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Arab women are thriving in science and math education

Arab women are thriving in science and math education

But, like women elsewhere, they lag when it comes to careers in these fields. As recent research shows, bridging this gap matters not just for women, but for the future of us all. So, how come Arab women are thriving in science and math education? The New York Times tells this story.

IN THE MIDDLE EAST, WOMEN ARE BREAKING THROUGH THE STEM CEILING

Here’s a strange paradox: In the Middle East, where many countries face stark gender inequality, women earn more science and math degrees per capita than their counterparts in the United States and Europe. In fact, up to 57 percent of all STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) graduates in Arab countries are women, according to Unesco.

Compare this with the United States, where women account for no more than 35 percent of all undergraduate degrees in STEM, or even in the European Union, where there are roughly twice as many male graduates in STEM studies as there are female graduates.

On the other hand, take Qatar, a small country with a population of just 2.8 million. The country’s first university, Qatar University, opened its doors only in 1973, with separate faculties for men and women. But by 2012, there were almost twice as many female students enrolled in the university as there were males.

Bolstered by the country’s fervor for higher education, more women are attending Qatar’s private universities — and more are pursuing traditionally male-dominated career paths, including engineering and science. Qatar Foundation’s 3,000-acre Education City campus, home to eleven K-12 schools and nine leading universities — including branches of Georgetown, Cornell and Texas A&M — standing alongside a science and technology park, global innovation forums, a modern art museum, start-up incubators and more.

Many of these Qatari campuses are already drawing much greater percentages of women in their programs than similar ones in the U.S. At Texas A&M University at Qatar, women account for 51.6 percent of all undergraduate engineers — more than double the U.S. national average of 23.4 percent.“For people who have never been to the Middle East, they may well think women here are somehow oppressed, covered up and kept at a different level,” says Lama Al-Oreibi, reservoir engineer at Shell and former student at Texas A&M University in Qatar. “But engineering and science are professions that are looked upon highly in this part of the world. And I was encouraged by my family to pursue this path.”

In contrast to stubborn stereotypes elsewhere, adds Mashael Al-Sabah, a cybersecurity scientist at Qatar Computing Research Institute inside Education City, Qatari people don’t generally perceive men to be better at science and math.

“THE WOMEN IN ENGINEERING AND SCIENCE HERE OUTNUMBER MEN AND, OFTEN, THEY PERFORM BETTER.”

Mashael Al-Sabah

Up to 57%

of all STEM graduates in Arab countries are women.


This sentiment is echoed by Rana Dajani, a Jordanian molecular biologist and associate professor at Hashemite University, who is currently writing a paper about this subject, slated for publication later this year. “[Middle Eastern] women’s attraction to STEM studies is something that runs much deeper than the region’s modern history,” she says. “A theme in Islamic culture is that you are respected for your mind. Therefore, if you go into science, this is something respectful, because it celebrates your mind — and this was the same for boys and girls.”

THE WOMEN CHALLENGING STEM’S STATUS QUO IN QATAR

Arab women are thriving in science and math

From current students to alumni, here are the stories of some women of Education City who have broken through stereotypes in Qatar to pursue their dreams in STEM.

Arab women thriving
Fajer Al Shamari

For 14-year-old Al Shamari, technology “is the solution to everything.” “Take astrophysics, for example. If we have a way to control it, we have a way of sustaining life on Earth without having to go back to traditional ways.”

Now a student at Qatar Academy for Science and Technology, she says she enrolled because the only other STEM school for her age group in Qatar is an all-boy school. “Here, everyone puts gender aside because that doesn’t matter in education. We all know how to work together,” she says. And for the future? “I want to go to MIT. There was a girl who graduated from MIT who figured out the algorithm for the black hole picture. It’s like a 900,000-line algorithm to figure out where to put the pieces, and I’m really impressed by her.”

“I LOVE SCIENCE AND ESPECIALLY ASTROPHYSICS. PEOPLE ALWAYS LOOK TO THE GROUND FOR SOLUTIONS. WHY DON’T WE LOOK UP?”

