To Make the World a Better Place, Teach Arabic

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photo 69341 wide largeBy Brian T. Edwards

Seventy-four years ago, Henry Luce published "The American Century," an essay that argued that American culture would play a starring role in creating a global environment in which the United States could thrive. Chief among his examples was American language itself; not just English, but an American-inflected argot that would be carried around the world via music, movies, comics, and popular culture. This was for Luce the sign of an internationalism that Americans themselves hadn’t yet acknowledged.

Today few would doubt that the reach and power of American culture is global, nor that the country is an international power. Colleges take a significantly different approach to teaching about the world than they did in 1941, and American studies has sought to be more global in its outlook. More foreign languages are taught than in Luce’s time, and study abroad has become a rite of passage for many students.

Yet a creeping monolingualism is overtaking higher education, despite the efforts of so many in the trenches. The signs are everywhere: Major universities are closing German departments and cutting Russian and French programs; general foreign-language requirements are easing up. Over all, college language enrollments tumbled 6.7 percent between 2009 and 2013, according to the Modern Language Association. Despite the growth of study abroad, it is increasingly easy for college students to take their courses in English in such countries as Jordan, the Czech Republic, France, and Turkey. The widespread sense that English has become a global lingua franca contributes to an unfortunate sense that learning other languages doesn’t matter.

Arabic is one of the languages that suffers in this climate, both because of its difficulty and the resistance of many language programs to embrace its spoken colloquial forms. Although it has been the fastest-growing language of study since 2001, enrollments fell 7.5 percent between 2009 and 2013. Given the enormous military and political focus on the Middle East, it is urgent that Americans learn Arabic. If the United States is going to try to understand, rather than bomb, invade, and occupy part of the world that has been our government’s central obsession for almost a decade and a half, then more colleges need to teach Arabic and do so in a vibrant way. Higher education has never had a more crucial role to play in achieving peace.

Arabic is the fifth most common native language in the world, with at least 295 million native speakers. And it is spoken in 60 countries, a number second only to English. That means there are jobs out there for those fluent in Arabic, a multitude of opportunities in both the private and public sector, including prospects we have not imagined. But this is not the only reason — or even the primary one — to support the study of Arabic.

Studying Arabic is a moral good and a matter of our national interest. Training a new generation to understand and converse in Arabic may help to reverse the previous generation’s misapprehension of the Arab world, especially as hate crimes against Muslims continue and anxieties about the Arab world fuel misunderstanding.

I support the teaching and learning of all world languages, and I direct a program that requires our majors to study at least three years of any of four languages of the Middle East: Arabic, Hebrew, Persian, and Turkish. But I focus on the importance of Arabic here because it is the most spoken in the region — the official or co-official language of 24 nations — and U.S. college enrollments are vastly out of sync with its popularity and importance in the world.

It is also one of most difficult languages, with many national dialects as well as a formal level that is complex and grammatically rich. Part of what’s holding back Arabic study in the United States is a resistance to embracing the relationship between these various forms.

Arabic is classified as a Category IV language by the State Department (up there with Mandarin, Japanese, and Korean), the highest level of difficulty. This refers mostly to the complexity of the grammar of modern standard Arabic. So Arabic is a four-year language, in college terms, in the sense that it takes years longer to get somewhere with modern standard Arabic than it does with French or Spanish. It takes persistence and dedication for American students to make progress.

What’s more, learning the formal modern standard Arabic does little to help American college students speak the national dialects, each of them relatively distinct colloquial forms. Think of the difference between Portuguese and Italian, or Spanish and French, and you have an approximation of the difference between Moroccan and Lebanese Arabic or Egyptian and Iraqi. No one in the Arab world goes around speaking modern standard Arabic, even though that formal level is used in print, literature, scholarship, and, in modified form, on broadcast media.

One way to overcome the challenge is to give more classroom time to the dialects, which are notably easier to learn than modern standard Arabic, and to put them at the heart of college training. At colleges where Arabic is offered, dialects are generally taught as ancillary courses, or as incidental to the formal language. Few programs in the United States do more than offer an occasional class, or more than a single dialect (usually Egyptian, sometimes Levantine).

This should change, and there are signs that it can.

The flagship Arabic program at the University of Texas at Austin recently rethought the separation of formal and colloquial Arabic, and now mingles the two more integrally. And the new third edition of Georgetown University Press’s widely used textbook Al-Kitaab puts a variety of dialects at the center.

