MENA region enjoys less academic freedom

MENA region enjoys less academic freedom

The MENA region enjoys less academic freedom and it was copiously reported here and there. The countries students’ limitations in academic research study fields ranging from architecture to filmmaking were known for some time. The comparatively limitless European and American universities atmospheres were as always unattainable in terms of openings or ease of integration. Al Fanar Media produced this article by Burton Bollag to confirm that the MENA region enjoys less academic freedom, highlighting the centrally related and common freedom of speech and thoughts problematics. 

Arab Region Scores Lowest in the World for Academic Freedom

16 Mar 2021

MENA region enjoys less academic freedom
The Academic Freedom Index paints a troubling picture of the state of academic freedom in the Arab world. Most Arab countries ranked in the report’s two lowest categories, those with the most severe restrictions (Illustration: Shutterstock).

Scholars and students in the Arab region enjoy less academic freedom than their counterparts elsewhere in the world, the second annual Academic Freedom Index 2020 found.

“If you compare world regions, the MENA region scores worse than others,” said Ilyas Saliba, a researcher at the Global Public Policy Institute, in Berlin, and one of the report’s authors.

He was speaking at a virtual news conference to launch the report on March 11.

“There are a few bright spots, like Tunisia,” he said. A guarantee of academic freedom was included in the country’s rewritten 2014 constitution, making Tunisia the only Arab country to enshrine that right in its basic law. 

But overall, the situation in the Arab region is deeply troubling.

The index assesses academic freedom in 175 countries and territories worldwide, placing each in a category going from A, indicating complete freedom of research and teaching, to E, indicating the least academic freedom.

High Marks for Tunisia

Tunisia is the only Arab country in Category A. Category B, indicating a few restrictions, includes Lebanon, the West Bank and the Comoros. Category C, indicating moderate restrictions, includes Kuwait, Libya, Gaza, Morocco, Somalia and Sudan.

The majority of the Arab countries are in Category D or E, indicating severe or complete restrictions, and university teachers and students in those countries face expulsion, jail, or worse if they carry out unwelcome research or express views unpopular with the authorities. 

This is the second yearly installment of the Academic Freedom Index. The project was jointly developed by researchers from Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg in Germany, the V-Dem Institute at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, and the Global Public Policy Institute in Berlin, working in close cooperation with the Scholars at Risk Network, based at New York University.

“In the longer term we could still see a more drastic impact. For example: self-censorship in digital teaching.”

Katrin Kinzelbach  A professor at Germany’s Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg and one of the report’s authors

The index is compiled from five indicators: (1) freedom to research and teach, (2) freedom of academic exchange and dissemination, (3) institutional autonomy, (4) campus integrity, and (5) freedom of academic and cultural expression. The indicators are assessed by some 2,000 experts, typically academics in the countries being evaluated.

The index can be explored with a powerful graphing visualization tool that can show academic freedom trends over time within a single country or a region.

Particularly sharp deterioration in academic freedom has taken place in Egypt, especially after Abdel Fattah al-Sisi seized power in 2013, and in Turkey after the failed 2016 coup. 

Many campuses have been closed during the past year due to the coronavirus pandemic. The impact on academic freedom appears less than was feared, the report’s authors say, but the potential for surveillance of online education is troubling.

Self-Censorship Concerns

“In the longer term we could still see a more drastic impact,” said Katrin Kinzelbach, a professor at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg and one of the report’s authors. “For example: self-censorship in digital teaching.”

Globally, the index finds that from 2019 to 2020, the countries that experienced the largest declines in academic freedom were Belarus, Hong Kong, Sri Lanka and Zambia.

Countries experiencing the largest decline in academic freedom over the past five years were: Brazil, Colombia, Hong Kong, Nicaragua, Turkey and Zambia.

Countries that experienced the largest improvement in academic freedom over the past five years were: Gambia, Kazakhstan, the Maldives, North Macedonia and Sudan.

Universities in the oil-rich Gulf states “are modern and engage in international partnerships. But it is in the context of particularly brutal repression of any forms of dissent,” both on and off campuses.