Arab women
Alaa Abdalla

As a part of her course, Abdalla, a student at Texas A&M University in Qatar, is currently making an innovative type of low-fuel vehicle — from scratch. But even for a pioneering engineer like her, gender expectations have been hard to escape. “We were taking the car from the garage to the lab,” she says, “and this guy shouted at my [male] friend, saying he should help me carry it!”

The 22-year-old, who is studying mechanical engineering, says she likes that engineering opens up many different areas of work. “I feel that there will always be a need for scientists and engineers. As an engineer, you feel like you’ve got some skills that other people may not have — and I like that.” After graduation, Abdalla is set to start a Ph.D. in Virginia, in the U.S.

“ONE OF THE THINGS I REALLY LIKE ABOUT GOING INTO ENGINEERING IS THAT YOU CAN ACTUALLY GO INTO SO MANY OTHER AREAS. I LIKE THAT IT TRAINS YOUR MIND IN A CERTAIN WAY AND I FEEL THERE WILL ALWAYS BE A NEED FOR SCIENTISTS AND ENGINEERS.”

Arab women are thriving
Lama Al-Oreibi

Al-Oreibi was among the first groups of students to attend Texas A&M University in Qatar. “I wanted to stay in Qatar for university, and Texas A&M was opening here at the time,” she says. “It’s still a male-dominated industry, but in my class there were six girls and five guys, so we had a pretty good head start.”

Now a reservoir engineer at Shell, Al-Oreibi says she’s excited to be a part of the transition toward sustainability in oil and gas. “We have more awareness around our carbon footprint, something that wasn’t as strongly driven when I first joined the industry,” she says. “I’m very proud to be contributing to the global energy supply and doing so in a safe, environmentally friendly manner.”

“WITH SCIENCE, FOR ME, THE SKY’S THE LIMIT. YOU CAN DO ANYTHING WITH IT, AND YOU CAN HAVE AN IMPACT. AT THE END OF THE DAY, I’D LIKE TO THINK THAT WHAT I DO ON A DAY-TO-DAY BASIS HAS A POSITIVE IMPACT ON MY SOCIETY AND THE HUMAN RACE.”

But for Veronica Bermudez, senior research director for energy at Education City’s Qatar Environment and Energy Research Institute, the real issue comes after university, when these highly educated women enter the job force — or rather, don’t. In fact, although Qatar’s female labor-force participation ranks higher than the world average, the proportion of Qatari women in the work force still lags slightly behind that in developed countries. “In the renewable energy sector, for example, the growth expectations in terms of jobs are going to triple in the next 10, 20 years,” says Bermudez. “We really need to engage more females in STEM to be able to address that challenge.”

Despite regional differences in female participation in STEM education, getting more women into science and math jobs remains a challenge across the world. High female participation in STEM education doesn’t necessarily translate into employment. Across OECD countries, 71 percent of male graduates in STEM subjects work as professionals in STEM fields, compared with only 43 percent of female graduates, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Arab women are thriving in science and math education

For Arab women in particular, a number of barriers block them from finding employment in their respective STEM fields: Unesco’s “Science Report: Towards 2030” points to everything from low awareness about what a career in STEM entails to a lack of female role models and a family bias against working in mixed-gender environments. A dearth of suitable positions can hold women back, too. “We simply don’t have a market like Silicon Valley,” says Sana Odeh, clinical professor of computer science at New York University in Abu Dhabi, who’s working on a study on Middle Eastern women’s participation in STEM. “There aren’t thousands of jobs that are opened up by these large companies.”

Then, of course, there are the more universal issues, which for Dajani are every bit as important. “The workplace as we know it today was created around 100, 150 years ago by men, for men,” she says.

“THE FUNDAMENTAL DIFFERENCE IS BIOLOGICAL, EVOLUTIONARY — WOMEN HAVE BABIES AND NEED TO NURSE THEM. AND THE MODERN WORKPLACE DOESN’T FIT THIS.”

Sana Odeh

46%

of the total student body at Texas A&M University in Qatar are women.


