledge but by using the art and humanities knowledge. Let us see what is proposed as per the very words of a Professor: ‘certification’ mania hobbles Middle East development.
Professor: ‘certification’ mania hobbles Middle East development
April 8, 2021
Students in the Middle East and North Africa are too often more interested in “acquiring” a degree than developing the understanding that should come with it, a leading scholar has warned.
Safwan Masri, Columbia University’s executive vice-president for global centres and global development, said too many young people were steered into courses focused on science and engineering when critical thinking and intercultural understanding were desperately needed across the region.
Speaking at Times Higher Education’s MENA Universities Summit, Professor Masri said future leaders being trained in institutions across the region were “not fully prepared to lead”, the product of “technocratic societies led by a global technocratic class”.
“Students – and the parents who bankroll them – are often more interested in acquiring professional certification than truly understanding the world and the role of an educated citizen within it,” said Professor Masri.
“Here in MENA, young people fortunate enough to attend university are almost unilaterally steered into STEM training.
“But STEM competency is only half of the equation. We need people who also know how to organise societies, articulate and secure alignment on political ideals, and build robust civil societies that expand rights and freedoms to historically marginalised groups.”
Professor Masri, an expert on the contemporary Arab world and the head of Columbia’s study centre in Amman, Jordan, said the solution had to be a greater embrace of liberal arts education across the region.
He acknowledged that this “won’t be easy” because generations of Arabs “have been indoctrinated with hyper-nationalist propaganda, exclusionary rhetoric and dogmatic religious discourse at the expense of critical thinking and questioning skills”.
“Progress cannot be achieved without deprogramming and reprogramming this mindset, to learn to coexist with different points of view and ways of life,” Professor Masri said.
“Unless liberal arts training is more highly valued in this region, the region’s ambitions will be thwarted. We must achieve balance. We must help students – and the parents who fund many of them – understand the crucial interplay between content [of academic training] and context [understanding of society].”
At the summit, held online in partnership with NYU Abu Dhabi, Professor Masri also argued that at a time of geopolitical turmoil and “historic levels of misunderstanding” between countries and the people within them, knowledge diplomacy led by universities “may be our last and best tool if we are to rebuild a broken world”. He highlighted Columbia’s decision to maintain its global centre in Istanbul even in the face of increasing persecution of academics.
“The solution wasn’t to give in, we contended, but to dig in – to support academics and students, to continue to share knowledge,” Professor Masri said.
But Professor Masri expressed concern about the “weaponisation” of knowledge, highlighting that while Gulf states’ attempts to exercise soft power by funding Middle East studies centres in Western universities ostensibly had “no strings attached”, there were “uncomfortable stories” of researchers at these centres coming under pressure after writing about issues such as human rights and democracy.
A better model of knowledge diplomacy, he argued, was that of the Covid vaccines, which were the result of thousands of researchers crossing the globe over decades, generating the knowledge that informed the vaccines’ designs.
“The Covid vaccine represents decades’ worth, perhaps even centuries’ worth, of university-generated knowledge – distilled down to little more than an ounce of liquid, all concentrated in a single shot,” Professor Masri said.
“This medical and scientific breakthrough will reconnect the people of the world.”
Explore the most international universities in the world using data from the Times Higher Education World University Rankings
January 28 2021
Most international universities in the world
Prospective students looking to study in the most international environments in the world should apply to universities in Switzerland, Hong Kong, Singapore or the UK.
Universities, by their nature, are global institutions. Typically, they are home to communities of students and scholars from all over the world, and they tackle some of the globe’s most pressing problems through research.
This table, compiled using the international student score, international staff score, international co-authorship score and international reputation metrics collected for the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2021, shows that the above four countries are home to the some of the most international universities in the world.
These institutions all have a high proportion of international students and staff, collaborate on research with scholars from across the world, and have a strong global reputation to match. Read the full methodology at the bottom of the page.
Research suggests that diverse communities of students improve the teaching and learning experience, while opportunities for students to spend time abroad better prepare them to become global citizens.
The University of Hong Kong has embarked on a mission to become “Asia’s global university”, which includes the goal of giving all its undergraduates two opportunities to study outside Hong Kong during their degree by 2022.
Overall, this Hong Kong university has more than 30,000 students, of which more than 35 per cent are international.
Teaching at the institution is in English and education has an international focus, with the aim of preparing students to become global citizens who could be successful anywhere in the world.
It is no surprise that Switzerland is home to some of the most international universities in the world, given its situation in the heart of Europe, surrounded by France, Italy, Germany, Austria and Liechtenstein.
ETH Zurich is located in Switzerland’s largest city, Zurich, which is known for being very safe (although expensive). The main spoken language is Swiss German, but the university also offers courses in English.
