Humanity originated on the African continent at least 300,000 years ago. We know from fossil evidence in southern Greece and the Levant (modern-day Israel) that some early members of our species expanded beyond Africa around 200,000 years ago, and again between 120,000 to 90,000 years ago. They likely travelled through the Sinai peninsula, which formed the only land bridge connecting the continent of Africa to the rest of the world, before moving north into a landscape with a Mediterranean climate.
But it was not known at what point humans turned south after crossing the Sinai peninsula, reaching modern day Saudi Arabia. It is also often assumed that they may have taken a coastal route, avoiding the currently harsh desert interior. Previous fossil finds show this was not the case, with humans moving into the heart of Arabia at least 85,000 years ago. Now, new research pushes this date back even further.
Colleagues and I discovered human and other animal footprints embedded on an ancient lake surface in the Nefud Desert in Saudi Arabia that are around 120,000 years old. These findings represent the earliest evidence for Homo sapiens on the Arabian Peninsula, and demonstrates the importance of Arabia for understanding human prehistory.
The Nefud Desert in modern-day Saudi Arabia lies around 500km to the southeast of the Sinai Peninsula. Today, the Arabian deserts are some of the most inhospitable environments in the world. They would form an impassable barrier for prehistoric humans or large mammals. Imagine standing at the foot of a hyper-arid desert equipped with stone tools and not much else. Could you get across? Probably not.
Scientific analysis shows that for most of their recent history, they were climatically similar to today: hyper-arid and impassable. But there is also evidence to show that at certain times in the past, the deserts transformed into savannah-like grasslands littered with freshwater resources. These “green” phases were likely short, probably lasting no more than a few millennia. Nonetheless, they provided windows of opportunity for humans and other animals to move into a new green landscape.
We know from fossil lake sediments that the Nefud Desert was one of those that periodically transformed into a more attractive landscape in the past, and the new footprints prove that early humans took advantage of one such window.
We were able to date the footprints by using a technique called luminescence dating to a period of time 102-132,000 years ago. Based on wider regional evidence for increased rainfall, we suggest they date to a period roughly 120,000 years ago, called the last interglacial.
We know that around this time that vast river systems spread across the Sahara Desert, with Middle Palaeolithic archaeology scattered along them. Other evidence for increased rainfall at this time comes from fossil stalagmites found in caves in desert regions in Arabia and ~500 km north of the Nefud in the Negev Desert. These features only grow in conditions where rainfall is greater than 300mm per year; substantially more than the amount (<90mm per year) they receive today.
While it is difficult to know for sure which species of human left these prints, we think they were most likely left by our own, Homo sapiens. This is based on the fact that Homo sapiens were present in the Levant, 700km to the north of the Nefud Desert, at a similar time. Neanderthals were absent from the Levant in this period and did not move back into the region until thousands of years later, when cooler conditions prevailed. Estimates of the humans mass and statue based on the footprints are also more consistent with our species than Neanderthals.
In addition to human footprints, elephant, horse and camel prints were also found. These footprints, studied in detail by Mathew Stewart at the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology, provide a wealth of new information regarding prehistoric interactions between humans, animals and the environment.
Footprints are a unique form of fossil evidence as they provide precise snapshots in time that typically represent a few hours or days. This is a resolution we do not get from other records. They also allow us to understand the behaviour of their makers, which is something we cannot get from fossils.
This allows us to understand the relationship between humans and other large mammals at a geologically precise moment in time.
Environmental analysis on the lake sediments show that the lake contained fresh “drinkable” water, while the variety of footprints shows that humans, elephants, camels and horses were using this resource at a similar time. Human and large-mammal movements would have been closely tied to fresh water and the pattern of footprints show both foraged on the lake bed when it was temporarily exposed. Humans may have been drawn to the area as they tracked large mammals, who would potentially serve as prey.