Anna Paolini, director of Unesco’s regional office in Doha, agrees. “We see willingness and interest from women to continue working, but once they get married many don’t go back to work, and that’s a loss for the system and for countries as small as Qatar.”

This “loss” that Paolini points to takes a toll on the bottom line, too. A growing body of evidence shows that more diverse organizations enjoy greater creativity, stronger governance, better problem-solving skills — and increased profitability. What’s more, an International Monetary Fund report from this year states that the growth gains from adding more women to the labor force are larger than previously thought — closing the gender gap could increase GDP by an average of 35 percent for much of the developing world.

And nowhere is diversity so valuable as in scientific study itself, according to Andrei Cimpion, associate professor of psychology at New York University, who has conducted studies on gender stereotypes in STEM. “The reality of what scientists do is that they work in teams. They work for socially important goals that help humanity,” he says.

“SCIENCE CAN ACCOMMODATE — AND NEEDS — THESE DIFFERENCES. SCIENCE DOES NOT EXCLUDE NOR DOES IT PREVENT SUCCESS BASED ON PERSONALITY CHARACTERISTICS.”

Andrei Cimpion

43%

of female STEM graduates in OECD countries work in STEM fields, vs. 71% of male graduates.


However, for Bermudez, the costs of a lack of diversity in STEM could be even greater than that. “Men and women see things from a different point of view,” she says. “And if we keep this male dominance in STEM, we are skipping 50 percent of human resources around the world. With a diverse group, you have more opportunities to find the right way to solve problems.”

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Female Unemployment in the Middle East

Female Unemployment in the Middle East

In this OPINION piece, Carmen Haddad wrote on Friday, 23 August 2019, that Companies need to address female unemployment in the Middle East.

The skills gap poses a genuine threat to economic progress and could leave nations stalled, millions unemployed and prosperity dwindling.

Only one in five working-age women in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) has a job or is actively looking for one, according to the World Bank and the region has one of the lowest female labour force participation rates in the world.

If the MENA region continues along this trajectory, it could take at least another 150 years to match the current global average for female labour force participation. 

Despite good progress in some countries, challenges and inequities persist.

Increasingly, there is a realisation that the levels of female unemployment are not simply a mirror of the business cycle, but a persistent structural issue that has distinct causes and requires specific solutions that cut across socio-economic and education policies.

This not only represents a great loss of human capital, but it also seriously hinders the region’s potential for social and economic development.

Across MENA, restrictive barriers including limited mobility, restrictive laws and closed industries, coupled with long-standing political and social issues, continue to impede women’s access to the labour market.

However, one factor that stands out is that education does not always lead to employment. There is a persistent mismatch between employers and jobseekers – whether in terms of skills, attitudes or expectations.

For example, in Saudi Arabia, female enrolment in tertiary education has doubled in the last decade (68.5% in 2017 compared to 34.2% in 2007), but still only two in ten working-age women participate in the labour force.

In Egypt, unemployment among women with advanced education is almost six times that among those with basic education only, according to World Bank Development Indicators. While in Tunisia, only 41% of women are enrolled in tertiary education and they represent just 26.5% of the total labour force in the country.

This skills gap poses a genuine threat to economic progress and has the potential to leave nations stalled, millions unemployed and prosperity dwindling.

I believe that women can be change-makers for the political, economic and social development of MENA.

However, participation from governments, employers and education providers is needed to bridge the gender gap, increase regional output, and put MENA on a more sustainable and inclusive growth path in the long run. 

Companies can do their part by engaging in thoughtful planning, cooperating with others and getting strategic about their staffing practices. This could range from supporting access to soft and technical skills programmes, endorsing philanthropic partnerships, designing policies and spearheading discussions among the education community to pushing inclusive job opportunities.

Over the next decade, it is estimated that 50 million women will come of working age in the region. Therefore, corporations are in a unique position to bring about significant change through empowering a previously untapped human resource.

Despite increased focus and spending over the past decade, MENA governments still have a long road ahead in improving women’s social and political barriers to employment. Without a drastic overhaul of personal development and soft skills programmes, companies will continue to struggle to fill jobs across the region.

