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How Space Exploration can Benefit Small Nations

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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.

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.

Arab world’s oldest universities faces its worst crisis

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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.

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

Internationalising higher education for a better world

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University World News in its GLOBAL Edition of 11 April 2020 by Bernard Hugonnier produced Internationalising higher education for a better world. It is always good to remind that the University offers an education that stimulates, fundamentally through training aspirants to careers with specific skills sets. It does, in fact, prepare these aspirants to make their impact, offering training that encourages, leading to careers with the skills to make profound contributions to society. When the background of this happening is widened to the world, some of the intrinsic benefits are enumerated here.

Internationalisation of higher education (IHE) consists mostly of helping students to study abroad. Only 5% are taking advantage of such mobility, which helps them towards a better professional career. Hence, IHE follows a tendency toward a rather elitist model of excellence.

However, excellence can also be of a social nature (allowing students of all social classes to have access to the best training) as well as of a societal nature (helping students become responsible citizens as they are more aware of their responsibilities in civic and environmental matters). It is difficult to dispute that such approaches are at the same time more equitable and more effective to the benefit of the common good in the world.

Implementation requires several different steps.

First, the historical development of IHE and its consequences must be fully comprehended. Originally, universities around the world had few relationships with each other. Higher education systems were thus independent, with only a few students engaged in study abroad.

As student mobility has increased, universities have naturally developed relationships with each other. Higher education systems have become interdependent, opening up a new era, that of the globalisation of higher education.

Finally, as relations between universities (in both education and research) have developed further, higher education systems have converged into a world model: the globalisation of higher education, which has tended to become transnational. It is essential to fully comprehend the consequences of these developments in order to take the appropriate regulatory measures.

A wider perspective

Going forward, instead of focusing solely on economic objectives, the institutional strategies of both countries and higher education must also take into account wider social and societal objectives. This clearly requires a change of priorities.

Both countries and institutions also need to integrate into their decision-making processes the geopolitical and geo-cultural implications of IHE. That means questioning the dominance of the Western model.

At the same time students who have benefited from international mobility tend to occupy the best positions in society. As a consequence, resentments may build towards both the most developed countries and the students constituting the elite of society in these countries. Steps should hence be taken both by countries and institutions.

If the objectives of social and societal excellence are better implemented, IHE could lead to the constitution of “citizens of the world and for the world”.

Internationalisation and global politics

Answers must also be found to the tensions resulting from the fact that IHE is not a phenomenon that is disconnected from the main problems facing economies and societies: the extension of neoliberal globalisation, the growth of economic and social inequalities, the rise of populism and the emergence of illiberal democracies.

As an avatar of globalisation, IHE offers opportunities and risks at an international level as well as for countries and institutions. For example, at the international level, opportunities for IHE include the improvement of the quality of higher education in the world, the development of a global knowledge society and the global development of international standards in the field of quality assurance and that of intellectual property protection.

The main risks are the globalisation of curricula, an asymmetry in the benefits of IHE in favour of developed countries and a standardisation of ways of thinking.

Countries and institutions should hence take steps to seize opportunities and limit risks.

Finally, measures must be taken to make internationalisation accessible to a much larger number of students in the world.

International higher education has important consequences for students: those who have benefited from mobility acquire an intercultural competence and professional skills which increase their employability and their potential for success. They also benefit from the development of their own personal skills thanks in particular to greater adaptability and autonomy.

Similar results can be achieved without mobility, by making students interact more with students from different countries than their own and by internationalising programmes, curricula and pedagogies.

Obviously less expensive, this so-called ‘internationalisation at home’ is of a more social nature and allows more students to benefit from the effects of internationalisation. Here, more research should be carried out to better understand the effects of this alternative internationalisation and to identify the measures to be taken to make it more effective.

An irreversible phenomenon

International higher education is an irreversible phenomenon. Everything must therefore be done to help it achieve greater social and societal excellence. Measures must be taken by countries and institutions.