The institution has more than 22,000 students from over 120 countries and is the top university in continental Europe.
The university focuses on teaching and research in the STEM subjects, and 21 Nobel prizes have been awarded to students and teachers connected to the institution. One of the most famous alumni is Albert Einstein.
The University of Oxford is not only the top university in the world, it also happens to be one of the most international.
Over a third of students at the University of Oxford are international students coming from 160 countries and territories. In fact, international students have been attending the University of Oxford for hundreds of years, with the first international student arriving way back in 1190.
Almost half of the staff at the university are also international and the institution has links with many other institutions worldwide.
Prospective international students can listen to the university’s International Students podcast, which talks you through academic and social aspects of being at Oxford.
The data in Times Higher Education’s ranking of The World’s Most International Universities 2021 are drawn largely from the “international outlook” pillar of the THE World University Rankings 2021. This takes into account a university’s proportions of international students, international staff and journal publications with at least one international co-author. Each of these elements is given equal weighting in calculating the score for this pillar.
The table adds a fourth component, which makes up 25 per cent of the total score: a university’s international reputation. This is a measure of the proportion of votes from outside the home country that the institution achieved in THE’s annual invitation-only Academic Reputation Survey, which asks leading scholars to name the world’s best universities for teaching and research in their field.
Only institutions that received at least 100 votes in the survey were eligible for inclusion. Universities must also receive at least 50 or at least 10 per cent of available domestic votes to be ranked.
Metrics and weightings:
• 25 per cent: proportion of international staff
• 25 per cent: proportion of international students
That’s the question Sabrina Burns, a petroleum engineering student got from an Uber driver in 2018. She and some fellow students were headed to a petroleum industry banquet, and at the time it seemed a little silly. While many younger people questioned the wisdom of going into the oil industry, conventional wisdom held that the oil industry is a great career.
While students in other majors and other people she knew questioned the wisdom of being an oil major, her parents persuaded her to stick with the oil industry. Her father, who worked as a helicopter pilot, met a lot of successful women working as engineers on offshore oil rigs. On top of that, older generations probably have a harder time imagining a world in which the oil industry isn’t stable, lucrative, and essential to everyone’s lives.
2020 threw these older generations and any younger believers a curveball, though. “We got a slap in the face, an entirely unforeseen situation that rocked our entire mind-set,” said Ms. Burns when asked about her prospects by Clifford Krauss at The New York Times. “I have applied for every oil and gas position I’ve seen, like all my classmates, and nothing really has turned up. I’m discouraged.”
What was once seemingly invincible was now stumbling and couldn’t be counted on.
The biggest blow to graduating oil students was the sudden drop in oil demand due to the pandemic. Oil products like gasoline and jet fuel weren’t needed nearly as much because people worked from home, many businesses were closed, and travel was avoided. With all of this lost demand despite ample supplies, prices tanked.
With such low demand and low prices, the industry took a big hit. Over 100,000 people were laid off. Workers weren’t needed in the field to pump oil that wasn’t needed, and refineries were closed. Some oil companies even declared bankruptcy.
This stands in stark contrast to the better years, when these students started their college careers. The oil industry and the faculties of colleges felt they could promise great careers, with lots of job security and a good income. Under Donald Trump, shale drilling and “fracking” took off, and the United States became the world’s largest producer of oil. There had been booms and busts in the industry in the past, but those seemed to affect less educated field workers, and not people with engineering or geology degrees.
With these prospects gone, and future climate change issues seeming likely to hurt the industry even after the pandemic is over, oil students are looking at other options going forward. Sabrina Burns told The New York Times that she’s looking to intern in a related but different field, and that she may need to go back to school for a graduate degree in Environmental Science to have a better career. She is even considering moving in with family to make ends meet while recharting a new course for her career.
In the same article, Krauss goes on to interview a number of other students in the industry. Their stories are all pretty similar. Some expect the industry to bounce back, and are biding their time. Others are looking to take on a graduate degree while waiting, but are hedging their bets by majoring in something else for their master’s degrees.
One student actually landed a job, but the company is looking at diversifying to avoid future exposure to what could be a failing industry in future years. He is glad to have found a job, but worries that his education and skills he’s building won’t transfer well to other parts of the energy economy.
Some Things We Can Learn Here
Readers of CleanTechnica are probably having an “I told you so” moment reading this. People following the energy industry could see that renewables, battery storage, and other technologies aren’t competing with oil just yet, but have a much brighter future than oil, which isn’t growing. Oil is still big, though, and has a lot of inertia, so it’s not going away now or even in the next four years under Biden and then likely Harris.
What many (even among us) didn’t foresee was how oil’s newfound weakness would leave it more vulnerable to crises, like the one we currently face with COVID-19. Oil is weakening and growth has less potential than ever, but at the same time it wasn’t shrinking. A sudden jolt in demand for gasoline, jet fuel, and diesel hit them hard, though.