The influence and investment of companies is crucial to start to re-shape the position of women across MENA and successfully bring them into the workforce – ultimately shaping a stronger, more inclusive economy.

Carmen Haddad is the Chief Country Officer of Citigroup Saudi Arabia and the Citi Saudi Arabia Business Governance Head. Citi Foundation has partnered with international NGO Education for Employment to tackle the MENA unemployment crisis. 

* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Increase of 5 million out-of-school children

Increase of 5 million out-of-school children

The MENA region according to a UNICEF report, without improved education and meaningful work opportunities will have to face the critical risk of an unprecedented increase of 5 million out-of-school children, and over a 10 per cent rise in youth unemployment by 2030. Xinhua came up with the following article edited by Mu Xuequan.

MENA region faces risk of having 5 million more out-of-school children by 2030: UNICEF

UNITED NATIONS, Aug. 8 (Xinhua) — Without improved education and meaningful work opportunities in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), the region faces a critical risk of an unprecedented increase of 5 million out-of-school children by 2030, according to a United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) report: MENA Generation 2030, which was published Thursday.

MENA Generation 2030 is the first report to make a direct link between investment in children, economic growth and social development.

The report warns that over a 10 per cent rise in youth unemployment by 2030 is expected, if the situation remains unchanged.

According to the report, the region has the highest youth unemployment rates in the world; nearly 15 million children are out of school due to a combination of poverty, discrimination, poor quality learning, violence in schools and armed conflict.

“We are at a serious risk of not meeting the Sustainable Development Goals in the MENA region with devastating consequences on children and young people,” said Geert Cappelaere, UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

“The only way out is through the implementation and budgeting of policies for children, ending violence and armed conflict, having a politically and socially stable environment, and promoting gender equality,” Cappelaere added.

The report urges governments to increase financing for early childhood development, improve basic education and simultaneously nurture the skills needed to match the rapidly changing economy.

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.

Drones for Tunisian  Agricultural productivity

Drones for Tunisian Agricultural productivity

Tunisia Trains first set of Drone pilots for agricultural productivity

By thespecimennews on December 14, 2018

The training which focused on handling, maintenance and the security aspects of flying drones, took place in Tunis from 19-30 November 2018

Eight pilots have successfully passed their drone flight training in Tunisia following a two-week intensive training period organized by the Ministry of Agriculture of Tunisia, the African Development Bank and Busan Techno Park.

The training which focused on handling, maintenance and the security aspects of flying drones, took place in Tunis from 19-30 November 2018.  The eight were the first batch out of 40 candidates selected for the exercise, which envisages training a total of 400 young Tunisians by 2021.

The project will also see the setting up of a training center equipped with training drones as well as computer simulation tools for drone control.  This center is expected to be upgraded to a center of excellence in drone technology.  The training also focused on promoting drone-centered activities in Tunisia in view of promoting efficiency and effectiveness.

“It is very good training.  I want to share my experience. I would like to participate in this project and contribute for the development of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) in my country Tunisia and my region, Africa,” said Lazhar Meskine, an air traffic management engineer, who was among the trainees.

After accumulating 20 hours of flight time and passing the practical flight, they obtained a “Drone Pilot Certificate” recognised by the Tunisian government.  The four best trainees from this first batch will undergo further training for eight weeks to accumulate 100 hours of flight time.  This will make them eligible to take the certification examination and qualify as drone pilot trainers.

The participants were highly enthusiastic about the training.

 “I have also learned many things through Tunisian trainees.  It gives us a great chance to understand the local situation for further projects by using drone technologies,” their instructor, Mr. Yong-ju Seo, added.

The pilot project on the use of drones for agricultural development projects in the Sidi Bouzid region (https://bit.ly/2EoVOWD) (central Tunisia), is financed by a grant from the Korea-Africa Economic Cooperation (KOAFEC) (https://bit.ly/2rze2Nj), under the management of the African Development Bank and Busan Techno Park.  Busan Techno Park has already tested the drones for efficacy in managing similar urban projects.