Laurie A. Brand  A professor at the University of Southern California

Still, said report co-author Kinzelbach, “overall we found that only about 20 percent of the world’s population lives in countries where academic freedom is well protected.”

Does a lack of academic freedom really matter? The report argues that it does. “Academic freedom is essential to top-quality teaching and research, which are themselves essential to national competitiveness in a global knowledge economy.”

Which is why the report’s authors argue that the index’s country scores should be used to improve established university rankings. “At present,” the report says, “leading rankings narrowly define academic excellence and reputation as a function of outputs. … They thereby mislead key stakeholders and make it possible for repressive state and higher education authorities to restrict academic freedom without incurring a reputational loss.”

In an essay titled “Why University Rankings Must Include Academic Freedom,” published in University World News, the authors state, “Prior to 2020, ranking companies might have been forgiven for not including academic freedom in their systems. No longer.”

A lack of academic freedom is often associated with countries in conflict, such as Syria, which has one of the lowest ratings in the index. Yet the index presents some surprises. Libya, for example, which is mired in a civil war between two competing governments, ranks in the C, or middle, category.

At the same time, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, three affluent and rapidly modernizing Gulf states, are in Category E, the lowest level.

“It’s paradoxical,” comments Laurie A. Brand, a professor at the University of Southern California and chair of the Middle East Studies Association’s Committee on Academic Freedom. Universities in those oil-rich Gulf states “are modern and engage in international partnerships. But it is in the context of particularly brutal repression of any forms of dissent,” both on and off campuses. 

Most international universities in the world

Most international universities in the world

Explore the most international universities in the world using data from the Times Higher Education World University Rankings

January 28 2021

Most international universities in the world

Prospective students looking to study in the most international environments in the world should apply to universities in Switzerland, Hong Kong, Singapore or the UK. 

Universities, by their nature, are global institutions. Typically, they are home to communities of students and scholars from all over the world, and they tackle some of the globe’s most pressing problems through research.

This table, compiled using the international student score, international staff score, international co-authorship score and international reputation metrics collected for the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2021, shows that the above four countries are home to the some of the most international universities in the world.

These institutions all have a high proportion of international students and staff, collaborate on research with scholars from across the world, and have a strong global reputation to match. Read the full methodology at the bottom of the page. 

Research suggests that diverse communities of students improve the teaching and learning experience, while opportunities for students to spend time abroad better prepare them to become global citizens.


International student experience

Life as an international student at EPFL, Switzerland
International perspective: an Indian student in the UK during the Covid-19 pandemic
Discovering my passion at the University of Hong Kong
International perspective: students from Hong Kong in the UK

International perspective: a Chinese student in New Zealand
International perspective: a French student in Switzerland
A day in the life of a student in Singapore


Top five most international universities in the world

1. University of Hong Kong

The University of Hong Kong has embarked on a mission to become “Asia’s global university”, which includes the goal of giving all its undergraduates two opportunities to study outside Hong Kong during their degree by 2022.

Overall, this Hong Kong university has more than 30,000 students, of which more than 35 per cent are international.

Teaching at the institution is in English and education has an international focus, with the aim of preparing students to become global citizens who could be successful anywhere in the world.

2. ETH Zurich

It is no surprise that Switzerland is home to some of the most international universities in the world, given its situation in the heart of Europe, surrounded by France, Italy, Germany, Austria and Liechtenstein. 

ETH Zurich is located in Switzerland’s largest city, Zurich, which is known for being very safe (although expensive). The main spoken language is Swiss German, but the university also offers courses in English.

The institution has more than 22,000 students from over 120 countries and is the top university in continental Europe. 

The university focuses on teaching and research in the STEM subjects, and 21 Nobel prizes have been awarded to students and teachers connected to the institution. One of the most famous alumni is Albert Einstein.

3. Chinese University of Hong Kong

Students from more than 50 countries study at the Chinese University of Hong Kong

The university has exchange partnerships with more than 282 institutions in 36 countries and regions. Some 6,000 students study abroad or take part in a learning abroad programme or internship.


