Business and Education in the Arab World

 

 

This post is part of a series of reviews summarizing presentations and discussions that took place at the 2013 Harvard Arab Weekend. For more information about this event, the largest pan-Arab conference in North America, please visit http://harvardarabweekend.org/

Panel Speakers:  

Beirut_Downtown_Seafront_C

(Photo credit: A.K.Khalifeh – own work)

On November 11 a panel of three regional experts came together during Harvard Arab Weekend to examine the role of private business in theeducational sector. Together they discussed the importance of inspiring local talent, enabling development initiatives, and fostering collaboration between industry and academia.

Dr. Bouhia, the Head of Strategy and Development at CDG Morocco, spoke about Morocco’s generally smooth transition from the Arab Spring to political stability. This, she claimed, allowed for the creation of a new parliament with quotas for youth, and emphasized the importance of youth participation within education reform.  She also discussed the potential for more collaboration and growth between the private and education sector, citing the $11.5 billion the private sector has already contributed to educational initiatives around the world. According to Dr. Bouhia, business are keen to continue investing in the education sector, seeing it as a low-risk opportunity which yields high returns in terms of human capital. She claimed businesses are the first to benefit from these investments in human capital. Dr. Bouhia also spoke about the importance of stimulating growth in the region. This “can potentially reverse brain drain, but it needs to be coupled with structures which are set up to absorb the talent efficiently.”

Haifa Al-Attia, the CEO of the Queen Rania Foundation for Education and Development, spoke candidly about the ‘brain drain’ phenomena occurring in the region. Youth, she claimed, want to contribute but the jobs are not meeting their expectations. As a result, around 54% of Arab students who study abroad do not return to their home countries, leading inevitably to a scarcity of local talent. Al-Attia highlighted the importance of greater collaboration between local businesses and educational institutions as one way to anchor the 100,000 Arab professionals leaving the region each year. She emphasized the need to reform institutions of higher education to produce more competitive candidates. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC’s), such as the newest initiative by the Queen Rania Foundation, is one other alternative.  MOOCs, At-Attia claims, allow for local students to hone their skills and expand their expertise while simultaneously providing the diaspora opportunities to give back to the region. She concluded her statement by stating MOOC’s are one tool with the potential to “start a culture committed to life-long learning.”

Dr. Ahmed Dallal, Provost of the American University in Beirut, spoke about the need for universities to routinely look for, and adjust to, patterns of employment in the local labor market. He critiqued regional universities for remaining conservative and slow to change, and spoke about AUB’s recent initiative to revisit and restructure its general education program to equip students with problem solving and critical thinking skills. Businesses investing in education, he argued, is in the best interest of the region overall. Dr. Dallal also spoke about the importance of identifying the jobs of the future and funding research so that universities become “creators of knowledge” rather than institutes which “simply train people for a routine world.” More importantly, he claimed, “we need students with skills sets that allow them to solve problems, in the regional level and at the global level.” He concluded by speaking to the importance of thinking creatively about connecting to the diaspora and experimenting with experiential learning as a means of injecting reform into the education sector.

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