When American educators embrace fully the understanding that Arabic is a living language and one we need to learn to converse in, we may start to move beyond the American-century logic of one-way conversation embedded in Henry Luce’s essay. After the American century, the next generation of college students — and the citizens they will become — can help us listen to and engage a major portion of the world crucial to the future.

Brian T. Edwards is an associate professor of English and comparative literary studies and founding director of the program in Middle East and North African studies at Northwestern University. His newest book, After the American Century: The Ends of U.S. Culture in the Middle East, is forthcoming from Columbia University Press in the fall.

Source: The Chronicle of Higher Education

Is Newest 'American U. of...' Really American?

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maltaBy Scott Jaschik

The name "American University of…" -- best known in the cases of Beirut and Cairo -- has for more than a century signified an American style of education in many cases otherwise unavailable in various countries. The institutions have been led by American educators, featured American (and other Western-educated) faculty members, and promoted a broad liberal arts-based education, along with top professional programs. Review and recognition has been provided by American accreditors.

But how American does a university need to be to call itself the American University of wherever?

That question is being raised by the creation of the American University of Malta. The government in Malta is strongly pushing the project, saying it will create new options for students from the small nation and attract students from elsewhere. But critics note that the university is being set up not by American educators, but by a Jordanian hotel and tourism company.
While DePaul University is involved (and its role has been pointed to by supporters of the effort as evidence of the American nature of the university), the institution is not offering degrees or setting up a campus there, but has only agreed to provide curricular materials for 10 degree programs.

DePaul was concerned enough about the way its role was being described that it issued a statement to news outlets in Malta and to Inside Higher Ed outlining what the university will and won't be doing there.

The statement said in part: "DePaul University is not establishing a branch campus and will not be issuing degrees in Malta. Sadeen Education Investment Ltd. (SEI) is seeking approval to establish the American University of Malta (AUM). As part of this process, SEI contracted with DePaul to develop curriculum materials for 10 programs at AUM: 5 bachelor degrees, 1 M.B.A. and 4 doctoral-level programs. Such curricula were developed in collaboration between DePaul and AUM, represented by SEI, in accordance with an agreement signed between mentioned parties."

A spokesperson for the university said, in in response to questions about the statement, described the arrangement with Sadeen this way: "Faculty designed degree programs in areas that were requested, with the dual goals of being academically well-designed and meeting regulatory requirements in Malta. Individual faculty members were selected with the help of teams -- comprised of associate deans, school directors and department chairs -- in the relevant colleges. Faculty then were asked to design the curriculum, and they were compensated for their work."

She added: "The right to use our name (DePaul University) is specifically in connection to the curriculum. While specifics of any DePaul contract are proprietary, I can tell you that it went through the usual, internal multi-step review process."

The university referred further questions to Sadeen officials, who did not respond to a series of questions. Sadeen Education Investment's stock is owned by the CEO of the Sadeen Group, which in addition to its tourism businesses also works in construction and operates international schools in Amman.

The Times of Malta quoted Sadeen's representative in the country as saying that most of the students and faculty members would come from outside Malta, and that the project was originally planned for Spain but that Maltese leaders convinced Sadeen to relocate to Malta. “When families come they will stay in hotels, students will be spending money here. And this besides the direct jobs in construction and finishing. We are looking at Malta as a center of excellence, a great place where students from the Middle East, North Africa and Europe can come over to study,” said the Sadeen official.

Articles in that newspaper and others in Malta have featured questions about whether the government should be providing land for the project, whether the new American University of Malta will undercut the University of Malta and whether the new institution really is an American university.

An essay published Sunday in The Times of Malta begins: "In principle I have no major problems with the non-American non-University of Malta. I think of it much as I would of a monster shopping center or hotel, that is to say, as a private business venture that has every right to try its luck at turning human beings into customers."

Philip G. Altbach, a research professor and director of the Center for International Higher Education at Boston College (and an Inside Higher Ed blogger), said via email that "the whole 'American University of (fill in the name)' deserves critical attention."

He said that these institutions include top institutions like those in Cairo and Beirut and also some of the newer institutions, with varying degrees of connection to the United States. But he said he fears that a growing number are "business interests starting universities to make money using the American brand."

Source: Inside Higher Education

Dubai Digital Library to provide access to more than 1,600 books

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DubaiLibraryThe sophisticated electronic platform will allow visitors to have access to a huge collection of Arabic books.

Dubai: A sophisticated electronic platform, giving access to more than 1,600 books and massive authentic knowledge resources, will soon be launched by the Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Foundation (MBRF) and made available for the public. Read more: Dubai Digital Library to provide access to more than 1,600 books

Plagiarism on rise at Australian universities as academics face pressure to pass international students

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acu slide3 636x392WEAK students are being awarded nursing degrees by Australia’s top universities, putting the lives of patients at risk, an investigation has revealed.