Applying to university overseas 

How international students use social media to choose a UK university
Applying to university overseas: what to consider
Applying through Ucas as an international student
A guide for international students choosing a university in Australia
Hoping to apply to a US university as a foreign student?
How to choose a UK university
The cost of studying at a university in the UK
Nine tips for students studying abroad for the first time


4. University of Oxford

The University of Oxford is not only the top university in the world, it also happens to be one of the most international. 

Over a third of students at the University of Oxford are international students coming from 160 countries and territories. In fact, international students have been attending the University of Oxford for hundreds of years, with the first international student arriving way back in 1190.

 Almost half of the staff at the university are also international and the institution has links with many other institutions worldwide. 

Prospective international students can listen to the university’s International Students podcast, which talks you through academic and social aspects of being at Oxford. 

5. Imperial College London

Imperial College London focuses teaching and learning around science, engineering, medicine and business. 

More than 60 per cent of students are international, with undergraduates coming from over 125 countries. 

Clubs and support services with an international focus at Imperial College include International Medical Careers and the Indian National Student Association. 


Most international universities in the world 2021

Click each institution to view its World University Rankings 2021 profile

International Rank 2021International Rank 2020World University Rank 2021University Country/region
1239University of Hong KongHong Kong
2314ETH ZurichSwitzerland
3556Chinese University of Hong KongHong Kong
471University of OxfordUnited Kingdom
5611Imperial College LondonUnited Kingdom
6725National University of SingaporeSingapore
796University of CambridgeUnited Kingdom
817155Trinity College DublinRepublic of Ireland
91047Nanyang Technological University, SingaporeSingapore
101216UCLUnited Kingdom
1113164University of ViennaAustria
12NR78Delft University of TechnologyNetherlands
131135King’s College LondonUnited Kingdom
1413147University of AucklandNew Zealand
151659Australian National UniversityAustralia
151527London School of Economics and Political ScienceUnited Kingdom
171834University of British ColumbiaCanada
181930University of EdinburghUnited Kingdom
192073University of ZurichSwitzerland
202377University of WarwickUnited Kingdom
212267UNSW SydneyAustralia
222440McGill UniversityCanada
232551University of ManchesterUnited Kingdom
232131University of MelbourneAustralia
2530149Durham UniversityUnited Kingdom
26285Massachusetts Institute of TechnologyUnited States
272662The University of QueenslandAustralia
283666University of AmsterdamNetherlands
293084University of CopenhagenDenmark
303318University of TorontoCanada
312964Monash UniversityAustralia
322751University of SydneyAustralia
333287École PolytechniqueFrance
34NR80University of GroningenNetherlands
3537201–250Aalto UniversityFinland
363870Leiden UniversityNetherlands
37394California Institute of TechnologyUnited States
38NR69McMaster UniversityCanada
3939155University of Cape TownSouth Africa
40NR103Lund UniversitySweden
4143127University of OsloNorway
41422Stanford UniversityUnited States
43463Harvard UniversityUnited States
43419Princeton UniversityUnited States
4545106Aarhus UniversityDenmark
466275Utrecht UniversityNetherlands
474428Carnegie Mellon UniversityUnited States
474817Columbia UniversityUnited States
494745KU LeuvenBelgium
504938Georgia Institute of TechnologyUnited States
5153111Uppsala UniversitySweden
5255116Vrije Universiteit AmsterdamNetherlands
53NR183Stockholm UniversitySweden
5458301–350University of MalayaMalaysia
554946Paris Sciences et Lettres – PSL Research University ParisFrance
5651118Free University of BerlinGermany
57567University of California, BerkeleyUnited States
586012Johns Hopkins UniversityUnited States
595419Cornell UniversityUnited States
605210The University of ChicagoUnited States
616141Technical University of MunichGermany
625894Purdue University West LafayetteUnited States
6364124Rice UniversityUnited States
645780Humboldt University of BerlinGermany
64NR401–500Technion Israel Institute of TechnologyIsrael
66658Yale UniversityUnited States
676698University of California, IrvineUnited States
687226New York UniversityUnited States
696968University of California, Santa BarbaraUnited States
706787Sorbonne UniversityFrance
716342Heidelberg UniversityGermany
