A British non-profit organization is expanding its reach internationally with the goal of improving teaching standards at universities in the Arab region.
The Higher Education Academy, based in York, has set standards and offered support to encourage successful teaching in the United Kingdom since 2004, but now the organization is enlarging its remit. “Teaching quality has become a higher priority outside of the U.K., especially in the Gulf,” says the academy’s Head of International Services, Kathryn Harrison-Graves.
“Governments want the sector to be less reliant on ‘the West’ in the longer term,” she continues. “We believe our work makes institutions more self-sufficient, but at the same time they are joining a global network where ideas and innovation about teaching are shared.”
One way the organization aims to do this is through its fellowships—inexpensive training programs that vary in cost from £200 to £1,000 (about $260—$1300) depending on the level and whether a fellow’s university is a subscribing member of the academy.
Harrison-Graves says the training places an emphasis on student-centered interaction, encouraging teachers to move away from a “teaching to” method and toward an “engaging with” approach.
This is a philosophy that Hadeer Abo El Nagah, an associate professor in the department of English and translation at Prince Sultan University in Saudi Arabia, agrees with.
“Anyone involved with teaching at the higher education level must know that the more you interact with students, the more you learn and the more they learn,” she says.
Abo El Nagah became one of the academy’s principal fellows in July. Originally from Egypt, she has been teaching since 2002 and worked in Canada and the United States before moving to Saudi Arabia.
She says she is proud to be recognized by the Academy because it’s a fairly gruelling procedure to become a fellow. The submission process involves lengthy essays, which are later followed by workshops and training if the application is successful.
“I found the program inspiring,” says Abo el Nagah. “I look for opportunities to learn new techniques to benefit my students, because I don’t want to teach the same program twice in the same way. You stagnate like that.”
She adds that one of the main advantages of the fellowship program is the opportunity to connect with other teachers in the region at the workshops. “That’s why I joined the program,” she explains. “I wanted to learn from other colleagues of different backgrounds and disciplines.”
For other fellows, it was the application process itself that was the most rewarding part. Sana Ahmed Mohammed Al-Mansoori is an assistant professor in the department of electrical and electronics engineering at the University of Bahrain. She says the program has given her self-assurance in her teaching abilities.
“I suppose receiving the acceptance letter from the HEA was gratifying, but I feel that I enjoyed the process of preparing my portfolio application more,” she says. “Although it required some effort and time to prepare, the application made me look back at my teaching practice and reassess my success in teaching.”
“Completing the program and being accepted as a fellow gave me confidence in what I was doing and confirmed that I was taking steps in the right direction,” she adds.
The Academy has so far recognized 326 teachers at Arab universities as fellows, a number that continues to grow. The organization is also training accreditors in the region who will help assess future fellowship applications and specific courses delivered at universities. This, says Harrison-Graves of the Academy, means Arab governments will be less reliant on Western institutions to develop their education systems in the long run by building an “in-country capability.”
In the meantime, the academy’s fellowship programs offer universities in the region an affordable way to improve teaching standards. Al-Mansoori encourages other teachers and lecturers in the region to submit an application: “It has helped me enjoy my teaching, which I think is imperative for success.”