Higher Education in the Middle East: Opportunities and Challenges for U.S. Universities and Middle East Partners

Article excerpt

Abstract

In recent years, particularly in the aftermath of 9/11, there has been a significant increase in the presence of U.S. universities and colleges in the Middle East. This article examines the challenges and opportunities that are found in the evolving establishment of regional institutions of higher education in the Middle East, with particular attention to the Persian Gulf region. Despite the best intentions of those involved there are conflicting interests and ambitions among Middle Eastern and U.S. elites who are involved in the various partnerships and collaborations. This article reviews and examines some of the current partnerships in hopes that future endeavors will profit from recent events and design more effective and productive collaborations.

No other region in the world confronts the next U.S. president with a greater set of challenges than the Middle East. Virtually each country in the region has a long and complicated relationship with Washington and other Western capitals. From Baghdad to Riyadh, from Islamabad to Jerusalem, from Tehran to Ankara, and from Doha to Muscat, the next occupant of the White House will confront nations and peoples fatigued from longstanding tensions and hopeful for change.

Washington's foreign policy initiatives in the Middle East know few supporters in the region but there is at least one American institution that remains admired and sought after by the region's elites and general public. U.S. universities and colleges have long been viewed, both domestically and internationally, as agents for positive change and progress. In the United States rapid expansion of universities and colleges following World War II facilitated the rise of the nation's middle class, economic and scientific dynamism, and social progress. Just as the United States reaped great benefits owing to the expansion of higher education during the past 60 years, so too can the Middle East today.

In recent years, particularly in the aftermath of 9/11, there has been a significant increase in the presence of U.S. colleges and universities in the Middle East. While tens of thousands of Middle East citizens have earned advanced degrees in the United States and Europe, these same individuals acknowledge the need to build an indigenous system of colleges and universities within their own countries. Recognizing the challenges that exist in building new institutions of higher learning in a region that has few existing institutions relative to its population base and demands, it is logical for governmental, educational, and business elites to reach out to U.S. universities for counsel and partnership. While other western nations are actively involved in the development of higher education in the Middle East, this paper focuses on the role of U.S. universities and colleges.

This paper examines the challenges and opportunities that are found in the evolving establishment of regional institutions of higher education in the Middle East, with particular attention to the Persian Gulf region. At first glance the proliferation of partnerships may appear an obvious good for all concerned. Like any institution, there are flaws in American higher education that educators, administrators, students, and politicians are quick to note. However, when one considers the current state of U.S. financial institutions and the body politic, America's higher education system remains a strong and dynamic positive force both domestically and internationally. Despite the best intentions of those involved there are conflicting interests and ambitions among Middle Eastern and U.S. elites who are involved in the various partnerships and collaborations. This paper reviews and examines some of the existing partnerships in hopes that future endeavors will profit from recent events and design more effective and productive collaborations.

Western Higher Education in the Middle East: The Early Years

Higher education, like so many institutions in the Middle East, was significantly shaped by European colonialism. …