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Birzeit U., ALECSO Commemorate Day of Solidarity with Palestine; WISE Summit Discusses AI in Education

Why Do Universities Launch New Majors?

In our new bulletin, Al-Fanar Media brings you our most prominent stories and news about higher education in the Arab world.

Today, I want to explore the question: What motivates a university to launch a new department or major?

Why, for example, are universities expanding media schools and departments at a time when the media market and job opportunities are shrinking, and artificial intelligence is adding new challenges?

Is it a mere trend that everyone rushes to open departments and colleges of a newly emerging major?

It seems academia has two ways of thinking and planning: strategically and for prestige.

The first type studies the needs of society, job opportunities, the needs of the business and industry sector, and its capabilities to provide the requirements of an integrated educational process, with its human elements and curricula, including gain and loss calculations, and the quality of educational outcomes.

The second type does the job and spends money, even racing to mention “just as we have,” with less attention to educational outcomes, community service, or placing its graduates in the labour market.

To be continued.

Mohammad El-Hawary
Al-Fanar Media editor-in-chief

From the Region

Birzeit U. Commemorates Day of Solidarity with Palestinian People

On Wednesday, Birzeit University celebrated the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, which falls on November 29 each year. This year’s observance comes amidst “brutal Israeli aggression against the Gaza Strip and the West Bank,” the university said in a statement. “The occupation commits crimes of genocide and displacement in our beloved Strip, and gross violations of human rights, causing a humanitarian and health catastrophe, and massive losses in human lives and property.”

The university called on the international academic community to intervene immediately to stop the Israeli assault, protect the Palestinian people from war crimes, and stop what it described as “ethnic cleansing in all of Palestine”. It also called on the free people of the world, the global academic community, unions, and students to fulfil their intellectual and academic duty to stand in solidarity with Palestine and the rights of the Palestinian people to freedom, independence, and self-determination.

Also see: Arab Academics at American Universities Disagree about Freedom of Expression over Gaza

ALECSO Calls on World to Honour Its Responsibilities toward Palestine

The Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organisation (ALECSO) marked the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People in a statement asserting that the international community has moral, legal and humanitarian responsibilities, individually and collectively, toward the Palestinian people. The organisation urged people and institutions around the world to live up to those responsibilities by helping the Palestinian people secure their legitimate rights and recover their occupied territories.

ALECSO also confirmed that it would continue to support the State of Palestine in the fields of education, culture and science; work with Unesco to preserve Palestinian heritage and have it inscribed on the World Heritage List; and stand against Israeli attacks on Palestinian heritage sites and monuments, especially in al-Quds al-Sharif (Jerusalem).

Qatar Foundation’s WISE 11 Discusses AI in Education

The 11th edition of Qatar Foundation’s World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE 11) took place on November 28 and 29 in Doha under the theme “Creative Fluency: Human Flourishing in the Age of AI”. The global summit drew more than 2,000 education-industry stakeholders, including influential thought leaders, young trailblazers, and key decision-makers to foster dialogue on the transformative power of artificial intelligence (AI) in education.

Speaking at the opening session, Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, chairperson of Qatar Foundation, said: “I want to ensure WISE is a platform for new ideas that keep pace with the changes taking place in the world, and the obstacles that education faces in certain countries for reasons of which we are all too aware. There is no alternative but to innovate if we are to find solutions to intractable problems.”

As the official strategic partner at WISE, the advocacy organisation Education Above All hosted 16 panel discussions, roundtables and plenary sessions exploring the transformative capabilities of education. 

Birzeit U., ALECSO Commemorate Day of Solidarity with Palestine; WISE Summit Discusses AI in Education
Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, chairperson of Qatar Foundation

Arabic Language Academy Digitises Manuscript Collection, Offers Free Access

The Arabic Language Academy in Cairo and the Thesaurus Islamicus Foundation recently celebrated the completion of their joint effort to preserve and digitise the manuscripts held in the academy’s library through the foundation’s Qirab project. 

In a statement, Qirab said that effort began in 2021 after the academy invited the foundation to collaborate in preserving the manuscripts and creating a digital collection that would be accessible to the public. The academy initially identified 64 titles contained in 61 bound volumes to be cataloged for preservation. During the two-year project, Qirab collaborated with the academy to assist with the storage, care, and digitising of the collection. To view the manuscripts, click here.

Caribbean Medical University Brings Academic Workshop to Dubai

St. George’s University School of Medicine, in Grenada, recently hosted a Mini-Medical School workshop in Dubai for students aspiring to pursue a career in medicine. The event sought to help potential students gain insights into a career in medicine and the life of a medical student, to help them judge their suitability for the field.