Few people fully avoided the impacts of the tsunami of COVID, but electricity is a lot more diversified. In my home, we use electricity for heating, cooling, and most of our driving. We use it for lighting, entertainment, cooking, and security. The cats and dog even have toys powered by electricity. When we turn on the tap, electric pumps somewhere else in town provide the pressure. LED street lamps light the street in front of our home.
Sure, I drive a lot less now not taking the kids to school, but our overall power bill didn’t take a huge drop.
On the other hand, our use of gasoline took a HUGE hit. In the last nine months, we’ve spent far less than $200 on the stuff. The occasional trip to the next town makes our Nissan LEAF struggle for range, and we’ve driven there on gasoline power only twice. The prior year, we probably did this dozens of times. Trips to see family, where we need to pile the whole family into the family SUV, are also a lot more rare. A tank of gas used to last one to two months in those vehicles, but now last three to four, if not more.
We don’t use gasoline for anything else, so oil companies are taking a much bigger hit than companies involved in electricity generation, whether they’re renewable or fossil fuel-powered. Even when fossil fuels are used to generate, very few power stations run on oil. Natural gas is far more common, and comes from a related but different industry than oil.
Another important lesson we can find here is that it’s wise to question the prevailing narrative. Yes, oil has been very strong in the past, but that doesn’t mean it will necessarily be strong in the future. No industry is a sure bet, but this was an area where generational bias caused parents to mislead their children into a bad career move.
This is no trivial thing. Most of the students will go on to find another career, and some will eventually succeed in oil as the pandemic ends. However, they’ll still have tens of thousands of dollars of debt that they wouldn’t have had, and a harder time servicing that debt than they would have had if their parents had been more forward looking.
Oil is Not Invincible
On the other hand, there’s a silver lining. Seeing oil stumble shows us that it’s not invincible. As Ivan Vanko in Iron Man 2 says, “If you could make God bleed, people would cease to believe in Him. There will be blood in the water, the sharks will come. All I have to do is sit back and watch as the world consumes you.”
If you don’t remember the film, Iron Man (a character partially modeled after Elon Musk) is at the top of the world and the top of his game, giving global leaders security with his unique Iron Man suit. He seemed invincible until someone with his father’s arc reactor technology attacks him, only narrowly losing the fight. Once he didn’t seem invincible, a variety of enemies emerged, including business competitors and government officials who wanted to take him down when he seemed weak.
A similar moment is happening with oil. It seemed like a god, but now it’s a god that failed. Its blood is in the water, and the sharks are definitely circling. It might sound too dramatic to use the imagery of sharks here, but imagine being a student $50,000 in debt with no job prospects. The fear is quite real for some.
Don’t assume that oil is some Goliath that can’t be beat. All it took was a rock in just the right place (COVID-19) to bring him down.
Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to explore the Southwest US with her partner, kids, and animals. Follow her on Twitter for her latest articles and other random things: https://twitter.com/JenniferSensiba
Do you think I’ve been helpful in your understanding of Tesla, clean energy, etc? Feel free to use my Tesla referral code to get yourself (and me) some small perks and discounts on their cars and solar products. https://www.tesla.com/referral/jennifer90562
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the university sector under greater scrutiny. In some cases, this has prompted new conversations about the purpose of higher education. These have included the extent to which universities are upholding their commitment to public service, and whether the current institutional adjustments in universities will change the way higher education is delivered.
But what do students themselves think about what university is for? In 2017-18, my colleagues and I asked 295 students across six European countries – Denmark, England, Germany, Ireland, Poland and Spain – about what they believed to be the purpose of university study. Their responses shed light on the possible future of higher education in Europe.
This research, which forms part of the Eurostudents project, investigates how undergraduate students understand the purpose of higher education. We found that for many students, it serves three particular functions: to gain decent employment, to achieve personal growth, and to contribute to improvement in society.
But there were interesting variations in students’ views, which often corresponded to how much they had to pay for their studies.
The career ladder
The most common purpose of higher education that students spoke about was to prepare themselves for the labour market. Some students stated that a degree was essential to avoid having to take up a low-skilled job. However, many students believed that an undergraduate degree was insufficient for highly skilled or professional employment.
Here, we see a shift from a conception of higher education as an investment to help move up a social class to viewing it as insurance against downward social mobility.
As a student in England said:
I don’t really think there’s much of an option. If you want to get a decent job these days, you’ve got to go to university because people won’t look at you if you haven’t been.
There were some differences across countries. Emphasis on the purpose of university education being preparation for the job market was strongest in the three countries in our sample where students had to make greater personal financial contributions: England, Ireland and Spain.