Korea (https://bit.ly/2EvaqV0) is a leading country in the development and use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) for real-time data collection and processing.  Drones have been used in agriculture to provide fast and accurate data, helping to improve decision-making at all stages of a project, from preparation to implementation and evaluation.

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Should Universities lower entry grades for disadvantaged Students?

Should Universities lower entry grades for disadvantaged Students?

Students from less advantaged backgrounds are grossly underrepresented in Britain’s top universities. This underrepresentation of certain groups is particularly pronounced in highly competitive courses such as medicine. In England, for example, 80% of medical students come from just 20% of the country’s secondary schools. This leads to a profession dominated by certain demographic groups.  So, should Universities lower entry grades for disadvantaged Students?

Paul Tiffin, University of York; Lazaro Mwakesi Mwandigha, Imperial College London, and Lewis Paton, University of York in this article enlighten us on this spiky issue.

A-level results: should universities lower entry grades for disadvantaged students?

File 20180807 191013 1iezppt.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Shuttertstock

This imbalance isn’t just an issue of “fairness” or social equality. It is well established that UK trained doctors from affluent backgrounds are less likely to choose to work in rural or deprived areas. This is especially true in less desirable specialisms such as general practice and psychiatry.

This has left the NHS heavily reliant on the recruitment of overseas doctors to fill such posts. But such staff are frequently recruited from low and middle income countries that can ill afford to lose their own homegrown doctors.

It has been highlighted by Julian Simpson, who has written on and researched the subject, that this “shortage” of doctors willing to work in certain areas stems, fundamentally, from a “lack of alignment between the aims and needs of the NHS and the social and professional aspirations of doctors trained in British medical schools”.

Grade discounts

Recent research shows that, once in university, students from England’s most poorly performing secondary schools generally do as well academically as their peers from England’s highest performing schools. Even if they achieved somewhat lower A-level grades. Similar findings from higher education in general have been reported.

This lends evidence to a fact that seems intuitive. That is, the grades a pupil achieves at A-level (or equivalent) are, on average, at least partly dependent on the school they attend. So, in order to make university admissions fairer, should students who attend schools where pupils generally leave with lower grades, be offered places based on reduced A-level achievement – known as “grade discounting”?

A level playing field?
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Some universities – such as Birmingham, Southampton and King’s College London – have already trialled such A-Level “grade discounting” for medical school place offers for applicants from less advantaged backgrounds. The early evidence from such schemes is that the differences in academic outcomes between students entering with reduced A-level requirements and mainstream entrants are minimal, at most.

At present, it is unclear whether any meaningful differences would exist between qualified doctors who entered medical school via conventional policies or those who had gained admittance via such schemes. After all, people just want to be treated by safe, competent and compassionate practitioners.

Like for like?

But rolling out such an approach on a university wide scale, wouldn’t be a straightforward matter. For a start, there is the issue of how to effectively “contextualise” A-level (or equivalent) achievements. In this way, clear information about how to compare secondary schools would have to be available to university selectors – and such information currently is not always easy to come by. Likewise, for overseas applicants, making comparisons between institutions would be difficult, if not impossible.

Then there is the issue that some pupils from less advantaged backgrounds may not even consider applying for more prestigious or competitive courses at university. So such A-level grade discounting would have to be part of a package of measures to increase universities’ outreach among schools and the dissemination of information to teachers and careers advisers.

Such policies would also be clearly vulnerable to “gaming” from well-resourced families. It is easy to imagine, for example, how some advantaged pupils may be independently schooled until the last couple of years of their education, and for them then to be moved to state schools to take advantage of such admissions policies.

Further afield

In the US, “affirmative action” policies have been used to encourage ethnic diversity within some universities. Such policies have been weighed and tested through the court system. The resulting verdicts make it clear that such approaches to widening participation cannot rest solely on the issue of “moral equality”. Rather, the case has to be made based on the educational advantages of a more diverse population of students.

