Yusra Mouzughi: A British-Libyan Academic Pursues a Vision for Education in the Gulf
Yusra Mouzughi, a British-Libyan academic, is set to take office as president of Bahrain’s Royal University for Women next month, adding a new experience to her pioneering career in setting up and designing educational programs that adapt to the surrounding environment’s context instead of fully importing foreign concepts.
“This is a new challenge I hope to pass successfully by benefiting from the legacy of the previous management team, paying attention to quality, and establishing a culture of innovation and change with all parties to the university’s educational process,” she said.
Born in Libya’s Tripoli and having moved early with her family to reside in Britain, Mouzughi has a special vision for developing the reality of education in the Arab world. She rejects the method embraced by some Arab countries of relying on foreign consultants and bringing in foreign university programs.
“I do not believe that importing complete, ready-made educational systems without evaluation is the most appropriate way to develop education in the region,” she said. “We need to benefit from development experiences abroad and work on what suits us with local cadres to achieve real progress.” (See a related article, “Importing Higher Education: A Qatari Experiment.”)
Before being named the next leader of Bahrain’s Royal University for Women, Mouzughi served as president of Muscat University in Oman, where she was the first woman to hold such a high leadership position in the sultanate.
“It was my great honor to have had the opportunity to lead Muscat University before and work on developing it,” she said. “I am glad to leave it after the university has proved itself to be one of the leading higher education institutions in the sultanate.”
Early Management and Leadership Skills
Mouzughi’s career began in Liverpool, in the United Kingdom, where she joined an insurance company for seven years. Later, she obtained a doctoral degree from the business school of Liverpool John Moores University before joining the faculty there.
“I see Mouzughi as an inspiring academic leader and role model for those seeking to follow in her footsteps or aspiring to reach the highest levels of senior management in higher education.”David Bryde
Director of research and knowledge transfer at Liverpool Business School
“I see Mouzughi as an inspiring academic leader and role model for those seeking to follow in her footsteps or aspiring to reach the highest levels of senior management in higher education,” David Bryde, director of research and knowledge transfer at Liverpool Business School and Mouzughi’s Ph.D. supervisor, said in a phone call.
Narimane Hadj-Hamou, founder and chief executive of the Center for Learning Innovations and Customized Knowledge Solutions (CLICKS), agrees with Bryde that Mouzughi has a number of important qualities that serve her well in university administrative positions.
“She is a strong, accomplishing, ambitious woman,” said Hadj-Hamou, who worked with Mouzughi in Muscat. “She has a goal-oriented and visionary strategy, which enabled her to excel in her role and make a difference in higher education in Oman, besides her unpretentiousness and willingness to always listen and support in the best way possible, which is another important quality of a successful leader.”
Establishing a New University
In 2016, in her first work experience outside Britain, Mouzughi became the deputy vice-chancellor for academic affairs at the newly established Muscat University. She was then selected by the Board of Trustees in 2018 to lead the university, becoming the first woman to chair an Omani university.
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Moving to an Arab country after many years of living in Britain was an opportunity for Mouzughi to learn about work patterns in a different environment, and to take up the new challenge of building a university, designing its academic programs for students and professors, and overseeing all founding and educational details.
“Being chosen to be the first non-Omani woman to lead an institution bearing the name of the country’s capital made me feel the magnitude of that responsibility,” she said. She noted that she and her team sought to benefit from the experiences of higher education pioneers in order to transform the university, which was then an “idea on paper,” into a scientific institution that later entered into a partnership with two leading British universities.
“Being chosen to be the first non-Omani woman to lead an institution bearing the name of the country’s capital made me feel the magnitude of that responsibility.”Yusra Mouzughi
Incoming president of Bahrain’s Royal University for Women
Hadj-Hamou was one of those who were hired by Mouzughi during her tenure at Muscat University to develop the university’s strategy, operating plan and policy in order to raise the quality of its educational programs.
“The cooperation with Dr. Yusra on both projects demonstrated her as an exemplary leader in her participation with the work team, and her belief in building a collaborative and inclusive work environment that empowers faculty, staff and students,” she said.
Bryde believes that Yusra’s real point of advantage lies in her ability to “transfer her knowledge and experience from the United Kingdom and adapt it to the Omani context, which has resulted in the establishment of a university that takes good practices from other parts of the world yet is highly focused on the local context and meets its needs.”
“I saw her leadership of Muscat University,” said Bryde. “I consider her bold and decisive, having a clear vision of how to develop the institution without being afraid to introduce new and innovative programs, policies and procedures.”
Difficulties Facing Female Leaders
Mouzughi’s career difficulties were not only related to the region’s higher education challenges but also related to cultural and social obstacles resulting from a lack of acceptance by some in the academic community of the idea of working under the leadership of a woman. (See a related article, “Arab Women Are Left Out of University Leadership.”)
“Dr. Yusra’s experience in leading a new emerging university and her success at the professional level is a real example for many young female students who aspire to be empowered and lead key positions in the future.”Narimane Hadj-Hamou
Founder of the Center for Learning Innovations and Customized Knowledge Solutions (CLICKS)
“A woman presiding over a man at work is sometimes a difficult issue in the Arab countries because of the prevailing societal and religious culture,” Mouzughi said. She managed to overcome this obstacle, she said, thanks to her “flexible” personality that made her manage cases in a consultative manner with team members, and thanks to Oman’s great openness regarding the presence of women in influential higher education’s positions.
In turn, Bryde believes that Mouzughi is highly aware of the surrounding work environment’s culture and is able to always adapt to it, and move in the paths of success from different cultural environments.
“Her overcoming these challenges in different work environments is a real point of distinction,” he said.
Some believe that Mouzughi’s success in leading Muscat University will be an important factor in pushing larger numbers of women into leadership positions at various levels in higher education in the Gulf states.
“Dr. Yusra’s experience in leading a new emerging university and her success at the professional level is a real example for many young female students who aspire to be empowered and lead key positions in the future,” said Hadj-Hamou.