Surveys and analysis of fossils recovered from the site also shows that there are no stone tools or butchery of fossils. This indicates that the footprint-makers only very briefly visited the lake, foraging for resources before continuing on their journey.
It is not clear what happened to the people who left the footprints, but evidence suggests that they, along with the other early Homo sapiens explorers, either died out or retreated to more favourable environments as aridity returned to the desert.
Literacy has and will always be a key indicator of progress for nations around the world. It impacts the quality of labour, and therefore the quality of the economy and its resilience as well improving gender equality and industry, innovation, and infrastructure, all of which are Sustainable Development Goals agreed upon by global nations in the UN.
Quality education is not just about schools and formal education, nations strive to make education more accessible, entertaining, and sought after by youth and adults alike. We now live in a world where education is a constant requirement for professionals to stay competitive and keep their skills sharp for a fast-evolving job market too.
Efforts to increase the adoption of long-life learning as a lifestyle has been ongoing across the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region, with efforts such as the Knowledge 4 All by United Nations Development Programme & Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Knowledge Foundation, focused on publishing reports on the status of the knowledge and readiness for the future by nations, as well as encouraging reading through competitions like the Arab Reading Challenge.
A key challenge we hear in our community is reading and learning can be hard to fit into a busy day with responsibilities, it can also feel like a chore. It is no secret that education and publishing still lag behind in technology adoption and maximisation in the region, however, this is exactly where the opportunity lies.
Physical books still represent 60 per cent of all publications sold globally, and while e-books have gained significant market share, it is the audiobook category that witnessed consistent growing quarter-on-quarter since 2012.
Today, there are more than 500 million audiobook consumers around the world according to Deloitte, which predicts that the global audiobooks market will be valued at $3.3 billion by the end of 2020 at its current annual growth rate of 25 per cent.
It, therefore, is no surprise that major publishers are investing heavily in increasing production. More than 60,300 new titles were produced in 2019, an 18 per cent increase from the previous year according to the Good e-Reader Global Audiobook Report 2019. This has already translated into an increase in ad-spend for mobile audio-platforms of 25.3 per cent last year according to iAB’s Annual Internet Advertising Revenue Report.
Dominating the space is Amazon and its subsidiary Audible, the latter captures 27.8 per cent of the global audiobook market, while the former has 16.73 per cent of the market. That’s almost 45 per cent of the global audiobook market controlled by one company.
The global audiobook platforms are still busy capturing and nurturing the market in their key territories, Arabic is not considered a key language, nor are many Asian and African languages, and there lies the opportunity.
EMERGING MARKETS OPPORTUNITY
While the market numbers are all focused and available for developed markets, the opportunity in emerging markets is massive. Here are a few reasons why:
Audiobooks are much lighter on internet bandwidth and usually do not require continuous streaming, therefore they are very compatible for low bandwidth communities.
Audiobooks provide a friendly reading experience for individuals with learning disabilities or deficiencies, allowing them to access knowledge without the limitations of literacy.
Audiobooks are digital products and can reach the most rural areas without being stifled by last-mile delivery limitations or by being exposed to vulnerable supply chains.
Audio content statistics show that consumption is higher in countries with longer commute hours like Egypt and the UAE; a blessing in disguise.
This verifies our mission and excites our team at Kitab Sawti. Archaic copyright & publishing laws are in favour of localisation and segmentation, which is an advantage to emerging markets. We have over the past few years developed, and now host the biggest library of Arabic audiobooks globally.
DOES MENA READ?
According to the Arab Reading Index in 2016, adults in Mena read 17 books a year, lower than their counterparts in emerging markets, but a significant number nonetheless.
While we do not have a recent index to compare, we may consider book fair footfall as an indicator: Riyadh’s International book fair attracted over 1 million visitors in December 2019, while Jeddah’s attracted over 400,000 visitors. Muscat hosted its last book fair just before the global lockdowns in March 2020 and attracted over 770,000 visitors.
