July 21, 2010
First, let me register my deep irritation in reading headlines like this from the FT (and other newspapers). It is lazy and stupid journalism. The Gulf is not the Arab World in toto.
FT.com - Arab states try to fill scientific shortfall
Arab states try to fill scientific shortfallOn the last item, I rather suspect that unless the Academic is an Arab, the citizenship angle is not appealing at all. Even as an Arab, the citizenship offer, given Gulf, is not necessarily an attractive deal.
By James Drummond and Robin Wigglesworth
In 2004, the UN Arab Development Report characterised Arab universities as “either buried in dust or smothered by ideologies”. A Unesco report in 2005 identified the region as “the least research-and-development-intensive area in the world”.
But Gulf states in particular are now expending huge amounts of petrodollars on education, in an attempt to catch up with the developed world and train nationals for more diversified, non-hydrocarbon economies in the future.
“The Arab world used to be a prime place for science, research and technology, but in the past couple of centuries it has deteriorated a lot, due to politics and ignorance. Things finally look like they are getting better now,” says Wael al-Delaimy, an associate professor of medicine at University of California, San Diego.
Abu Dhabi, for example, intends to pump Dh4.9bn ($1.3bn) into research and development by 2018 under a strategic plan for higher education announced last month. The emirate’s plan calls for 28 per cent of its graduates to be in engineering-related areas. But currently only about 9 per cent of higher education students are in those fields, says the Abu Dhabi Education Council.
Institutions such as the Qatar Foundation, home to branches of six US universities, the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia, and the Sorbonne and New York university branches being established in Abu Dhabi, are trying to fill the shortfall. Most are teaching establishments for undergraduates. But the intention is that, with time, they will conduct research and award doctorates. ....
Not all has gone well. This month John Perkins, the provost of Abu Dhabi’s Masdar Institute, said he was leaving for “personal reasons”. The Masdar Institute has been formed in partnership with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and aims to carry out research in renewable technologies. ....
“They [the universities] are slowly beginning to realise that money cannot buy people, especially scientists,” says Hilal Lashuel of the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne. “The lack of equal treatment is a major problem. Hiring and pay is based on nationality and not merit, and Arab scientists are often disadvantaged when it comes to both.”
In Dubai, Tarik Yousef, the dean of the Dubai School of Government, a think tank, agrees that a research culture cannot be developed remotely or by one and two-week visits. .... “I don’t think they [the universities] are going about it the right way. Who are they using to recruit people? [They use] this executive approach,” Mr Yousef says. Some universities are losing as many people each year as they recruit, he says. ....
“Academics want time for research – and they want to be rewarded . . . It has to be a two-way conversation,” he says. “The first question people ask me is: what is my teaching load? How much administrative work am I going to have to do? Am I going to be able to organise seminars and attend conferences and deliver papers?”
Another issue is citizenship. Gulf states have historically granted citizenship grudgingly if at all. In a globalised business such as academia where people prefer not to move frequently, the prospect of working for decades in a country and then being denied the right to stay there is unattractive.
States that offer a route to citizenship are more appealing, academics say. To this end, Mr Yousef says Qatar and Bahrain are offering passports to talented academics to entice them. ....
More fundamentally, there is nothing much in the Gulf society that suggests that they will be able to create any kind of merit based academics. I could see this working in say Egypt, if they got a huge chunk of money, but only barely. The Gulf, no way. This is futile throwing money at a symptom.
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What exactly makes it hard for them to create merit-based academics? (Just curious; also do you think it would depend on eg. the subject studied by a given academic?)
I teach a physics class for students sent over by a Saudi petrochem company for their degrees, and so far it has been really pleasant. The students are good (certainly better than a typical student at my university), they work quite hard too.
Anyway, it's not like the academic system of merit is so great these days... maybe rich Gulf states could afford to do things in a less asinine way than pure publication counts.
Posted by: Dan at July 22, 2010 12:29 AM
Culture, mate, culture.
The culture of family and the cultural of advancement not based on merit, but blood runs deep. And no this is not theoretical arm-chair observation, it's direct on my part. Gulf has not seen deep societal modernisation and these issues are deep seated problems in current universities there. One sees more merit emerging out of the more modern socities in the region, Egypt, the Maghreb, even Jordan although mitigated by the Old Jordanians.
Your cross-section of Saudis is of course a highly selective one. It ain't what you'll see there.
Your inside game complaints about system of merit - USA I presume - well, you ain't seen nothing.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at July 22, 2010 10:42 AM