October 2010    Volume 23, Issue 8
  International Education Intelligence   
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Middle East


Hardliners Move to Bring Down Moderate, Private University

Iran’s top leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is moving against Islamic Azad University, the country's largest private university and a center of moderate thought, the Associated Press has reported. The ayatollah issued a decree in October declaring that the university's endowment, which has been key to the university's independence from the government, is religiously illegitimate and therefore has no validity.

Islamic Azad University is a center of power for former Iranian president, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a pragmatist and key supporter of Iran’s moderates. The institution, founded in 1982, was a major site for opposition protests against the 2009 disputed re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, which opponents say was fraudulent.

The university, with more than 1.3 million students in more than 350 branches nationwide, allowed opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi free access to its huge resources during his election campaign, allowing his voice to be heard all over Iran. The assets of the university are estimated to be around $250 billion. They include its 'religious endowment' set up last year in an express bid by the university management to keep the university independent of hard-line government control, and its vast assets safe.

- Associated Press
October 12, 2010


Exiled Professors Teaching from a Distance

Hundreds of Iraqi academics fled their homeland in the years following the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, leaving universities understaffed. Now, they have begun to pick up their teaching duties in their former universities through a new e-learning project, even though they remain in exile.

Following the severe unrest in Iraq after the American-led invasion in 2003, there was a spate of violence targeted at university professors, which took a severe toll on higher education there and prompted hundreds of academics to leave. Very few have returned and many university departments therefore remain understaffed and incapable of meeting demand from students. The new project, the Iraq Scholars Lecture Series, which is coordinated by the Institute of International Education's Scholar Rescue Fund, aims to supplement existing curricula by recording lectures that are then distributed to universities in Iraq.

Lectures are being recorded outside Iraq, primarily in Amman, Jordan, and then shown at institutions in Iraq in classrooms and lecture halls staffed by professors on the ground who can field questions and lead discussions. By the end of the last academic year, in June, more than 500 students at the University of Baghdad, the University of Technology and Al-Mustansiriyah University had viewed the 25 lectures that had been produced. More are being prepared, with plans for around 100 by the end of the year. The Iraqi Ministry of Higher Education recently approved a plan to allow up to 20 percent of course curricula to be delivered through an e-learning format, and administrators at universities in Iraq have indicated that they plan to incorporate the material into their courses.

- The Chronicle of Higher Education
October 5, 2010

Saudi Arabia

Government Emphasizes Technical Education

Saudi university graduates have traditionally found administrative jobs in a bloated, underproductive public sector, but the country’s reformist rulers have changed tack, realizing that this is not ultimately a sustainable proposition. King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud has announced a series of reforms that seek to provide the country’s booming population with training relevant to a changing local and global economy.

Under the country’s recently passed five-year development plan, approximately US$200 billion will be spent on expanding access to schools and universities, with a significant expansion of the vocational sector. This follows a seven-year period under King Abdullah in which Saudi Arabia allocated about a quarter of each yearly budget on education and vocational training. This year's allocations, amounting to $36.5 billion, represent a 12.4 percent increase over those of 2009.

The King Abdullah Scholarship Program has sent more than 90,000 Saudis to pursue graduate studies abroad. The number of public universities in the country has risen from eight to 24 and a few of them now appear in world university rankings. The development plan calls for nearly doubling the number of university students, from 860,000 to 1.7 million, by 2014.

However, many Saudi university students continue to pursue degrees in fields such as social studies, religious studies, history, and literature, despite an overabundance of unemployed graduates in these fields. Therefore, the government has placed an emphasis on vocational training and other fields relevant to the Saudi labor market, which currently complains that they have to hire from abroad because there aren't enough well-trained Saudis for the kind of jobs that are needed.

Current government plans call for the construction of 25 technology schools, 28 technical institutes, and 50 industrial-training institutes. The plan also suggests spending $240 million in grants for research projects each year, and calls for the establishment of dozens of research centers and technology incubators at universities.

However, the reforms face major constraints from entrenched interests and religious conservatism. At least a third of Saudi primary and secondary education is currently taken up by religious studies, while Saudi school children fair poorly in comparative international tests of mathematics and science skills. In response, the Education Ministry is reportedly spending about 30 percent of its budget on retraining teachers in primary and secondary schools.

- The Chronicle of Higher Education
October 3, 2010

Government Inks Research Campus Collaboration Deal with U.S. University

Saudi Arabia is planning to develop a graduate school with US-based Georgia Institute of Technology. The campus would be the first in the country to offer foreign-accredited degrees, and the second to have a mixed-gender environment after King Abdullah University of Science and Technology. According to press reports, the Saudi Arabia General Investment Authority signed a letter of intent with the Georgia school to build a campus that would be ready to open next year.

Located in King Abdullah Economic City - a residential and industrial hub being built north of Jeddah on the Red Sea - the new campus will focus on supporting an industrial base in the Economic City, particularly the aerospace, electronic and engineering industries. The Georgia campus will form part of an ‘Educational Zone,’ within the Economic City, which is part of a plan to make Saudi Arabia globally competitive in technology. Plans for the educational part of the project would see the creation of a multi-university campus flanked by two research and development parks. According to current plans, the multi-university campus will accommodate 18,000 students and 7,500 members of staff.

- Financial Times
September 27, 2010

United Arab Emirates

Regulation of ‘Free’ Zones Needed

University branch campuses in Dubai's "free zones" must be regulated or the United Arab Emirates' international reputation could be damaged, experts have warned.

Fifty branch campuses from around the world operate within free economic zones such as Dubai International Academic City and Knowledge Village. However, in a briefing for the Dubai School of Government, Jason Lane, assistant professor of educational administration and policy studies at the State University of New York, says that, "the rapid expansion of the private higher education system in the UAE has been accompanied by a delay in government regulation."

He adds: "The lack of regulatory clarity creates confusion ... about local degree recognition. Each free zone has established specific requirements about branch campuses having to provide academic programs comparable in quality to the main campus. However, the enforcement of these requirements has been unequal and sporadic."

- The National
August 31, 2010

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