World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies

Barcelona, July 19th - 24th 2010


Evolution of the Societal and Educational Roles of Universities in GCC States (240) - NOT_DEFINED activity_field_Panel

· NOT_DEFINED date: WED 21, 2.30-4.30 pm

· NOT_DEFINED institution: UAE University

· NOT_DEFINED organizer: Ann Scholl

· NOT_DEFINED language: English

· NOT_DEFINED description: Current educational trends and practices in GCC universities attempt to model a variety of other educational models, and attempt to use International assessment methodologies, including liberal arts, research and progressive pedagogy. This panel discusses the philosophical, sociological and educational difficulties with adapting these models to education in the GCC. First is the trend towards modelling certain universities in North America and Europe. Currently, universities and governmental agencies directing universities are moving towards modelling not only the science and research institutions in Western countries, but also the quality assurance measures used to rank and evaluate these institutions. Second, the purpose, in practical terms, tends towards job training and employable skill sets, and the role of liberal arts education within GCC. Finally, another practical question arises as to whether the goals or purposes of research institutions or liberal arts institutions can result in societal benefit for GCC states.

Chair: Ann Scholl (UAE University)

Paper presenter: (UAE University), “Research Goals in GCC National Universities”
As the national universities of the GCC, move into their next decade of existence, and move from the previous mission of providing basic education to a population that previously had little access to higher education to that of a top research institution, let us pause for a moment to ask the important questions about the purpose and role of these universities, as a national research universities funded primarily from state coffers. The concept of a national research university is not new and we have many models from which to choose, as well as the possibility of creating a new model. I suggest that we create a new model, based on historical philosophical concepts and, yet adapted to unique cultural and educational systems. This entails the goals, direction and evaluation of success of these institutions must face assessment criteria distinct from the now common evaluators of world rankings, research output and amount of grants.

Paper presenter: Dennis Leavens (UAE University), “The New Vision: A Case Study in the Failure of Interdisciplinarity and Liberal Arts”
In 2004, the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at the United Arab Emirates University initiated a new curriculum, called The New Vision. The first part of my essay looks at the intellectual underpinnings of the New Vision, its grounding in traditional liberal arts education which, many would argue, entails an interdisciplinary perspective. Yet this feature, because of its nearly complete absence in Emirati secondary education, tertiary education, and workplace desirability, doomed the New Vision. Narrow careerism, literal reading of credentials, inflexibility of outlook disclosed an ideological disposition against interdisciplinary study, liberal arts education, and learning for its own sake. The second part discusses why these instrumental features predominate in Emirati education. There is a marked preference for instrumental credentials leading to a clearly delineated career path which reflects an ideological supposition ‘education is for a job’ which is not commonly brought to conscious critical evaluation. In a society in which large numbers of university graduates do not enter the workforce, one might expect learning for its own sake to be appealing ‘indeed that was the origin of liberal arts in Greek culture’ yet this attitude is not common. Ideological shifts are the hardest to induce, especially when the means for doing so are discredited from the start. Individuals aside, as a group neither faculty nor students nor the society at large wanted to ‘facilitate the broadest kinds of intellectual linkages among both faculty and students’. The second part of the essay addresses why not.

Paper presenter: Dr. J. M. Jamil Brownson (UAE University), “Globalization and/or Localization: Knowledge, learning and adaptation amidst rapid social and cultural change in the GCC and Arab World”
According to Finnish experts, their world leading educational model cannot be transferred, and they advise’ DIY develop your own system! But confusion reigns over the current state of scientific and cultural praxis in the Arabic language and among Arab states. Instead of leading social change, universities reproduce a dependent neo-colonial system, whether Anglo-Saxon capitalist, or remnants of Soviet socialist influenced Arab ideologies, or a mix. Added to this complexity, a rising reaction to political and economic failure expressed in ultra-conservative political Islam. Within this lacunae fragments of critical thought and cognitively innovative pedagogy enter comprehensive curricula via Anglo expatriates and ‘natives’ who were inculcated with these values while abroad, both in the KG-12 school system and in universities. Investment in the entire education process must involve an interactive communication network integrating school and university curricula and innovative pedagogical processes. But rather than adopting the UK or US models, the critical role of the university is to provide leadership through research into their own rapid social and cultural change, merged with an examination of the classical period of Arabic language supremacy in sciences and arts. Therein a resurgence of critical thought and innovative expression can develop in Arabic scholarship that, like the Chinese policy, borrows what is desirable from outside (East & West) and from within to create a hybrid system based on localization of knowledge and action.

Paper presenter: Mohammed Tabishat (UAE University), “Liberal Arts Education: A Proper US Export?”
This paper draws attention to the notion of liberal arts education in North America and raises questions on its relevance to the contemporary Arab Society in general and UAE society in particular. First, I discuss the notion of liberal arts and whether it is a universal or culture-bound concept. In either case, I argue that its relevance to educational systems operating within non-Western contexts deserves in-depth investigation especially if liberal arts colleges are to be transplanted or, if ever possible, replicated. Second, I raise the question of whether modern universities in the UAE are ‘liberal’, and whether the notion of ‘liberal arts’ or any of its constitutive elements significantly match with the traditions of the local communities. To provide tentative answers to these apparently complex and under-researched questions, I present a group of reflections along with results of a survey I conducted on students representing the colleges of the main national university of the country (UAEU). The students'' attitudes and opinions toward education in general and liberal arts are measured and interpreted along lines of gender and socio-economic status. I argue that before reaching any conclusive remarks the contemporary societies concerned should be viewed as highly differentiated and rapidly changing. As such, the present research is only an exploratory project that may lead to more detailed, descriptive and explanatory studies including variables of specific relevance to the cultures and concerns of the communities concerned.

Paper presenter: Chris Ohan (Am. University of Kuwait), “History of Liberal Arts Education and Implications for GCC Societies”
Drawing on oral histories from the region as well as literature on the subject, this paper begins with an examination of the historical development of the characteristics of liberal arts in Europe and then goes on to argue that those essential characteristics are incompatible with the social and cultural traditions of the Arabian Gulf region largely because they are imposed from without rather than from within. Finally while attempting to propose a regional model, the paper demonstrates the inherent problems of determining a possible methodological alternative for higher education in the Gulf.