Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Palestinian Deputy V-C Practises the Art of Management

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Palestinian Deputy V-C Practises the Art of Management

Article excerpt

Birmingham City's Bashir Makhoul talks creative roots and academic vision with Matthew Reisz

The UK's first Palestinian deputy vice-chancellor - a leading conceptual artist who feels that hailing from a village in Galilee adds to his drive to succeed - has just taken up his post at Birmingham City University.

A professor in art and design and former pro vice-chancellor at BCU, Bashir Makhoul's key goal, he said, was "improving [BCU's] academic mission, bringing much more academic rigour to the way we operate and attract students".

This will be achieved through focusing on existing "pillars of distinction" such as the Centre for Applied Criminology and the celebrated Birmingham Conservatoire under Julian Lloyd Webber, and then bringing other courses up to the same "world-leading level".

Along with extensive investment and a partnership with Wuhan Textiles University that will lead to the opening of the Birmingham Institute of Fashion and Creative Art in China this September, BCU is also looking to "reform the whole curriculum" and extend its offering in areas such as "sport and sports science allied to health", Professor Makhoul said.

More generally, Professor Makhoul is keen to position BCU as "a practice-led and knowledge-based university", where students will often be "involved in generating knowledge as well as gaining skills". The model for academics is the "practitioner" who has "a link to work actually being done on the ground and a practical approach to resolving problems" but who is also "a writer and a thinker", he added.

However this model works out in other disciplines, it very much fits Professor Makhoul himself. He is an acclaimed "practitioner", a well-established artist who has exhibited around the world and was one of the unofficial Palestinian entries for the 2013 Venice Biennale.

He had his first solo show in Palestine at the end of last year, an exhibition called Floating Free, in Jerusalem and Ramallah.

And he is also a prolific writer on art: he has just published a co-edited book with Alnoor Mitha, Conflict and Compassion: A Paradox of Difference in Contemporary Asian Art, which explores how the movement of peoples from Asia and the Middle East could transform the arts scene in Europe.

"Migration, both under the tragic circumstances we are seeing right now and in less challenging situations," Professor Makhoul said, "has the capacity to diversify a region for the better because artists' responses to adversity are often those which leave the strongest message. …

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