The most recent US Supreme Court verdict also stressed that any “positive discrimination” in favour of underrepresented groups should also be proportionate and regularly reviewed. This implies that “grade discounting”, involving modest reductions in the A-level requirement for entry to certain courses for certain disadvantaged applicants, if applied with clear objectives and regularly reviewed, is likely to withstand legal challenge, at least in the US.

So while grade discounting is unlikely to cure all the lack of diversity on the most competitive university courses, it may well play a useful role as part of a package of measures designed to widen access to certain professions in the UK.

Paul Tiffin, Reader in Psychometric Epidemiology, University of York; Lazaro Mwakesi Mwandigha, Postgraduate research assistant, Imperial College London, and Lewis Paton, Research Fellow, University of York

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Relevance of Elitist Higher Education in the Middle East

Relevance of Elitist Higher Education in the Middle East

An article written by Lisa Anderson and published on University World News Issue No:443 on January 20th, 2017 elaborates on today situation of the higher education and poses the question of the relevance of elitist higher education in the Middle East’s Arab World.

The MENA region with the Arab world within it has been throughout the years at the forefront of an international movement of universities mainly from the US and the UK branching out into the Middle East.

Historically, Lebanon and Egypt spearheaded this move early on in the 20th century.  With the advent of oil and its ensuing ginormous revenues, countries of the GCC’s followed suit as described on our previous article titled New Universities of the MENA.  Even, French education establishments would not be left behind with the settlement of HEC Paris in Doha.

Most countries however are feeling these days the pinch especially after the drop in oil price related revenues, as reported in the cost of the US education institutions in Qatar.  Moreover, the last factor to perhaps influence one way or another this globalisation of the higher education, would as most would have guessed is the new US president who seems to be quite particular about US work and expertise vanishing overseas.

 

Do foreign universities just serve the global elite?

 

American universities in the Arab world have long enjoyed a good-humoured debate about whether they are in or of the city in which they are located. The American University in Cairo is in the minority; most – the American Universities of Beirut, Sharjah, Kuwait and Iraq, for example – are of their place.

It is not just an American question, although most non-American universities have settled on being in their cities, like the German University in Cairo, while international branch campuses often duck the issue, using a space (NYU Abu Dhabi), colon (Northwestern University: Qatar campus) or an entirely different preposition (Texas A&M University at Qatar).

Beneath the light-hearted terminological dispute is a serious question: what is the place of universities with such explicit international affiliations in the Arab world today?

Where they come from

The oldest of these institutions reflects a missionary impulse: the American University of Beirut began in 1866 as the Syrian Protestant College. Before it was established in 1919, the trustees of the American University in Cairo, or AUC, briefly called it Cairo Christian University. By the time AUC opened, however, the explicitly religious purpose of these universities was already giving way to a secular, if paternalistic, commitment to promoting education for moral character and enlightened citizenship.

The middle of the 20th century saw the establishment of national universities across the Arab world to produce the administrative cadres of new and ambitious states. Private tertiary education was virtually unknown except in Lebanon, and free public higher education became a pillar of the developmental states of the region.

Like the states themselves, however, government universities soon grew inefficient, underfunded and ineffective, failing to meet the needs of the fast growing population. (Ultimately, youth unemployment would be higher in the Arab states than anywhere else in the world, estimated today at more than 30%.)

Private higher education

In confronting this challenge, as in so much else, governments in the region turned to the private sector: 70% of the approximately 600 universities in the region today were established after 1990, and about 40% of those are private, accounting for about 30% of the region’s university enrolments.

And, in the era of neoliberal globalisation, the private sector turned to the world. Thus, many of the private universities in the Arab world advertise themselves as attached to, modelled on, or otherwise associated with international establishments.

In the United Arab Emirates alone, there are nearly 40 institutions that bear names that are identifiably American, European or Australian. Some are cleverly marketed vocational schools and training institutes, but a substantial number are genuine efforts to provide a reasonably good undergraduate education, often drawing on the American liberal arts tradition.

Some aspire to support serious graduate and research programmes, as their efforts to win international – often American – accreditation attests.