“There are students that are falling through the cracks, and yes, they could end up being unsafe practitioners,” one academic, who worked for the University of Western Sydney and the Australian Catholic University told the ABC’s Four Corners.

“There are a group of students who I honestly believe ... should not be graduating.”

Academics told the ABC the pressure to pass underperforming full-fee paying international students, with one lecturer saying she was “staggered” by the increase in plagiarism.

The report also shed light on the murky world of the offshore agents used by Australian universities to recruit hundreds of thousands of students, mainly from China.

In one case, a Beijing agent who represents universities including Monash, Queensland, Sydney, Newcastle, Southern Cross, ACU, ANU and UTS, was caught on tape saying he would accept a forged school transcript if a student had a poor academic record.

Dr Zena O’Connor, who teaches at the University of Sydney, told Four Corners the income stream generated by international students was huge. 

At Sydney University, international students make up a quarter of all enrolments while at RMIT in Melbourne they make up 50 per cent.

“I’m staggered by the increase in plagiarism. To start with, in my experience, it was a very small proportion, you know, maybe two, three, four per cent. I would peg it now at being much, much higher, well over 50 per cent. And some of the cases of extreme plagiarism where a student has plagiarised at least 80 per cent if not up to 100 per cent of their paper, that proportion is growing, and that level of extreme plagiarism I didn’t see five or ten years ago.”

Dr O’Connor has not instituted formal proceedings against any students for plagiarism because she says she was told to do all she could to pass them.

Alex Barthel, who formerly ran the language centre at the University of Technology, Sydney, told Four Corners he had been a long-standing advocate for higher English language entry standards for universities.

“Academic staff increasingly are frustrated by the fact that they are there to teach pharmacy or engineering or IT or whatever they’re teaching and they’re basically saying, ‘It’s not my job to help somebody with 65 spelling errors on the first page of an assignment. It’s not my job to teach them basic English grammar.’”

The vice-chancellors of the University of Western Sydney and the Australian Catholic University declined requests for an interview with Four Corners.

Article source: ABC's Four Corners

50% of university students won’t study same major again

  • Category: Education
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Major DecisionThe study also found that two-thirds of graduates end up on career paths that are unrelated to what they studied

Dubai: If given another chance, university students would not study the same subject again, a study by a UAE-based HR consultancy, the Talent Enterprise, has found.

The study, which was dedicated to the evaluation of human capital, found that almost half of all students would not go back to study the same courses.

It also found that two-thirds of graduates end up on career paths that are unrelated to what they studied at university.

“I totally regret studying civil engineering and I am not surprised by these findings because most of my friends regret it too,” said Palestinian Hazem Mohammad who graduated from the American University of Sharjah.

Mohammad said he regrets studying engineering because there are no job prospects in the engineering market in comparison with other markets.

“We engineering students studied 10 times harder in university than those who majored in mass communication or business management but once we graduated many of us barely found any jobs, and if we did they paid poorly.”

Mohammad said most of the job offers he got paid Dh4,000 to Dh5,000 while those who studied mass communication, for example, were getting jobs offers that paid Dh10,000.

Mohammad believes there should be counsellors at schools and university to advise students on the markets needs and direct their interests and skills to the right major.

Jordanian Lamia Usef, on the other hand, who also studied civil engineering, said she is working as an accounts executive at an advertising company because she could not find a job in her field.

“Some of my friends, who graduated with me, ended up finding jobs in their majors, while others did not. I think luck plays a big role when searching for a job.”

Lamia said she has many women friends who studied civil engineering but purposely chose not to work in the field because it is a demanding job for women, especially if they plan on getting married.

According to David Jones, Managing Director at The Talent Enterprise and a Labour Market Economist, there is massive opportunity in the UAE.

“We believe that each and every individual has something unique to offer in terms of their own individual strengths and aspirations. It’s really about discovering these unique attributes, and then helping the right people find the right jobs.”

Jones said, based on this realisation, The Talent Enterprise has developed the ‘Thriving Index’, the region’s first and only psychometric assessment tools to help students, job-seekers and employees understand more about their strengths and personal motivation. He said the Thriving Index will be available at the Al Ain Education and Career Fair next week.

The study found that among UAE youth, the weakest points include preparedness, optimisim, responsibility, confidence and flexibility. The strengths include ambition and creativity.

Article Source: Gulf News

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