This article is part of a series on academic freedom where leading academics from around the world write on the state of free speech and inquiry in their region.
Last year I was imprisoned for nearly seven months in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). I was held predominantly in solitary confinement, endured heavy interrogations, with my human rights violated on a daily basis.
During my imprisonment, I was force fed drugs, battled depression and thoughts of self-harm. Later, having endured nearly half a year of isolation and mistreatment, I wrestled with thoughts of suicide.
Eventually, in a trial lacking all due process and disregard for international legal standards, I was handed a life sentence. My crime? Undertaking academic research for my doctoral thesis.
My research examines the evolving national security strategy of the UAE, and my knowledge has evolved from years of professional work and research in the UAE and the wider Middle East and North Africa.
I had no reservations about conducting research in the UAE. And I underwent a rigorous ethical and fieldwork assessment and was sure to follow established protocols before and during my trip.
I complied with the university’s requirement to remove all Emirati research subjects as it was assessed that these nationals would not be safe nor trusted when engaging in security-related academic research. And I was happy to go along with the university and the third-party risk firm employed to assess any other risks for researchers travelling overseas. But unfortunately, as my experience proved, this was simply not enough to protect me or my integrity as an academic.
A vulnerable position
It became clear there was a lack of understanding by the Emirati authorities about what a legitimate academic is, and about how research is carried out. Standard actions needed to complete field research – such as interviewing sources, researching books, articles and maps along with taking notes – were very quickly taken out of context and distorted by the UAE security authorities. I routinely battled to explain how information cited in my thesis was referenced from publicly available academic books and not from “secret intelligence sources” as the interrogators would often claim.
Following my release, I have had the opportunity to reflect upon my experience. I have also been lucky to travel to academic institutions in the UK and US to discuss the ramifications of my experience upon academic research.
When discussing how academic fieldwork actually works, my main observation has been that beyond the academic community, there is a very limited understanding of what academic research actually consists of. As such, there is little understanding of the risks it entails.
This leaves academics engaging in fieldwork research in a particularly vulnerable position. It can even lead to a situation, like in my case, where their integrity and legitimacy as an academic is under question.
Indeed, I believe that this lack of information on academic practice exacerbated my situation. Trying to speak reason to the authorities holding me captive, and to those with the power to intervene diplomatically and politically on my behalf, went nowhere. And baseless accusations cast a shadow of doubt upon the legitimacy of my work.
Safety and security
For researchers and academics at all levels, the problem of misinformation has consequences extending to the very institutions to which they are affiliated. My experience demonstrates how bureaucracy-led universities are not equipping their students and staff with the appropriate skills and competencies needed to undertake their job in today’s world. Ultimately, effective instructions for fieldwork safety and security are lacking. Furthermore, as the technical capabilities of many states improve, there is an increased risk of deployed researchers falling victim to surveillance and unjust prosecution.
Another issue widely under-reported is that while researchers may be somewhat supported by their university, their human subjects are not. This leaves many academics, including myself, questioning whether it’s even possible or ethical to engage in fieldwork in the current age.
Having heard testimony from academics with diverse research backgrounds, it is abundantly clear that my experience was not isolated. Hundreds of scholars around the world are targeted and prosecuted for their research. Yet, while their cases are of great concern within the academic community, they continue to rest dormant in the public eye, the political arena and higher education boards.
If academics and universities are to continue to contribute to the generation of knowledge, then research practice and its risks must be acknowledged and respected. The freedom to research is paramount for knowledge creation. And if it is not protected, we risk being accomplices to those who wish to silence us.
So vital is education to the future of society, billionaire Jack Ma has just stepped down from Alibaba to focus on it. But does it matter where you go to be educated?
The former teacher, who studied for a BA in English at Hangzhou Normal University, told the World Economic Forum he was rejected from Harvard Business School 10 times, but it didn’t deter him from building a world-beating company.
Asia’s top two universities – Tsinghua (23rd) and Peking (24th) – are both in mainland China. With 81 institutions, China is also the fourth most-represented nation in the list for the fourth year in a row.
The ‘THE’ says: “Overall, China’s universities have improved in the areas of citation impact, share of international staff and share of international co-authorship over the past year, driven by higher levels of funding.”
There are 11 more Iranian universities ranked this year, taking its total up to 40, and new regions whose institutions join the list for the first time this year include Brunei, Cuba, Malta, Montenegro, Puerto Rico and Vietnam.
These are the top five:
1. University of Oxford
Topping the rankings for the fourth year in a row, Oxford prides itself on having an ‘international character’. It’s first overseas student, Emo of Friesland, was enrolled in 1190. Today, 40% of its faculty are from overseas.
Among its famous alumni are 30 modern world leaders, including Bill Clinton, Indira Ghandi and the current British prime minister, Boris Johnson.
2. California Institute of Technology
Despite having an unusual anti-growth model, Caltech has risen three places to take the second spot this year, thanks to an improvement in its score for international staff.
“We try to get better, not bigger,” says its president, Thomas F. Rosenbaum.
Along with MIT, it’s one of just two institutions in the ranking to achieve a score of more than 80 out of 100 in all five areas: teaching, research, citation impact, knowledge transfer and international outlook.
3. University of Cambridge
Like Oxford, Cambridge is a ‘good all-rounder’, but this year it slips from second to third place. It’s called home by more than 18,000 students – including 4,000 international students from more than 120 countries.
It also boasts more than 100 libraries, which hold 15 million books.
4. Stanford University
Stanford has also dropped one place this year, to fourth.
Like the other two US institutions in the top 5, MIT and Caltech, is known for its technology focus.
THE says: “Companies founded by Stanford affiliates and alumni generate more than $2.7 trillion annual revenue – which would be the 10th largest economy in the world.”
Among them are Google, Nike, Netflix, Hewlett-Packard and Instagram.
5. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
MIT rounds off the top five this year. Major scientific discoveries and advances accredited to the university include the development of radar, the first chemical synthesis of penicillin, the discovery of quarks, and the invention of magnetic core memory, which enabled the development of digital computers.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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
Westford University College
Heriot Watt University Dubai Campus
Al Ain University of Science and Technology
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
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
Please note that this article is not a ranking and has been published in random order.
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.
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.