Similarly, the establishment of branch campuses, particularly in the Gulf – from the outposts of Carnegie Mellon University’s engineering programmes and Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service in Qatar’s Education City, to New York University’s branch campus in Abu Dhabi, for example – and ambitious initiatives like Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah University of Science and Technology seem to be promising signs of investment in bringing international faculty, curricula, pedagogy and governance practices to education and research in the region.

What they do

Yet, the extent to which these universities could play the catalytic role envisioned for them was always an open question. Obviously, they will never meet the regional demand for literally millions of new university places. Yet, as models for local universities, whether public or private, they often represent technology transfer at its most inauspicious since the barriers to widespread adoption of the purposes, policies, practices and products of these universities are virtually insurmountable.

To start with, the language of instruction in international universities (even the region’s German universities) is English, which both ensures they can recruit distinguished international faculty and restricts their local student applicant pool dramatically. These international faculties, whose reputations rest on the assessments of academic peers around the world, naturally publish their research in English, limiting its exposure in the region.

They strive to meet the specialised standards of their disciplines and fields, selecting research questions and methods with an eye toward academic tastes and techniques, as measured in all-important citation indexes and impact factors, rather than harder-to-measure social value or public consequence.

The universities in turn reward these well-published faculties because their work contributes to raising institutional rankings – and high rankings draw funding, applications, government approvals and international esteem. In the self-contained system of global higher education, it all makes sense.

What they do not do

But from the regional perspective, this also means a chasm between the international institutions introduced to improve higher education in the Arab world and the societies they were supposed to benefit.

In fact, the audience for these universities – their applicants, the visitors to their on-campus art exhibitions and musical performances, the employers of their graduates, their alumni and donors – is a cosmopolitan elite quite distant from the communities outside their walls, more comfortable in New York or London than downtown Cairo or suburban Beirut.

Indeed, because they are often intended to anchor new development – technology hubs, new residential areas, cultural centres – some of these university campuses are closer to the nearest international airport than they are to the urban centres whose names they bear.

And, today, this isolation is exacerbated by the collapse of the popular uprisings of 2011 throughout the Arab world in brutal restorations and vicious civil wars. After all, few host governments want their foreign guests in harm’s way, while among the universities themselves there is little appetite for risk-taking.

Thus, from Cairo to Beirut, Doha to Dubai, universities increasingly look past the region to a global horizon that seems both more promising and less perilous.

Some of the long-established institutions still note their regional foundations: the American University of Beirut declares among its purposes “to serve the peoples of the Middle East and beyond”. The American University in Cairo is “dedicated to making significant contributions to Egypt and the international community […]”. The American University of Sharjah, one of the Emirates’ oldest international universities, is “grounded in the culture of the Gulf region”.

But many others are far less securely anchored in their locale. The American University of Iraq prepares its students for “a modern, pluralistic society and a global environment”. NYU Abu Dhabi equips its students “for the challenges and opportunities of our interconnected world”. The American University of Kuwait simply “enriches society”.

There is much to be said for providing the best possible education for the global elite to whom we entrust our future. But, as our bewilderment about the Arab world today suggests, that education will be incomplete if it is not grounded in – or born of, or even aimed at – the cities and communities where its institutions are located.

Lisa Anderson is former president of the American University in Cairo and senior research fellow at New York University Abu Dhabi.  E-mail: la8@columbia.edu. This article was first published in the current edition of  International Higher Education.

Real Leaders need to make Globalization work for all

Real Leaders need to make Globalization work for all

As we head into 2017, and further to our previous contribution Leadership Priorities in Year 2017 we would like to give this opportunity to our readers to go through this article written by Rawan Al-Butairi, Financial analyst of Saudi Aramco and published on Monday 2 January 2017 on the WEF website.  The author questions leaderships attributes but within the specific Arab context of the MENA countries.  Experience tells us that practitioners love to see what is happening in their domain and for one reason or another do generalise it to all by asserting that Real leaders need to make globalization work for all .  