7168201–250Karlsruhe Institute of TechnologyGermany
737354Boston UniversityUnited States
747664University of California, DavisUnited States
757315University of California, Los AngelesUnited States
757032LMU MunichGermany
7771103Ghent UniversityBelgium
78NR78University of TübingenGermany
79NR401–500Charles University in PragueCzech Republic
79NR136University of ParisFrance
818013University of PennsylvaniaUnited States
827833University of California, San DiegoUnited States
838298University of HelsinkiFinland
848920Duke UniversityUnited States
857553University of Southern CaliforniaUnited States
8885201–250University of MassachusettsUnited States
8683114University of BonnGermany
8678105Michigan State UniversityUnited States
888861Brown UniversityUnited States
9087107RWTH Aachen UniversityGermany
91NR198University of BarcelonaSpain
928324Northwestern UniversityUnited States
9380201–250Hebrew University of JerusalemIsrael
9491184Arizona State University (Tempe)United States
95104174Lomonosov Moscow State UniversityRussian Federation
9595301–350North Carolina State UniversityUnited States
9790191Tel Aviv UniversityIsrael
999380Ohio State University (Main campus)United States
100112101Sungkyunkwan University (SKKU)South Korea
1019822University of Michigan-Ann ArborUnited States
1029785Emory UniversityUnited States
989429University of WashingtonUnited States
103100167University of BolognaItaly
1059648University of Illinois at Urbana-ChampaignUnited States
11198166Rutgers, the State University of New JerseyUnited States
103102197Texas A&M UniversityUnited States
10610750Washington University in St LouisUnited States
107103501–600Tomsk State UniversityRussian Federation
107101201–250Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State UniversityUnited States
109108801–1000National Autonomous University of MexicoMexico
109104170University of Notre DameUnited States
11310923Peking UniversityChina
112106140Indiana UniversityUnited States
11411094Zhejiang UniversityChina
115113131University of Colorado BoulderUnited States
115115187Yonsei University (Seoul campus)South Korea
117114201–250Sapienza University of RomeItaly
118NR401–500National Research Nuclear University MEPhIRussian Federation
11811749University of Wisconsin-MadisonUnited States
120110114Penn State (Main campus)United States
121119201–250Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology (MIPT)Russian Federation
122NR401–500Tongji UniversityChina
123NR801–1000University of WarsawPoland
124NR351–400East China Normal UniversityChina
125123117University of Virginia (Main campus)United States
126122167Korea UniversitySouth Korea
12712190University of Maryland, College ParkUnited States
127128133University of Pittsburgh-Pittsburgh campusUnited States
129120501–600Complutense University of MadridSpain
130126401–500University of GeorgiaUnited States
131118111Nanjing UniversityChina
13212536The University of TokyoJapan
133124124University of ArizonaUnited States
13412920Tsinghua UniversityChina
135127100Shanghai Jiao Tong UniversityChina
13613185University of MinnesotaUnited States
137131152University of FloridaUnited States
13812944University of Texas at AustinUnited States
139140801–1000Waseda UniversityJapan
14014156University of North Carolina at Chapel HillUnited States
140149201–250Tohoku UniversityJapan
142136111Vanderbilt UniversityUnited States
14314554Kyoto UniversityJapan
14413870Fudan UniversityChina
14513997National Taiwan University (NTU)Taiwan
146142301–350Beijing Normal UniversityChina
146137301–350Tokyo Institute of TechnologyJapan
148135101Dartmouth CollegeUnited States
14914460Seoul National UniversitySouth Korea
150133401–500University of TsukubaJapan
151145501–600Hokkaido UniversityJapan
15114896Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST)South Korea
153150251–300HSE UniversityRussian Federation
154152351–400Osaka UniversityJapan
155150401–500Kyushu UniversityJapan
156153201–250University of São PauloBrazil
157157401–500Xi’an Jiaotong UniversityChina
158155601–800Saint Petersburg State UniversityRussian Federation
159157401–500Harbin Institute of TechnologyChina
159143601–800Novosibirsk State UniversityRussian Federation
161156351–400National Tsing Hua UniversityTaiwan
162163351–400Nagoya UniversityJapan
163159501–600National Chiao Tung UniversityTaiwan
164145301–350Wuhan UniversityChina
165160251–300Sun Yat-sen UniversityChina
166161501–600National Cheng Kung University (NCKU)Taiwan
167NR401–500Tianjin UniversityChina
168154151Pohang University of Science and Technology (POSTECH)South Korea
169164401–500University of CampinasBrazil
170162601–800Keio UniversityJapan
17116587University of Science and Technology of ChinaChina
172170301–350Indian Institute of ScienceIndia

