Egypt has one of the largest numbers of students enrolled in higher education in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, with a total of around 2.4 million students, according to a new Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) report.
The UFM launched a regional dialogue process on the internationalisation of higher education in the Mediterranean region. It noted that internationalisation is not understood as a goal by itself, but a process aimed at enhancing the quality and standards of education and research.
This dialogue intends to facilitate continuous peer learning among the UfM countries on policies and practices addressing common challenges and priorities, and to foster joint projects and initiatives.
In intent to address regional needs and pave the way for a change of scale in the support mechanisms, the UfM launched a study, conducted by the Mediterranean Universities Union (UNIMED).
The study aims at being an effective tool for policymakers and other stakeholders, and set out to investigate the internationalisation of higher education in 10 countries, namely: Algeria; Egypt; Palestine; Israel; Jordan; Lebanon; Libya; Mauritania; Morocco; and Tunisia.
The study focused especially on resources and opportunities available at the national and regional levels.
The report found that in most cases, internationalisation is identified simply as mobility, while a more comprehensive internationalisation strategy would be highly beneficial for institutions and staff, and may increase attractiveness and participation.
The report also showed that in a year’s average before the pandemic, over 220,000 students moved around the world came from MENA countries, which in turn hosted over 134,000 international students.
“Algeria, Mauritania, Morocco, and Tunisia have a net outflow of student mobility, while Egypt, Lebanon, and Jordan have a net inflow, particularly from the rest of Asia and some African countries,” according to the UFM.
The report also revealed that South and East Mediterranean Countries have been increasingly sending and receiving students to and from the MENA region, alongside Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, India, and China.
Malaysia is one of the most active actors in the Mediterranean area, constantly boosting its cooperation with Arab countries and higher education institutions.
The report showed that academic mobility is overwhelmingly from South to North in the region. The low attractiveness of local higher education systems, including quality and diversity of research, prevents Southern Mediterranean countries from achieving reciprocal mobility.
“The EU’s Erasmus+ programme is generating the largest impact on the internationalisation strategies of higher education institutions,” the report noted, “Meanwhile, in the South-Eastern Mediterranean region, there is a focus on national activities and bilateral cooperation, rather than on a regional approach.”
It added that universities in the MENA region perceive themselves as more teaching-oriented than research-oriented, as the research sector suffers from low budget allocation. All countries in the study spend less than 1% of GDP on Research and Developments (R&D).
The report revealed that obstacles to effective internationalisation include: high fragmentation in the procedures and systems of credit recognition and assessment of qualifications; and difficulties obtaining visas for international mobility. The latter point affects particularly MENA countries to access Europe.
A series of recommendations emerge from the study, both at national and regional level. They were formulated taking in consideration the most relevant existing best practices and initiatives that can be replicated and up-scaled in the region.
They point out proposals regarding information-sharing mechanisms, the improvement of present regional initiatives and programmes, and synergies and complementarities between existing mobility schemes and programmes. This is in addition to appropriate capacity-development mechanisms for Higher Education Institutions.
The report was presented during an online event recently, which introduced the results of the study and launched the preparation of a renewed policy agenda for the region.
Nasser Kamel, Secretary-General of the UfM, stated in the report that, only by investing in the region’s future and youth, will the region be able, as internationalisation practitioners, to guarantee a framework of sustainability and prosperity in the Mediterranean.
Leading scholar says region must place more importance on liberal arts, not just science and engineering, to build better societies by Anna McKie could be an unprecedented way of covering the recurring issue of underdevelopment not through traditional knowledge but by using the art and humanities knowledge. Let us see what is proposed as per the very words of a Professor: ‘certification’ mania hobbles Middle East development.
Professor: ‘certification’ mania hobbles Middle East development
April 8, 2021
Students in the Middle East and North Africa are too often more interested in “acquiring” a degree than developing the understanding that should come with it, a leading scholar has warned.
Safwan Masri, Columbia University’s executive vice-president for global centres and global development, said too many young people were steered into courses focused on science and engineering when critical thinking and intercultural understanding were desperately needed across the region.
Speaking at Times Higher Education’s MENA Universities Summit, Professor Masri said future leaders being trained in institutions across the region were “not fully prepared to lead”, the product of “technocratic societies led by a global technocratic class”.
“Students – and the parents who bankroll them – are often more interested in acquiring professional certification than truly understanding the world and the role of an educated citizen within it,” said Professor Masri.
“Here in MENA, young people fortunate enough to attend university are almost unilaterally steered into STEM training.
“But STEM competency is only half of the equation. We need people who also know how to organise societies, articulate and secure alignment on political ideals, and build robust civil societies that expand rights and freedoms to historically marginalised groups.”
Professor Masri, an expert on the contemporary Arab world and the head of Columbia’s study centre in Amman, Jordan, said the solution had to be a greater embrace of liberal arts education across the region.
He acknowledged that this “won’t be easy” because generations of Arabs “have been indoctrinated with hyper-nationalist propaganda, exclusionary rhetoric and dogmatic religious discourse at the expense of critical thinking and questioning skills”.
“Progress cannot be achieved without deprogramming and reprogramming this mindset, to learn to coexist with different points of view and ways of life,” Professor Masri said.
“Unless liberal arts training is more highly valued in this region, the region’s ambitions will be thwarted. We must achieve balance. We must help students – and the parents who fund many of them – understand the crucial interplay between content [of academic training] and context [understanding of society].”