The workshop included hands-on training sessions in patient care skills, such as accurately taking and recording blood pressure, and surgical care skills, such as suturing techniques, wound assessment, and aftercare.

St. George’s University is a private institution in the Caribbean island nation of Grenada, that draws students and faculty from more than 150 countries. Its graduates include physicians, veterinarians, scientists, and public health and business professionals across the world.

From Al-Fanar Media:

No Gender Gap in Education in Middle East, London Conference Hears

Academics attending a recent Middle East Educational Thought Leadership Forum in London discussed various issues related to higher education and the future of educational technology. Topics included the gender gap in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) that many nations experience, and algorithmic bias in artificial intelligence applications.

Maryam Sani, a British Jamaican chemist who has worked in education in Saudi Arabia for nearly 30 years, told the conference that there was no gender gap in STEM education in the Middle East. Sani spoke on a panel called “Creatively Closing the Gap”. Read more in this article

In Conflict: 

Arab Academics at U.S. Universities Disagree about Freedom of Expression over Gaza

As demonstrations on opposing sides of the Israel-Hamas war increasingly take place at American universities, Arab professors there spoke with Al-Fanar Media about the status of academic freedom and freedom of expression on their campuses.

Huda Fakhreddine, an associate professor of Arabic literature and criticism at the University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia, says faculty members feel intimidated by trustees and donors who encroach on academic freedom. Amr Mahmoud, an assistant professor at the Swanson School of Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh, however, sees evidence that academic freedom is functioning on his campus, despite some heated debates.

Read more about their views, plus what some pro-Palestinian students had to say, in this article.

Culture: 

Orientalism’s Legacy: How Art Shaped and Still Influences Western Views of the East

The unrealistic, stereotyped views of the East that flourished under Orientalism are still reflected in modern culture, according to speakers at a recent Doha Debates event. “Orientalism is not just an artistic movement,” the Pakistani journalist and author Fatima Bhutto said. “It can have real-world implications on how people view each other, and can reinforce harmful stereotypes.”

Bhutto was among several art scholars, critics and journalists who spoke during a panel discussion called “Orientalism Demystified: Eastern Insights on Western Myths”, held on November 14 at VCUarts Qatar as part of the Doha Debates Town Hall series. The panel members explored how Orientalist art shaped Western views of the East through its portrayals of Arab, Asian, and North African people, places, culture and history. They also discussed whether museums should still display Orientalist works, given the often negative connotations these artworks carry. Read more about the debate in this article.

Tips and Resources:

Al-Fanar Media Shares Universities’ Tips for Student Success

Going to university changes young people’s lives in more ways than preparing them for a job. Al-Fanar Media gathered tips from universities and career firms in several countries about how to succeed in the university experience. Australia’s Charles Sturt University believes the university experience helps students get ready to “make their mark on the world”. Among the benefits it lists are discovering your passion, becoming more independent, and making friends for life.

We also gathered advice on academic and practical matters from experts at DeVry University, in Chicago; the Camden Centre of Rutgers University, in New Jersey; Canada’s University of Toronto at Scarborough; and the Romanian job website SkillMeter. Read more about their suggestions in this article

Opinion: 

Discussing Palestine with Youth

In an essay, Maha Bali, a professor of practice at the Center for Learning and Teaching at the American University in Cairo, explores the small actions that academics, parents and public scholars can take to support Palestine. “I’m writing this post because I know many of us outside Palestine are feeling angry and helpless and wondering what we can do,” she writes. “… Even if I cannot do anything significant to help save lives or influence the conflict, I can at least help educate others and help cultivate mind-sets that support the Palestinian cause in as constructive a way as possible. This is a time to cultivate compassion while also nurturing criticality and encouraging activism.” Read more of her thoughts here.

Podcast:

Al-Fanar Media Podcast: ‘Indispensable Sites for University Students’

Al-Fanar Media Podcast posts a new episode every Sunday in which our correspondents across the Arab world tackle various issues of higher education. In one recent episode, we suggest a number of websites where new university students can find resources to help them adjust to and thrive in their new academic setting. You can listen to this episode, and others in the series, on SoundCloud, Spotify, or YouTube.

Scholarships

Al-Fanar Media maintains a database of quality scholarships available to Arab students, which we continuously update. To stay up to date on the latest scholarships available in international universities, check the Scholarships section here, and watch for updated feedback on free learning opportunities in our News and Reports section, here.

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