The students in our study also discussed ideas of personal growth and enrichment. This was the case in all six countries, including in England where the higher education sector is highly marketised. This means it is set up as a competitive market, where students pay tuition fees and are protected by consumer rights legislation, while metrics such as league tables encourage competition among institutions.
Some students emphasised how they were “growing” through the knowledge they were gaining. Others placed more emphasis on aspects of wider learning that they had experienced since embarking upon their degree. This included interacting with a more diverse group of people than they had previously, and having to be more independent.
Students in Denmark, Germany and Poland talked about this kind of growth – which happened outside formal classes – more frequently than students in the other three nations. Notably, in these countries, students make less of a personal financial contribution to the cost of their university study. When this purpose was mentioned by English students, it was associated particularly with learning how to live independently.
Students in all six countries talked about how higher education could improve society. This was brought up most frequently in Denmark, Germany and Poland – where students receive greater support from the government and make less of a personal financial investment to their university education than in the other countries in our sample.
Students tended to talk about their contribution to society by attending university in one of three ways: by contributing to a more enlightened society, by creating a more critical and reflective society, and by helping their country to be viewed more competitively worldwide.
A Polish student said:
[University education is critical to] shaping a responsible and wise society … one which is not blind, which will do as it is told.
Meanwhile, a Danish student commented:
We’re such a small country, we have to do well … we have to do better because there are so many people around the world … we have to work even harder to compete with them.
Only Danish and Irish students spoke about national competitiveness in this way. This is likely to be linked to specific geo-political and economic factors, particularly the relatively small size of both nations when compared to some of their European neighbours and the structure of their labour markets.
It is unsurprising to find that many students across Europe believe that a key purpose of university study is to equip them for the job market, as this is often the common message given by governments.
Nevertheless, as shown here, many students have broader views. They see the value of higher education in promoting democratic and critical engagement, while also furthering collective, rather than solely individual, ends.
The national variation we found also suggests that the enduring differences in funding across the continent may affect on how higher education is understood by students.
Ellie Bothwell on how Turkish refugee academics ‘facing rights violations abroad’ in the Times Higher Education reports that a Study finds dismissed supporters of Academics for Peace struggling to gain residence permits, find work and travel. Here is the story of
Turkish refugee academics ‘facing rights violations abroad’
5 January 2021
Turkish scholars who have had to leave the country are still subject to significant human rights violations from both the regime of their home nation and their new environment, according to a report.
The study from the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (HRFT) is based on interviews with nine Turkish academics who are now living in Germany and France after signing a 2016 Academics for Peace petition that criticised military action in Kurdish regions of the country. They subsequently lost their jobs and were banned from working in the public sector in Turkey.
The research, Violations of Rights Experienced by Dismissed Academics Living Abroad, finds that these scholars are still suffering almost five years later and that the human rights violations they had suffered in Turkey have “acquired a cross-border dimension”.
In some cases, consulates refused to issue academics with new passports because of their dismissal, and they were then unable to apply for a residence permit and became undocumented, affecting their ability to find accommodation and work. Some academics have not been able to travel outside their city of residence for more than four years because of the differing practices regarding residence permits in their new countries or states.
Scholars also spoke about how their treatment had affected their academic work and said that they were particularly afraid of being targeted in classes with large numbers of students from Turkey. Some academics said they had had to stop lecturing because students had complained to consulates that their course content or discussions in lectures amounted to “terrorist propaganda”.
The interviewees highlighted how the stigmatisation of civil servants dismissed in the wake of the 2016 coup attempt was widespread not only in Turkey but also among people from Turkey living abroad. Some scholars said that they were forced to make an effort to conceal their dismissal and had been subjected to threats by neighbours and shopkeepers.
The report adds that the “impact of multiple crises and violations has become far more distressing with the disrupting repercussions of the Covid-19 pandemic”.
“Academics are caught in a cycle of uncertainty due to the difficulty of obtaining residence permits based on employment in their country of residence. The precariousness and deprivation, which is experienced by dismissed academics and their relatives living in Turkey, has also severely affected those living abroad,” it says.
Lülüfer Körükmez, a researcher at the HRFT and co-author of the report, said that the experiences of dismissed Turkish academics living abroad was “a very under-researched, under-observed and under-reported area”.
“People think that when you leave the country then you are OK. But it is not OK because they still have cultural and political connections with the country and they face violations of rights,” she said.
Mehmet Ugur, professor of economics and institutions at the University of Greenwich and a member of Academics for Peace, said that the HRFT report “should put to shame European governments and international organisations for failing to challenge the Turkish government’s authoritarian and warmongering drive that is still costing lives not only in Turkey but also in the region”.
The United Nations (UN) celebrated on May 10th, 2021, the first edition of the International Day of the Argan Tree, an endemic tree in Morocco.
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