At the summit, held online in partnership with NYU Abu Dhabi, Professor Masri also argued that at a time of geopolitical turmoil and “historic levels of misunderstanding” between countries and the people within them, knowledge diplomacy led by universities “may be our last and best tool if we are to rebuild a broken world”. He highlighted Columbia’s decision to maintain its global centre in Istanbul even in the face of increasing persecution of academics.
“The solution wasn’t to give in, we contended, but to dig in – to support academics and students, to continue to share knowledge,” Professor Masri said.
But Professor Masri expressed concern about the “weaponisation” of knowledge, highlighting that while Gulf states’ attempts to exercise soft power by funding Middle East studies centres in Western universities ostensibly had “no strings attached”, there were “uncomfortable stories” of researchers at these centres coming under pressure after writing about issues such as human rights and democracy.
A better model of knowledge diplomacy, he argued, was that of the Covid vaccines, which were the result of thousands of researchers crossing the globe over decades, generating the knowledge that informed the vaccines’ designs.
“The Covid vaccine represents decades’ worth, perhaps even centuries’ worth, of university-generated knowledge – distilled down to little more than an ounce of liquid, all concentrated in a single shot,” Professor Masri said.
“This medical and scientific breakthrough will reconnect the people of the world.”
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
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.
“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.”
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.
With the unfortunate obligation to a general lockdown, University eLearning courses became necessary. Students staying at home are offered jam-packed features courses with control over their speed, language, theme, and media. Moreover, interactive content ensures comprehension, and eBook takeaways support the application of learning at home as well as in the workplace. In this context, the story of the Pros and Cons of Online University Learning by Haifaa M. Mussallam is worth reading.
Online learning has been a rollercoaster of emotions for me since it was introduced in my senior year at Effat University, in Saudi Arabia. As an introvert, I found it both a blessing and curse. The online fall semester of 2020 was a learning experience for both professors and students, as typing on a laptop replaced notebooks and pens, and face-to-face interactions gave way to professors with headsets on our computers or phone screens.
I like the fact that students and teachers alike have been forced to adapt to the new normal, and I’d say both sides have been pleasantly surprised by how well everyone has been able to push through and learn the best we can, both with the curriculum and technology.
I was also pleasantly surprised how the quality of education remained the same. But I am lucky to be in a major, English Literature, that doesn’t require practical work like architecture, computer sciences, or engineering.
Still, I can confidently say that I have received the same quality of education I would have received on campus. And the transition to online learning went smoothly for me, thanks to the flexibility of being able to attend from wherever there is an Internet connection and being able to log into classes using a range of devices, such as a laptop or even a cellphone.
Moreover, the fact that lectures are recorded on the learning platform Blackboard Collaborate is an added bonus that I am certain many students are grateful for. Even if a student misses a lecture for one reason or other, all they have to do is replay the recorded session to catch up. This is a double-edged sword, however, because it can cause students to take fewer notes in real time and rely on the recordings.
New Technological Resources Are a Plus
Another added benefit of online learning is that new technological resources are being used to enhance learning, which in my opinion is long overdue.
Another added benefit of online learning is that new technological resources are being used to enhance learning, which in my opinion is long overdue. Prior to the pandemic, most students and faculty members depended on the old-fashioned way, using PowerPoint slides and submitting papers in person.
Although slides remain, platforms that were previously unheard of are now at the center of many teachers’ online curricula. One example is the digital educational platform BlinkLearning. Students are able to purchase books, open them via the platform’s website and do the homework assigned by their professors. I can personally attest to the effectiveness of the platform as I am using it myself this current semester to learn German.
A downside to online learning is the lack of face-to-face interactions, and not being physically on campus takes away from the typical college experience. Another negative aspect in Saudi Arabia is that some female students are too shy to turn on their cameras. This is understandable as lectures are recorded, but it does diminish opportunities for the professor to feel a genuine interaction with his or her students. (See a related article, “Universities in Qatar Help Students Stay Connected in a Remote-Learning World.”)
It cannot be denied that some aspects of college life were taken for granted by students and faculty members. I miss passing my classmates or professors in the hallways and giving them a nod or smile. Another downside, other than the lack of physical contact, is that due to the absence of facial expressions, professors tend not to take pauses for questions or discussions while giving lectures. The pandemic has taken away the possibility for spontaneous discussions in a virtual classroom, as both sides are looking at the finish line more than they would have on a physical campus.
Mixed Feelings About a Virtual Graduation
Being so close to my own finish line, with my graduation approaching in a few months, I am excited and disappointed. Any future graduate will surely experience a mix of emotions, but a virtual graduation causes its own surge of feelings, since YouTube is the center of the stage we will stand on, rather than the university’s auditorium.
Although no plans for graduation have yet been announced at my university, there is perhaps the off-chance that there will be a real physical graduation ceremony.
The university has sent emails about a graduation photoshoot to me and other future graduates, and some of my fellow classmates have participated, but I was not interested due to my lack of love for cameras.
Overall, the learning experience online has been a success and I am grateful for all the effort put in by my professors, the administration of universities across Saudi Arabia, the Ministry of Education, and information technology departments everywhere for making the connection between us all possible and stable.
Haifaa M. Mussallam is a 23-year-old published poet and almost a graduate in English literature from Effat University, in Jeddah.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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