Thursday, January 23, 2014

Call for more engagement in Middle East

In response to the American Studies Association resolution to boycott academic programs in Israel, an essay calling for more engagement in Middle East higher education by a university president proposes that more, not less, partnership will achieve the best end.  My experience in Qatar has certainly reinforced the positive outcome of partnerships, but the question of how partnerships are chosen and for what purpose is relevant and important if higher education is to maintain its integrity.  Some U.S.A. educators have labeled the boycott of academic partnerships in Israel a violation of academic freedom which I have trouble understanding.  Academic freedom is protection for scholars to be able to express their opinions through research and publication without fear of reprisal for their opinions.  What does that purpose have to do with making strategic decisions to partner with people and programs that are aligned with your goals and where both (or all) partners benefit in substantial ways?

Friday, January 17, 2014

Drop in UK international students

TheTimes Higher Education reported that, for the first time since numbers were recorded, the number of international students studying in the UK has dropped.  The largest drop is among Indian students.  Interestingly, the article attributes the drop to a combination of visa changes and cost.  I wonder how much perceived quality and opportunity elsewhere (perhaps even in their home country) have contributed to the shifts.  Certainly one year does not establish a trend but perhaps this is something to watch.

Phillip Altbach commented on the UK and other trends and attributed the shifts in enrollment to commodification of higher education and competition to balance budgets.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Preparing for cultural encounter

We host many groups in Qatar throughout the year – some educators, others politicians, and from many different countries and cultures. With Qatar’s Grand Mosque having opened a couple of years ago, I’ve included a tour of the Mosque on several itineraries, relying on Funar Islamic Center for guides to take us through the building as well as to explain practices within Islam and its relationship to other religions. These visits generally go very well, with participants expressing great appreciation for the opportunity. One of the things required in order to visit the Mosque is that guests have to be dressed conservatively, must remove their shoes before going inside, and females must cover (both Abaya and scarf).

I recently had a very different response from some participants in a tour. The tour unfolded in a different way than is typical – due to the time overlapping with regular Muslim prayer. This overlap resulted in our being able to observe a group of men in actual prayer but this also meant that the females in the group were separated from the males, something not typical in other tours. The combination of females covering and being separated resulted in one participant commenting that the experience was highly politically charged and suggesting that it was not appropriate as part of a professional academic program. Part of the reaction, as noted by the participant, was that females were not informed in advance that they would be asked to cover and said that the organizers had not fully thought through the political and personal implications of the experience.

My immediate reaction was to accept that, yes, preparation would have been helpful. Certainly, preparation would have helped as preparing for a new experience almost always improves the chances that the participants will be more receptive. However, on further reflection, I began to wonder if educators and others as well might need to begin to take more responsibility for their own preparation and receptivity to cultural experiences. Reflecting on my privilege as a white American, I choose where I go and I am generally well received anywhere and anytime I want to go. Sure, there are some cultural settings that are a stretch but I can totally avoid these if I wish. By contrast, international visitors to the U.S.A., or cultural minorities in the U.S.A., don’t have the option to make the same choice; they have to negotiate the new cultural territory with or without guidance or assistance, even when there are aspects of the new culture that may be very uncomfortable to them – they just have to “deal.” Even in a setting such as Qatar, some westerners adapt to Arab/Islamic cultural norms (for example, modesty in dress) while others do as they wish, assuming that their western ways will simply have to be accommodated.

I am conflicted in coming to a conclusion about preparing people for cross-cultural experiences that might be uncomfortable for them. In general, preparing, guiding, and context-setting should probably be provided for everyone engaging across culture. On the other hand, the wonderfully complex world in which we live likely means that preparation will not always be a luxury that we will have. When preparation is not readily available, perhaps it behooves all of us to understand our relative place of privilege in the world and take responsibility to prepare ourselves, especially if it is an experience that is completely new and potentially fraught with personal and political implications. Privileged individuals may have become somewhat passive, expecting others to help prepare them, when those without privilege just have to “deal.”

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Stenden Qatar Exec. Dean advocates to remember students

A World News article authored by Executive Dean of Stenden University in Qatar critiques the way we define internationalization.  His point was that the central focus should be about the impact on students of whatever internationalization strategy institutions adopt.

Outcomes for investing in higher education in developing countries more than anticipated

A study concluded that investing in higher education in developing countries pays off in multiple ways.  The economic benefits of enhancing higher education is one of the areas most important to developing countries but other outcomes such as better health, happiness, and openness to others should not be undervalued.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Questioning the value of Western degrees in China

An Inside Higher Education on January 2, 2014, drew attention to an troubling question emerging among some Chinese students and their families - Is the value of a Western degree worth it?  With the large number of Chinese students attending Western universities, coupled with flatter economic conditions  in China, Western institutions may want to measure the impact of Western-style education and make sure Chinese students are making their decisions based on solid information.