Methodology

The data in Times Higher Education’s ranking of The World’s Most International Universities 2021 are drawn largely from the “international outlook” pillar of the THE World University Rankings 2021. This takes into account a university’s proportions of international students, international staff and journal publications with at least one international co-author. Each of these elements is given equal weighting in calculating the score for this pillar.

The table adds a fourth component, which makes up 25 per cent of the total score: a university’s international reputation. This is a measure of the proportion of votes from outside the home country that the institution achieved in THE’s annual invitation-only Academic Reputation Survey, which asks leading scholars to name the world’s best universities for teaching and research in their field.

Only institutions that received at least 100 votes in the survey were eligible for inclusion. Universities must also receive at least 50 or at least 10 per cent of available domestic votes to be ranked.

Metrics and weightings:

• 25 per cent: proportion of international staff

• 25 per cent: proportion of international students

• 25 per cent: international co-authorship

• 25 per cent: international reputation


World Science Day for Peace and Development, 10 November

World Science Day for Peace and Development, 10 November

This year, the United Nations, at a time when the world is struggling with the global COVID-19 pandemic, says that 10 November, will be the focus of World Science Day for Peace and Development on “Science for and with Society in dealing with the global pandemic.”

Established by UNESCO in 2002, the World Science Day for Peace and Development is an annual event that takes place on the 10th of November: all about STEM.

Electric cars line up at the official start of the Zero Emissions Race outside the United Nations Office at Geneva (UNOG), Switzerland.Electric cars line up at the official start of the Zero Emissions Race outside the United Nations Office at Geneva (UNOG), Switzerland.PHOTO:UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

Celebrated every 10 November, World Science Day for Peace and Development highlights the significant role of science in society and the need to engage the wider public in debates on emerging scientific issues. It also underlines the importance and relevance of science in our daily lives.

By linking science more closely with society, World Science Day for Peace and Development aims to ensure that citizens are kept informed of developments in science. It also underscores the role scientists play in broadening our understanding of the remarkable, fragile planet we call home and in making our societies more sustainable.

The Day offers the opportunity to mobilize all actors around the topic of science for peace and development – from government officials to the media to school pupils. UNESCO strongly encourages all to join in celebrating World Science Day for Peace and Development by organizing your own event or activity on the day.

2020 Theme: Science for and with Society

This year, at a time when the world is struggling with the global COVID-19 pandemic, the focus of World Science Day is on “Science for and with Society in dealing with the global pandemic.”

Throughout this unprecedented health crisis, UNESCO, as the UN Agency with the field of science in its mandate, has endeavoured to bring science closer to society and to bolster the critically needed international scientific collaborations. From the science perspective, UNESCO’s response to COVID-19 is structured around three major pillars: promoting international scientific cooperation, ensuring access to wate,r and supporting ecological reconstruction.

To celebrate the 2020 World Science Day, UNESCO is organizing an online roundtable on the theme of “Science for and with Society in dealing with COVID-19.”

Join the conversation with the hashtags #ScienceDay.

World Science Day for Peace and Development, 10 November

COVID-19 response demands better use of science and technology

The response to the COVID-19 pandemic requires a far more collaborative relationship between scientists and policymakers, and the fruits of scientific research, including potential vaccines, must be shared universally. LEARN MORE!

Background

The organization of a focused event related to the commitment to science and society was one of the positive outcomes of the 1999 World Conference on Science in Budapest. It was considered an opportunity to reaffirm each year the commitment to attaining the goals proclaimed in the Declaration on Science and the Use of Scientific Knowledge and to follow up the recommendations of the Science Agenda: Framework for Action.

Since its proclamation by UNESCO in 2001, World Science Day for Peace and Development has generated many concrete projects, programmes and funding for science around the world. The Day has also helped foster cooperation between scientists living in regions marred by conflict – one example being the UNESCO-supported creation of the Israeli-Palestinian Science Organization (IPSO).