The above image is of REUTERS/Victor Ruiz Garcia

 

What does leadership really mean? Two things

 

 

 

A young person could almost be forgiven for feeling despair and hopelessness today. Everywhere they look, there is escalating inequality and a lack of opportunity.

In certain regions and countries, the problem is more acute; from hyperinflation and a collapsed economy in Venezuela to an Arab Spring in Egypt which toppled a government but ultimately has yet to improve the lives of ordinary Egyptians. In fact, with a recently de-pegged currency and an IMF bailout, it will ostensibly get much worse there before it starts to get better.

At the time, many pundits argued that the 2011 Arab Spring was about people in the region demanding greater democracy and liberal freedom. However, I think this misses the heart of the problem. At that time, Egypt was still suffering from the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, with important industries such as tourism still far from recovery. Moreover, large increases in food and raw material prices caused a huge trade imbalance (Egypt- as well as Venezuala – is a significant net importer of food).

With the rising cost of food, an unsustainable trade imbalance leading to unaffordable domestic subsidy programs, an overly concentrated economic model susceptible to crippling exogenous shocks, and a growing population to “feed”, the situation mirrored the predictable fall of a neatly stacked set of domino chips. These countries simply ran out of room and ran out of time to modernize their economies to provide opportunities for their growing young population.

Leaders fell back on the status quo, too afraid, too self-interested, or too corrupt to make the difficult trade-off decisions to fix the numerous structural imbalances. These were tragic and epic failures.

In this context, what does responsible leadership mean? While it is tempting to provide the never incorrect “it depends” answer, I believe there are two universal and key themes.

First, globalization, like capitalism, must be effectively managed to be more inclusive. Globalization leads to a bigger overall pie, but responsible leaders must find ways to distribute that pie to more people. Conversely, protectionism and populism to me is just Neo-Luddism, a misguided and ultimately futile tilting against windmills which will only lead to a smaller pie for everyone.

With technological advancement and the oft-touted “knowledge economy” naturally favoring a small group of the highly skilled, government and the private sector can and must do more to even the playing field, including potentially higher minimum wage laws or progressive taxation to fund more targeted and effective social programs. These programs must be financially sustainable, free of corruption, and efficiently enacted.

At a community level, responsible leadership must encourage more volunteerism and gifting – of not just money, but time, knowledge, and mentoring those with less opportunity – and these individuals and institutions must personally lead by example. The leaders and workers of tomorrow need to understand the impact of globalization, both its benefits and its implications, so that workers are motivated to develop competitive skills in an increasingly global and interconnected economy. Inevitably, there will be groups who will be marginalized and unable or unwilling to adapt to this future, and the social programs will need to be creatively designed to reach and help these people.

Second, responsible leaders must have deep social capital, particularly “bridging social capital”. According to Robert Putnam, a political scientist and Harvard Kennedy School of Government professor, bridging social capital builds key networks between different social groups. It allows people from different socio-economic backgrounds, genders, ethnicities and cultures to share and exchange ideas and build consensus among groups with diverse interests.

Responsible leaders must develop empathy and solidarity with all people they serve, so that they will forge collective benefits that enlarge the pie for everyone. Again, volunteerism and community engagement are crucial. Unfortunately, with social media and an overabundance of choice, people are easily conditioned to only seek out interactions with people they “like” or to “friend” people of similar views or backgrounds. This is the exact opposite of the desired outcome, and can lead to irresponsible leaders with low social capital, and low empathy, who see the world as a fixed pie that must be divided up with the largest slice going to themselves and people like them. The future of the world, particularly the one that the young will inherit, must be defined by what we share, not our superficial differences.

So what, again, is a responsible leader?

In summary, a responsible leader to me is person who has abundant social capital, an intrinsic desire to maximize the economic pie to create opportunities for everyone, someone who is able to effectively manage globalization, and looks to build bridges instead of walls. He or she will enable hope to once again flourish within the sea of hopelessness, and turn despair into optimism.

About this article: Rawan Al-Butairi is a World Economic Forum Global Shaper. Her article is one of the short-listed entries in the 2016 Global Shaper essay competition on the theme of responsive and responsible leadership.