Arab experts and academics recently got together to discuss role models from their countries in ways to finance higher education, make universities sustainable, and combat climate change.
Nature Middle East, a portal for information on scientific and medical research in the Arab world, organised the webinar, which was called “Towards More Sustainable Arab Academic Institutions.”
The Jordanian Experience
One of the participants was Jordan’s Princess Sumaya bint El Hassan, president of the Royal Scientific Society of Jordan. She said that government support was the main funding for universities in the kingdom, but that this model “does not serve the economic sustainability of higher education institutions.”
For additional funding, universities have only the meagre tuition fees they charge, she said. This leads some to admit large numbers of students to cover education and operating costs at the expense of the quality of education, because it distracts some colleges and faculties from research.
“It has become clear that we need more than just degrees,” Princess Sumaya said. “With the increasing manifestations and needs of globalisation, it is necessary to pay attention to those who can contribute to research and future labour markets.”
“It has become clear that we need more than just degrees. … [We must] pay attention to those who can contribute to research and future labour markets.”
Universities’ economic sustainability can only be achieved through new funding sources, such as university endowments, competitive funds, partnerships with the economic and industrial sectors, and linking research to industry, she said.
She added that most majors and departments at Jordanian and Arab universities were still “traditional” at a time when the region needs unconventional solutions to its problems in areas like energy, food security and the environment.
Facing these problems “requires contributions from academic disciplines that are still not present in our universities,” she said.
Egypt’s Zewail City of Science and Technology
Egypt’s Zewail City of Science, Technology and Innovation was mentioned during the webinar as a unique model. It began as a nonprofit institution in a partnership between the Egyptian government and the local community, with a flexible and independent administration.
Mostafa Badawy, an associate professor and acting director of environmental engineering at Zewail City, said high-quality education was the institution’s primary goal. As well as attracting distinguished teaching staff, it also selects outstanding students, 70 percent of whom are on scholarships, said Badawy, who is also director of Zewail City’s Sustainable Development Center and its Valley of Science and Technology, a technology park.
Nevertheless, “the institution faces difficulties in maintaining a balance between providing a high-quality education, and ensuring financial sustainability,” he added.
University Independence in Morocco
“Decentralization has made Moroccan universities more independent at the financial and administrative levels. However, they still need to improve their decision-making efficiency.”Dalila Loudyi Professor of water and environmental engineering at Hassan II University of Casablanca
On Morocco’s experience, Dalila Loudyi, a professor of water and environmental engineering at Hassan II University of Casablanca, said that universities need to be independent so they can respond quickly to the rapidly changing socioeconomic environment.
“While decentralization has made Moroccan universities more independent at the financial and administrative levels, they still need to improve the efficiency of decision-making,” she said.
An Education City in Qatar
“We need to instill a culture of transparency and to realise that gathering sufficient evidence is the way to reform higher education,” he said. He added that economies and societies must become “knowledge-based.”
Marmolejo said Education City in Qatar contains eight leading international universities, offering 70 undergraduate and graduate programmes on one campus. “This city is an example of how educational systems can be more independent, better-performing, and accountable,” he said. “This is what we urgently need today.”
Climate Change Challenges
“We need to instill a culture of transparency and to realise that gathering sufficient evidence is the way to reform higher education.”Francisco Marmolejo President of higher education at Qatar Foundation
To combat climate change, Badawy, from Zewail City, said students need to collaborate on project-based research and practical experience outside the classroom, and to be introduced to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.
Nadia El Awady, chief editor of Nature Middle East, who moderated the webinar, suggested introducing environment and climate change-related courses for all students, regardless of their major. She stressed the importance of students having a multidisciplinary approach from the start to encourage discussing and finding solutions to the environmental problems around them.
She also called on Arab universities to be models in implementing environmentally sustainable behaviours to limit the effects of climate change.
[Enjoying this article? Subscribe to our free newsletter.]
In other recommendations from the webinar, participants suggested establishing a network of universities in the MENA region to build a stronger higher-education system, searching for new and innovative funding sources, and building educational systems that will help transform the region’s economies and societies into sustainable knowledge-based ones.
- What Progress Is Being Made to Arab ‘Knowledge Economies’?
- Qatar Spends Heavily on Drug Research, Seeking a Knowledge Economy
- Oman Boosts Climate-Change Studies in Wake of Deadly Storms
- Not Just Money: Arab-Region Researchers Face a Complex Web of Barriers
- Covid-19 and Money Trouble Create Hurdles for a Mediterranean Research Project