The rationale of celebrating a World Science Day for Peace and Development has its roots in the importance of the role of science and scientists for sustainable societies and in the need to inform and involve citizens in science. In this sense, a World Science Day for Peace and Development offers an opportunity to show the general public the relevance of science in their lives and to engage them in discussions. Such a venture also brings a unique perspective to the global search for peace and development.

The first World Science Day for Peace and Development was celebrated worldwide on 10 November 2002 under UNESCO auspices. The celebration involved many partners, such as governmental, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations, UNESCO National Commissions, scientific and research institutions, professional associations, the media, science teachers and schools.

How Space Exploration can Benefit Small Nations

How Space Exploration can Benefit Small Nations

UAE Mars mission: extraordinary feat shows how space exploration can benefit small nations by Ine Steenmans, UCL and Neil Morisetti, UCL

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) successfully launched its Mars mission dubbed “Al Amal”, or “Hope”, from the Tanegashima Space Centre in southern Japan on July 20. This is the first space mission by the UAE, and the first Arab mission to Mars – making the world’s first launch countdown in Arabic a moment for the history books.

The mission’s journey to its launch date has arguably been at least as remarkable as the launch itself. With no previous domestic space exploration experience, planetary science capacity or suitable infrastructure, the nation managed to put together a delivery team of 100% local, Emirati staff with an average age of under 35. And setting a deadline of six years rather than ten, as most comparable missions do, it pulled the launch off on time and within budget – now proudly joining the small cadre of nations who have launched a mission to reach Mars.

But given these odds and the fact that Mars missions are notorious for their high failure rates (about 30% since the early 2000s), why did the UAE aim for the red planet in the first place? Space programmes have historically been used as catalysts for geopolitical influence. What’s more, we often think of them as costly endeavours of scientific curiosity, with few immediate and tangible benefits here on planet Earth. Does this reflect the UAE journey?

Space missions typically depart trying to answer scientific questions, before they ask how their value can extend to the society behind it. The Hope mission, however, has inverted this traditional logic. Instead, its conception arose from a quest to fundamentally redirect a nation’s trajectory.

The UAE’s mission has been timed to coincide Hope’s arrival into Martian orbit with the nation’s 50th anniversary as an independent country. Through its design and execution, the mission aims to diversify UAE’s economy from traditional activity, including oil and finance. Instead, it wants to inspire a young Arab generation towards scientific and entrepreneurial careers – and away from other, less societally beneficial pathways.

How Space Exploration can Benefit Small Nations
The Hope probe will learn about climate change on Mars. NASA/JPL/USGS

Hope will also study the Martian atmosphere and gather data to generate the first truly holistic model of the planet’s weather system. The analysis and insights generated will help us better understand the atmospheric composition and ongoing climate change of our neighbour planet.

Lessons for aspiring nations

What could other nations learn from this distinctive approach to space exploration? Can a space mission really transform a national economy? These are the questions at the heart of an external review of the Emirates Mars mission undertaken by a group of researchers at the Department for Science, Technology, Engineering and Public Policy at University College London.

Over the course of five months, we undertook a comprehensive evaluation of the impact and value generated by the mission less than five years after its inception. What we found was that there’s already evidence that the mission is having the intended impact. The country has massively boosted its science capacity with over 50 peer-reviewed contributions to international space science research. The forthcoming open sharing of Hope’s atmospheric data measurements is likely to amplify this contribution.

The nation has also generated significant additional value in logistics by creating new manufacturing capacities and know-how. There are already multiple businesses outside the realm of the space industry that have benefited from knowledge transfer. These are all typical impacts of a space mission.

But while that is where most studies of the value of space missions stop looking for impact, for the UAE this would miss a huge part of the picture. Ultimately, its Mars mission has generated transformative value in building capacity for a fundamentally different future national economy – one with a much stronger role for science and innovation.

Through a broad portfolio of programmes and initiatives, in just a few years the Hope mission has boosted the number of students enrolling in science degrees and helped create new graduate science degree pathways. It has also opened up new sources of funding for research and made science an attractive career.

