Newsletter

Bulletin: Qatar Hosts International Universities Conference; Scholar Wants Schools to Embed Climate Literacy in Curricula

Carrot and Stick Approach 

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

We are following, with careful interest and professionality, the repercussions of the Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip and other violence against Palestinians in the West Bank, as well as the growing interest in the Palestinian cause around the world.

That interest has extended to university campuses, where protests, vigils, and marches demonstrating solidarity with the Palestinian people have taken place. 

Reactions to demonstrations on campuses have varied, ranging from complete permission to restriction and prevention, and some organisers have even received threats.

The Al-Fanar Media team has been following such activities in several locations, including British and American universities. How campus leaders and state and local authorities have responded to demonstrations is raising questions among some faculty members about academic freedom and students’ freedom of expression, both of which have been subjected to real and sometimes harsh tests these days.

Such freedoms should not be a matter of carrot and stick; we allow students to express their opinions on the one hand, but we threaten them with expulsion or imprisonment on the other hand, if they violate laws and regulations.

The circumstances require a real pause from academics, student organisations, university policy-makers, and higher-education officials, who need to reconsider the issue of academic freedom and the freedom of students and faculty members to express their opinions.

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

From the Region

Qatar U. Hosts International Association of Universities Conference

Qatar University was host for this year’s annual conference of the International Association of Universities, which concluded on Monday. The three-day IAU 2023 International Conference was held under the theme “Higher Education with Impact: The Importance of Intercultural Learning and Dialogue”, and was attended by a large number of university presidents and higher-education officials from around the world.

According to Qatar University, the 2023 conference explored how universities promote and support intercultural learning and dialogue, the impact that geopolitics is having on this goal, and the broader implications for society. The three main plenary sessions were on “The Intercultural Imperative in a De-Globalising World”, “Opening Knowledge for Humanity in an Interconnected World”, and “The Impact of Geopolitics on the Future of International Cooperation”.

The association, created under the auspices of Unesco in 1950, seeks to serve the global higher-education community through expertise and trends analysis, peer-to-peer learning, events, and global advocacy.

Cambridge Expert Calls for Embedding Climate Literacy into School Curricula

Christine Özden, global director for climate education at Cambridge University Press & Assessment, will urge government officials attending the COP28 climate-change summit

to recognise the crucial role of education in building knowledge and skills for climate action and to embed climate literacy in schools worldwide. COP28, as this year’s United Nations conference on climate change is called, opens in Dubai on November 30.

According to a statement from Cambridge University Press & Assessment, Özden will lead a workshop at COP28 on December 2 to unveil an innovative, online course on climate literacy designed for schools in India, which aims to enable young learners to drive change. 

Özden has identified four key insights in learning to tackle the climate crisis: the need to amplify youth voices, especially in decision-making; to integrate climate education into all stages of school curricula; to understand that climate crisis is a global issue that requires local expression and solutions; and to hold collaborative partnerships to tackling the climate crisis.

Research at American U. of Sharjah May Lead to Self-Disinfecting Fabrics

Mohammad Al-Sayah, a professor in biology, chemistry and environmental sciences at the American University of Sharjah, is leading a materials-science research team that aims to develop self-disinfecting fabrics and other innovative materials with far-reaching applications in environmental remediation, healthcare, and advanced technologies.

According to a university news release, self-disinfecting fabrics enriched with natural antibacterial carbon nanodots could combat microbial growth, offering promising solutions to global health challenges. 

Abdelhamid Khodja, a student majoring in biology and a member of the research team, said: “We develop innovative antimicrobial textiles using carbon dots, which are tiny carbon particles that have applications in bioimaging, drug delivery, biosensing, disease detection, synthetic chemistry and materials science.”

A research team at the American University of Sharjah is working to develop antimicrobial textiles (University).

Saudi University Conducts Study to Predict Dust Movements

Researchers at Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) have published a study on their work to accurately model and predict dust movements, which have both positive and negative consequences for the environment, climate, air quality, and solar-technology devices.

According to a university news release, atmospheric dust is an effective way to move minerals across sea and land, acting as a fertiliser by distributing nutrients long distances. At the same time, dust may lead to damage to infrastructure and technology, so an accurate understanding of its effects will contribute to the development of national policies aimed at achieving sustainability.

The study, published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres, found that dust deposition over the Middle East maybe three times larger than previously thought, which could have a profound impact on the deployment of solar technology.

Egypt Launches Innovation Competition for University Students

Egypt’s Innovators Support Fund has launched a competition called “Innovation Catalyst 2024” for students at Egyptian universities who have innovative ideas for projects that meet market needs and solve existing challenges.

In a statement from Egypt’s Ministry of Higher Education, Diaa Khalil, executive director of the fund, said the competition aims to link education with industry and spread the culture of innovation and entrepreneurship among students. The competition will provide a total of 1.5 million Egyptian pounds (about $48,500 U.S.) for projects, plus other benefits for participants, including training programmes and mentoring sessions with specialised experts. For more details, click here.

From Al-Fanar Media:

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 in this article.

Culture:

Tutankhamun Comes to Life in Immersive Experience at Grand Egyptian Museum

In the 2006 film Night at the Museum, statues and collectibles come to life every evening until the sun rises. Thanks to artificial intelligence, you can have a similar experience as Tutankhamun comes to life in an interactive exhibition at the Grand Egyptian Museum. On November 21, “Tutankhamun: the Immersive Exhibition” opened for visitors to learn about the origins and life of the Golden Pharaoh, who has long fascinated Egyptologists and lovers of ancient Egyptian civilization. Explore more in this article

Tips and Resources:

Tools for Detecting AI-Assisted Writing and Research

Since the U.S. company OpenAI released ChatGPT last November, an increasing number of students are using artificial intelligence-powered text-generating tools to write or assist them in writing research papers and other university assignments, or even to do their exams. This poses a major challenge for academics who want to make sure students are doing their own work and not turning in assignments written by a robot. Professors want tools to help them detect AI-generated content. At the same time, they want to avoid falsely accusing students of cheating. Read more in this article

Opinion:

World Risks Losing a Generation of Scientists Due to Conflicts, Displacement

Armed conflicts, violence, human-rights violations, and natural disasters have displaced millions of people around the globe, including an unknown number of scientists, doctors, engineers, and others with advanced technical training. Unless more is done to support them, the world risks losing a generation of scholars and their expertise, the Egyptian academic Tarek Kapiel writes in an essay for Al-Fanar Media.

The international scientific community can and should do more to ensure that displaced scholars can continue contributing to their local communities and the world, says Kapiel, who is an assistant professor of biotechnology in the Faculty of Science at Cairo University.

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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