Appel à contributions : ’Higher education, globalization and power in the Arab world’

Un appel à contribution de la REMMM à faire circuler :

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Call for papers:Higher education, globalization and power in the Arab world

In 2003, the second UNDP Arab Human Development Report severely criticized the Arab higher education systems, deeming it to be in a disastrous state. It invited the Arab states to make massive investments, quantitatively as well as qualitatively, in a sector crucial for any society’s future. While newly expressed, the negative perception concerning Arab universities and their weaknesses is not recent. The mismatch between the curricula and social needs has long been denounced. Arab higher education is hindered by numerous problems : obsession with large, generalist universities ; redundancy and devaluation of the most valorized university diplomas ; unemployment of graduate students ; absence of professional training matching social needs ; and brain drain, to name just a few. These issues have been raised by many in the Arab world and outside. They fuel a discourse of “academic crisis”, which bears huge political, social, economic and emotional investments in a sector felt to be vital for the country.

Present Arab higher education stems from hundreds of years of history in the region. Medieval Islamic universities preceded nineteenth century universities, founded by Arab or colonial rule and emulating the European university model. But the development of modern higher education dates back to the independences. Considered strongholds of the anti-colonial struggles or created to quench the newly independent states’ thirst for development, prestige and legitimacy, universities multiplied in the Arab world. This trend was repeated after the 1980s when the developmentalist dead ends led to timid liberalizations. Ten universities (i. e. higher education institutions) existed in 1940 ; there were 140 in 2000, half of them founded between 1980 and 1993 ; today they are 250. University capacities vary – gross enrolment rates range from 14% in Yemen to 49% in Libya – but are increasing in every Arab country.

And yet, this academic opening has been hampered for two decades by economic crises, structural adjustments programs, drops in reputation, and graduate unemployment. In this context highlighted by the UNDP report, strategies of requalification emerge. The emphasis of this special issue of REMMM will be put on the current mutations of Arab universities, mutations materialized by new modalities of interaction between the Arab world and Northern countries in the context of globalization.

The poor results of the first wave of academic liberalizations led to two series of consequences. Firstly, a new wave of financing from the corporate sector, as part of the globalization of universities, has for a decade been imposing higher education as a commodity. The multiplication of universities is reconfiguring the higher education framework in the Arab countries. Secondly, the most recent actors of the Arab academic renaissance are the countries constituent of the Arabian Peninsula. In Saudi Arabia, there were only eight universities in 2003 ; more than a hundred have been created since 2004. The budget for higher education multiplied threefold to reach 15 billion dollars for a 23 million people country.

This evolution has introduced deep changes in the Arab academe and pushed it toward higher integration in the global economy. On the one hand, universities in the Maghreb are altering their strategies in order to emulate the European universities engaged in the Bologna process, and to mark their difference with Sub-Saharan countries. On the other hand, universities in the Near-East (Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Jordan) seem to be caught in the crossfire between the rise of the Peninsula’s universities shaping themselves toward the American model, and the North-African universities following the European model. At the same time, most of the authoritarian regimes are strengthening their grip over society while other regimes are going through crises (Lebanon, Palestinian Territories, Iraq) ; violence is ceaseless whatever its source or nature is. Finally, the circulation of knowledge, scientists and institutional technologies are altered by internal rearrangements – especially the faculty flows between Egypt and the Gulf countries.

How to elucidate these complex dynamics ? Who are the older and newer academic actors ? How – and by whom – are their functions formulated, reformulated and experienced ? How are they working today ? How are relations negotiated between societies, governments and universities ? How are countries, institutions and university careers ranked ? How do Arab societies articulate the opening of universities to international competition with the persistence of coercion ? Is privatization an effective solution against massive unemployment ? For the time being, only a few studies offer a political sociology of academic actors and institutions in the Arab world. The only comprehensive and referential books are sociographies (in English) dating back to 1966, plus some recent publications on education in the Arab world. Another set of works, mostly expertise, mobilize the science of education and economics in order to enhance the functioning and internal organization of universities or to adapt them to liberalization. They form a major part of the “grey literature” on the matter, rich in information though poorly theoreticized. This new issue of REMMM aspires to explore the different aspects and scales of this academic renewal, its history, actors and stakes.

With this issue, we would like to shed new light on the higher education (research and teaching) dynamics in the Arab world, and the influence of the academic liberalizations since 1990. This study is to be based on field research and case studies, favoring multidisciplinary perspectives. The aim is to examine the reactions of universities to both transversal (the global commoditization of higher education, the reinforcement of authoritarian regimes, economic crises) and regional stakes (positioning differences between Maghreb, Near-East and Gulf countries). South-South and North-South academic relations are of particular interest.

Every paper inducing comparisons and theoretical, historical, regional and international appraisal is welcome. The theme is open : formations and transformations of the academic practice and market, redefinition of public policies and university governance, academic freedom and coercive regimes, feminization of the workforce, transformations of the student population and renewing of the curricula, faculty and programs. Papers focusing on a precedent period or on states neighboring the Middle East will be accepted to the extent that they allow a comparative reflection on the main issues highlighted here.

The paper proposal – English or French - must not exceed one page (2 000 characters), explaining the problem explored, how it integrates the main theme of the current issue of REMMM and the material, field and theoretical approach chosen.

You may send your proposals to Vincent Romani,, by September 15, 2010.