In addition, more research is required to achieve a better understanding of the phenomenon, its modes of operation and expansion and all of its consequences. To discern the future of international higher education, several methods can be used, whether they relate to prediction, forecasting or prognosis.

If international higher education as currently carried out could benefit more students, it would only do so to a limited extent and it will not have a big societal impact. Internationalisation should therefore be actively developed at home, which is a less expensive and more effective means of achieving social and societal excellence to the benefit of higher education in the world.

Bernard Hugonnier is maître de conférences at Sciences Po, former joint director of education at the OECD and co-director of the École et République du Collège des Bernardins in France. This paper benefited from comments from Stamenka Uvalic-Trumbic.

MENA Countries Ranked for English Proficiency

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EF Education First (EF): MENA Countries Ranked for English Proficiency by Global Index of 100 Countries shows clearly that the ranking of each country has if only culturally, little to do with, as it were, its specific historical track record. The top ten middle eastern countries are as follow.

And In today’s world, the English language demonstrates a strong network effect: the more people use it, the more useful it becomes.

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia, Nov. 12, 2019 / PRNewswire/ — EF Education First released the ninth annual edition of its EF English Proficiency Index (EF EPI), analyzing data from 2.3 million non-native English speakers in 100 countries and regions, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE, and other Arab countries. The Netherlands topped this year’s index, placing Sweden, last year’s top-scorer, in the second position.

In the MENA region, Bahrain scored the highest. However, the region has continued to lag behind the other regions of the world. The index has also found that in the MENA region, young adults have a somewhat similar English proficiency level as adults over 40 years of age. This suggests that English instruction in the region’s schools has not been evolving over the years. The results have also shown a great convergence in the levels of proficiency among adults in the region, with only 9 scores separating Bahrain, MENA’s best achiever, from the weakest performing country, Libya.

The EF EPI has shown a direct relationship between the average per capita income and standard of living in a country, and the average proficiency in the English language among its adults. Moreover, with exports accounting for nearly 20 per cent of world trade output, adopting English as a language of communication will further reduce costs for businesses and governments. These findings indicate the potential returns of investing in English instruction to qualify the young human capital in MENA for the major economic transformations that the region is witnessing.

In speaking about Saudi Arabia, EF Education First‘s country manager in the Kingdom, John Bernström, said: “This year’s ranking arrives as Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 and its National Transformation Program are in full swing to transform the Kingdom’s economy. As the country invests tremendously in the education and training of its youthful human capital, our report aims to assess how local English language proficiency fits within this frame and what are the best methods to optimize it in the future”.

The EF EPI is based on test scores from the EF Standard English Test (EF SET), the world’s first free standardized English test. The EF SET has been used worldwide by thousands of schools, companies, and governments for large-scale testing.

The EF English Proficiency Index for Schools (EF EPI-s), a companion report to the EF EPI, was also released with the index. The EF EPI-s examines the acquisition of English skills by secondary and tertiary students from 43 countries.

The EF EPI and EF EPI-s reports and country/region fact sheets are available for download at http://www.ef.com/sa/epi.   

About EF Education First

EF Education First is an international education company that focuses on language, academics, and cultural experience. Founded in 1965, EF’s mission is “opening the world through education.” With more than 600 schools and offices in over 50 countries, EF is the Official Language Training Partner for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Logo – https://mma.prnewswire.com/media/1021478/EF_Education_First_Logo.jpg
Photo – https://mma.prnewswire.com/media/1027036/EF_English_Index.jpg

UAE spy arrest shows universities must do more

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Matthew Hedges says: my UAE spy arrest shows universities must do more to protect academics working in the field.

The picture above is of UAE Crown Prince Mohamed bin Zayed, who was contacted by British diplomat Jeremy Hunt about the Matthew Hedges spying case as reported by UPI. Photo by Andre Pain/EPA-EFE.

Matthew Hedges with his wife Daniela Tejada. Author provided

Matthew Hedges, Durham University

This article is part of a series on academic freedom where leading academics from around the world write on the state of free speech and inquiry in their region.