One of the lessons is therefore that when embedded within a long-term, national strategic vision, space exploration can in the short term generate major benefits close to home. While space may appear to primarily be about missions for science, when designed in this way, they can be missions for national development.

Hope will reach Martian orbit in February 2021. Only then will its scientific mission truly take off. But its message of Hope has already been broadcast.

Ine Steenmans, Lecturer in Futures, Analysis and Policy, UCL and Neil Morisetti, Vice Dean (Public Policy) Faculty of Engineering Sciences, UCL

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

The Conversation

Arab world’s oldest universities faces its worst crisis

Arab world’s oldest universities faces its worst crisis

Prominent Beirut university faces fight of its life as crises hit

Samia NakhoulEllen Francis

BEIRUT (Reuters) – One of the Arab world’s oldest universities faces its worst crisis since its foundation, with huge losses, staff cuts and an uphill battle to stay afloat as Lebanon’s economic meltdown and the coronavirus pandemic hit revenues.

Arab world’s oldest universities faces its worst crisis
FILE PHOTO: People wearing masks walk near the main gate entrance of the American University of Beirut (AUB), as one of the Arab world’s oldest universities faces its worst crisis since its foundation with massive losses, staff cuts and an uphill battle to stay afloat as Lebanon’s economic meltdown and the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic hammer its revenues, in Beirut Lebanon, May 7, 2020. REUTERS/Aziz Taher

The American University of Beirut has graduated leading figures in medicine, law, science and art as well as political leaders and scholars over the decades including prime ministers.

It has weathered many crises, including Lebanon’s 1975-1990 civil war, when a number of staff including two presidents were killed or abducted and a bomb destroyed one of its main halls.

But Lebanon’s problems now may be the biggest threat yet to the institution founded in 1866 by Protestant missionaries. It ranks among the world’s top 200 universities and its collapse would deprive future generations in Lebanon and the wider region of internationally recognized higher education.

“This is one of the biggest challenges in AUB’s history. The country is crashing catastrophically,” AUB President Fadlo Khuri told Reuters in an interview.

With inflation, unemployment and poverty high, many families have little means to cover food and rent, let alone tens of thousands of dollars in tuition fees.

The heavily indebted state, which defaulted on its foreign currency debt in March, owes AUB’s medical centre – which attracts patients from across the Middle East and Central Asia – more than $150 million in arrears, Khuri said.

Government officials have ruled out a haircut on the bank deposits of non-profit universities such as AUB, but Khuri still fears his institution may take a hit if a state rescue plan puts part of the burden on large depositors and includes colleges.

Along with other universities, his school has lobbied the state and, he said, received assurances from the president and finance minister that any such measures would not impact them.

But he remains worried, with government plans for plugging vast holes in the national finances not yet finalised.

Government officials could not be reached for comment.

“We have all this money they (the state) still owe us for the hospital so it’s very hard to rely on well-intentioned people who may or may not have the ability (to deliver),” he said.

The university and hospital expect real losses of $30 million this year after bleeding revenues. For 2020-2021 alone, it projects a 60% revenue reduction from this year, down to $249 million.

FIGHTING TO SURVIVE

The stark revenue forecasts rely on an “optimistic assumption” that the Lebanese pound will stabilize at 3,000 to the dollar, but Khuri has said they do not take into account a possible haircut imposed on AUB’s bank deposits in Lebanon.

Finance Minister Ghazi Wazni has said there will be a shift to a flexible exchange rate in the “coming period”.Slideshow (3 Images)

Khuri said AUB will have to set its own rate in the meantime, taking into account people who have said they can pay in dollars to help cushion the impact of the pound’s collapse on poorer students.

AUB has already lost donations and scholarships it was expecting before the pandemic. On top of benefit and wage cuts, it is studying options such as closing whole departments and halting spending.

In an email to students and families, Khuri promised to work to protect their livelihoods and to raise money via an emergency fund.

“But there is no question that sacrifices must and will take place at every level,” Khuri wrote. “We must fundamentally change in order to survive … Saving AUB must be our only priority. And save it we will.”

Editing by Timothy Heritage