Given the impact of the pandemic, it is unlikely that fairs of such a scale will be held in the near future, and so digital and audiobooks are ideally fitted for the “new normal”. The Mena region stands in good stead to take advantage of this with a 64 per cent mobile penetration rate and 57 per cent smartphone penetration rate.
If podcasts can be a precedent or parallel for audiobook consumption in Mena, the future is very bright. According to markettiers Mena 2019 survey, there are approximately 1.3 million regular podcast listeners in the UAE alone.
Online (and mobile) payment is now the last piece of the puzzle to be solved for frictionless conversion. That is a challenge the region has long struggled with but is today the key focus of the public and private sectors in light of recent events.
PANDEMIC, DISRUPTION, ADOPTION
As the world started shutting down due to Covid-19 it became evident that access to the internet is crucial for our survival both in connecting us while physically separated, helping us access information and keeping businesses running.
Online media consumption is up, and so is consumer confidence in digital products and payments. At Kitab Sawti, we have seen the impact of these changes in consumer behaviour first-hand. Our paid subscribers increased by 204 per cent between February and May 2020.
With the efforts of the governments to empower youth, reskill and upskill talent, and improve financial technology adoption, the question is not “will audiobooks grow in Mena”, but “when consumers come asking for it, will you be ready?”.
The mission’s journey to its launch date has arguably been at least as remarkable as the launch itself. With no previous domestic space exploration experience, planetary science capacity or suitable infrastructure, the nation managed to put together a delivery team of 100% local, Emirati staff with an average age of under 35. And setting a deadline of six years rather than ten, as most comparable missions do, it pulled the launch off on time and within budget – now proudly joining the small cadre of nations who have launched a mission to reach Mars.
But given these odds and the fact that Mars missions are notorious for their high failure rates (about 30% since the early 2000s), why did the UAE aim for the red planet in the first place? Space programmes have historically been used as catalysts for geopolitical influence. What’s more, we often think of them as costly endeavours of scientific curiosity, with few immediate and tangible benefits here on planet Earth. Does this reflect the UAE journey?
Space missions typically depart trying to answer scientific questions, before they ask how their value can extend to the society behind it. The Hope mission, however, has inverted this traditional logic. Instead, its conception arose from a quest to fundamentally redirect a nation’s trajectory.
The UAE’s mission has been timed to coincide Hope’s arrival into Martian orbit with the nation’s 50th anniversary as an independent country. Through its design and execution, the mission aims to diversify UAE’s economy from traditional activity, including oil and finance. Instead, it wants to inspire a young Arab generation towards scientific and entrepreneurial careers – and away from other, less societally beneficial pathways.
Hope will also study the Martian atmosphere and gather data to generate the first truly holistic model of the planet’s weather system. The analysis and insights generated will help us better understand the atmospheric composition and ongoing climate change of our neighbour planet.
Lessons for aspiring nations
What could other nations learn from this distinctive approach to space exploration? Can a space mission really transform a national economy? These are the questions at the heart of an external review of the Emirates Mars mission undertaken by a group of researchers at the Department for Science, Technology, Engineering and Public Policy at University College London.
Over the course of five months, we undertook a comprehensive evaluation of the impact and value generated by the mission less than five years after its inception. What we found was that there’s already evidence that the mission is having the intended impact. The country has massively boosted its science capacity with over 50 peer-reviewed contributions to international space science research. The forthcoming open sharing of Hope’s atmospheric data measurements is likely to amplify this contribution.
The nation has also generated significant additional value in logistics by creating new manufacturing capacities and know-how. There are already multiple businesses outside the realm of the space industry that have benefited from knowledge transfer. These are all typical impacts of a space mission.
But while that is where most studies of the value of space missions stop looking for impact, for the UAE this would miss a huge part of the picture. Ultimately, its Mars mission has generated transformative value in building capacity for a fundamentally different future national economy – one with a much stronger role for science and innovation.