Last year I was imprisoned for nearly seven months in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). I was held predominantly in solitary confinement, endured heavy interrogations, with my human rights violated on a daily basis.

During my imprisonment, I was force fed drugs, battled depression and thoughts of self-harm. Later, having endured nearly half a year of isolation and mistreatment, I wrestled with thoughts of suicide.

Eventually, in a trial lacking all due process and disregard for international legal standards, I was handed a life sentence. My crime? Undertaking academic research for my doctoral thesis.

My research examines the evolving national security strategy of the UAE, and my knowledge has evolved from years of professional work and research in the UAE and the wider Middle East and North Africa.

I had no reservations about conducting research in the UAE. And I underwent a rigorous ethical and fieldwork assessment and was sure to follow established protocols before and during my trip.

I complied with the university’s requirement to remove all Emirati research subjects as it was assessed that these nationals would not be safe nor trusted when engaging in security-related academic research. And I was happy to go along with the university and the third-party risk firm employed to assess any other risks for researchers travelling overseas. But unfortunately, as my experience proved, this was simply not enough to protect me or my integrity as an academic.

A vulnerable position

It became clear there was a lack of understanding by the Emirati authorities about what a legitimate academic is, and about how research is carried out. Standard actions needed to complete field research – such as interviewing sources, researching books, articles and maps along with taking notes – were very quickly taken out of context and distorted by the UAE security authorities. I routinely battled to explain how information cited in my thesis was referenced from publicly available academic books and not from “secret intelligence sources” as the interrogators would often claim.

Following my release, I have had the opportunity to reflect upon my experience. I have also been lucky to travel to academic institutions in the UK and US to discuss the ramifications of my experience upon academic research.

When discussing how academic fieldwork actually works, my main observation has been that beyond the academic community, there is a very limited understanding of what academic research actually consists of. As such, there is little understanding of the risks it entails.

Ilham Tohti, a Uyghur economist, is serving a life sentence in China. He is held on separatism-related charges after his criticism of the Chinese government’s policies toward Uyghurs in Xinjiang. PEN International

This leaves academics engaging in fieldwork research in a particularly vulnerable position. It can even lead to a situation, like in my case, where their integrity and legitimacy as an academic is under question.

Indeed, I believe that this lack of information on academic practice exacerbated my situation. Trying to speak reason to the authorities holding me captive, and to those with the power to intervene diplomatically and politically on my behalf, went nowhere. And baseless accusations cast a shadow of doubt upon the legitimacy of my work.

Safety and security

For researchers and academics at all levels, the problem of misinformation has consequences extending to the very institutions to which they are affiliated. My experience demonstrates how bureaucracy-led universities are not equipping their students and staff with the appropriate skills and competencies needed to undertake their job in today’s world. Ultimately, effective instructions for fieldwork safety and security are lacking. Furthermore, as the technical capabilities of many states improve, there is an increased risk of deployed researchers falling victim to surveillance and unjust prosecution.

Another issue widely under-reported is that while researchers may be somewhat supported by their university, their human subjects are not. This leaves many academics, including myself, questioning whether it’s even possible or ethical to engage in fieldwork in the current age.

Niloufar Bayani, a researcher, conservationist, and scholar, was arrested in January 2018 on charges of espionage in Iran. She recently reported being subjected to torture. Twitter/@Omid_M

Having heard testimony from academics with diverse research backgrounds, it is abundantly clear that my experience was not isolated. Hundreds of scholars around the world are targeted and prosecuted for their research. Yet, while their cases are of great concern within the academic community, they continue to rest dormant in the public eye, the political arena and higher education boards.

If academics and universities are to continue to contribute to the generation of knowledge, then research practice and its risks must be acknowledged and respected. The freedom to research is paramount for knowledge creation. And if it is not protected, we risk being accomplices to those who wish to silence us.


Read more from our series on Academic Freedom.


Matthew Hedges, Doctoral Research Candidate in the School of Government and International Affairs, Durham University

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