Through a broad portfolio of programmes and initiatives, in just a few years the Hope mission has boosted the number of students enrolling in science degrees and helped create new graduate science degree pathways. It has also opened up new sources of funding for research and made science an attractive career.
One of the lessons is therefore that when embedded within a long-term, national strategic vision, space exploration can in the short term generate major benefits close to home. While space may appear to primarily be about missions for science, when designed in this way, they can be missions for national development.
Hope will reach Martian orbit in February 2021. Only then will its scientific mission truly take off. But its message of Hope has already been broadcast.
BEIRUT (Reuters) – One of the Arab world’s oldest universities faces its worst crisis since its foundation, with huge losses, staff cuts and an uphill battle to stay afloat as Lebanon’s economic meltdown and the coronavirus pandemic hit revenues.
The American University of Beirut has graduated leading figures in medicine, law, science and art as well as political leaders and scholars over the decades including prime ministers.
It has weathered many crises, including Lebanon’s 1975-1990 civil war, when a number of staff including two presidents were killed or abducted and a bomb destroyed one of its main halls.
But Lebanon’s problems now may be the biggest threat yet to the institution founded in 1866 by Protestant missionaries. It ranks among the world’s top 200 universities and its collapse would deprive future generations in Lebanon and the wider region of internationally recognized higher education.
“This is one of the biggest challenges in AUB’s history. The country is crashing catastrophically,” AUB President Fadlo Khuri told Reuters in an interview.
With inflation, unemployment and poverty high, many families have little means to cover food and rent, let alone tens of thousands of dollars in tuition fees.
The heavily indebted state, which defaulted on its foreign currency debt in March, owes AUB’s medical centre – which attracts patients from across the Middle East and Central Asia – more than $150 million in arrears, Khuri said.
Government officials have ruled out a haircut on the bank deposits of non-profit universities such as AUB, but Khuri still fears his institution may take a hit if a state rescue plan puts part of the burden on large depositors and includes colleges.
Along with other universities, his school has lobbied the state and, he said, received assurances from the president and finance minister that any such measures would not impact them.
But he remains worried, with government plans for plugging vast holes in the national finances not yet finalised.
Government officials could not be reached for comment.
“We have all this money they (the state) still owe us for the hospital so it’s very hard to rely on well-intentioned people who may or may not have the ability (to deliver),” he said.
The university and hospital expect real losses of $30 million this year after bleeding revenues. For 2020-2021 alone, it projects a 60% revenue reduction from this year, down to $249 million.
FIGHTING TO SURVIVE
The stark revenue forecasts rely on an “optimistic assumption” that the Lebanese pound will stabilize at 3,000 to the dollar, but Khuri has said they do not take into account a possible haircut imposed on AUB’s bank deposits in Lebanon.
Finance Minister Ghazi Wazni has said there will be a shift to a flexible exchange rate in the “coming period”.Slideshow (3 Images)
Khuri said AUB will have to set its own rate in the meantime, taking into account people who have said they can pay in dollars to help cushion the impact of the pound’s collapse on poorer students.
AUB has already lost donations and scholarships it was expecting before the pandemic. On top of benefit and wage cuts, it is studying options such as closing whole departments and halting spending.
In an email to students and families, Khuri promised to work to protect their livelihoods and to raise money via an emergency fund.
“But there is no question that sacrifices must and will take place at every level,” Khuri wrote. “We must fundamentally change in order to survive … Saving AUB must be our only priority. And save it we will.”
University World News in its GLOBAL Edition of 11 April 2020 by Bernard Hugonnier produced Internationalising higher education for a better world. It is always good to remind that the University offers an education that stimulates, fundamentally through training aspirants to careers with specific skills sets. It does, in fact, prepare these aspirants to make their impact, offering training that encourages, leading to careers with the skills to make profound contributions to society. When the background of this happening is widened to the world, some of the intrinsic benefits are enumerated here.
Internationalisation of higher education (IHE) consists mostly of helping students to study abroad. Only 5% are taking advantage of such mobility, which helps them towards a better professional career. Hence, IHE follows a tendency toward a rather elitist model of excellence.
However, excellence can also be of a social nature (allowing students of all social classes to have access to the best training) as well as of a societal nature (helping students become responsible citizens as they are more aware of their responsibilities in civic and environmental matters). It is difficult to dispute that such approaches are at the same time more equitable and more effective to the benefit of the common good in the world.
First, the historical development of IHE and its consequences must be fully comprehended. Originally, universities around the world had few relationships with each other. Higher education systems were thus independent, with only a few students engaged in study abroad.
As student mobility has increased, universities have naturally developed relationships with each other. Higher education systems have become interdependent, opening up a new era, that of the globalisation of higher education.
Finally, as relations between universities (in both education and research) have developed further, higher education systems have converged into a world model: the globalisation of higher education, which has tended to become transnational. It is essential to fully comprehend the consequences of these developments in order to take the appropriate regulatory measures.
A wider perspective
Going forward, instead of focusing solely on economic objectives, the institutional strategies of both countries and higher education must also take into account wider social and societal objectives. This clearly requires a change of priorities.
Both countries and institutions also need to integrate into their decision-making processes the geopolitical and geo-cultural implications of IHE. That means questioning the dominance of the Western model.
At the same time students who have benefited from international mobility tend to occupy the best positions in society. As a consequence, resentments may build towards both the most developed countries and the students constituting the elite of society in these countries. Steps should hence be taken both by countries and institutions.
If the objectives of social and societal excellence are better implemented, IHE could lead to the constitution of “citizens of the world and for the world”.
Internationalisation and global politics
Answers must also be found to the tensions resulting from the fact that IHE is not a phenomenon that is disconnected from the main problems facing economies and societies: the extension of neoliberal globalisation, the growth of economic and social inequalities, the rise of populism and the emergence of illiberal democracies.
As an avatar of globalisation, IHE offers opportunities and risks at an international level as well as for countries and institutions. For example, at the international level, opportunities for IHE include the improvement of the quality of higher education in the world, the development of a global knowledge society and the global development of international standards in the field of quality assurance and that of intellectual property protection.
The main risks are the globalisation of curricula, an asymmetry in the benefits of IHE in favour of developed countries and a standardisation of ways of thinking.
Countries and institutions should hence take steps to seize opportunities and limit risks.
Finally, measures must be taken to make internationalisation accessible to a much larger number of students in the world.
International higher education has important consequences for students: those who have benefited from mobility acquire an intercultural competence and professional skills which increase their employability and their potential for success. They also benefit from the development of their own personal skills thanks in particular to greater adaptability and autonomy.
Similar results can be achieved without mobility, by making students interact more with students from different countries than their own and by internationalising programmes, curricula and pedagogies.
Obviously less expensive, this so-called ‘internationalisation at home’ is of a more social nature and allows more students to benefit from the effects of internationalisation. Here, more research should be carried out to better understand the effects of this alternative internationalisation and to identify the measures to be taken to make it more effective.
An irreversible phenomenon
International higher education is an irreversible phenomenon. Everything must therefore be done to help it achieve greater social and societal excellence. Measures must be taken by countries and institutions.
In addition, more research is required to achieve a better understanding of the phenomenon, its modes of operation and expansion and all of its consequences. To discern the future of international higher education, several methods can be used, whether they relate to prediction, forecasting or prognosis.
If international higher education as currently carried out could benefit more students, it would only do so to a limited extent and it will not have a big societal impact. Internationalisation should therefore be actively developed at home, which is a less expensive and more effective means of achieving social and societal excellence to the benefit of higher education in the world.
Bernard Hugonnier is maître de conférences at Sciences Po, former joint director of education at the OECD and co-director of the École et République du Collège des Bernardins in France. This paper benefited from comments from Stamenka Uvalic-Trumbic.
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.
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