Tag Archives: Gulf Cooperation Council

Going for Broke: Pivotal Region Faces Economic Devastation!

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Gun Drain, 2.0: GCC States Take Outsourcing to the Next Level!

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Parlez-vous français? Au Koweït, pas exactement!

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Gulf in Class: New Report Says Middle-East Branch Campuses ‘Essentially Second Rate’!

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School’s Out – Forever?! Yemen Chaos ‘Could Create Lost Generation’!

 

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Mirage in the Desert: Is Higher Education the Arab World’s New Football?

In recent years, the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (‘GCC’) – a trade bloc of six petroleum-endowed monarchies in the Middle East – have been splashing the education sector cash in a hitherto unprecedented manner. Qatar has erected Education City, a sprawling meta-campus hosting no less than eight branch campuses; the United Arab Emirates (‘UAE’) is importing a Guggenheim, a Louvre and a Sorbonne in an attempt to turn it into a regional cultural capital; and even Saudi Arabia has allocated tens of billions of dollars towards edtech megaprojects such as the science and technology university KAUST.

But it remains to be seen precisely what these investments are designed to achieve, or whether they are the best way of attaining goals which are often vaguely defined; here, the example of these nations’ efforts in football is instructive. Unbeknown to the vast majority of football fans around the world, since the 1970s GCC countries have spent huge amounts of money trying to elevate their standards of soccer. Many of the sport’s most eminent coaches have been hired at unfathomable expense towards realising this goal; incredibly, a single team from the region, the UAE, has vaunted Carlos Alberto Parreira, Mario Zagallo, Valery Lobanovsky and Tomislav Ivić as its head trainers. World-class stadiums and facilities have been constructed with no expense spared. Financial incentives which would shock even many European fans jaded with the fiscal surrealism of ‘modern football’ have been dangled in front of players with even a hint of promise.

Yet the results have been beyond mediocre. With the partial exception of Saudi Arabia at the 1994 World Cup, no GCC national team has come close to bothering the world’s footballing elite. This is mainly because the big structural problem facing Gulf Cooperation Council teams – tiny populations and therefore talent pools – mean that serious attempts to be a big player in the soccer domain make little if no sense. At club level, GCC teams have a significantly better record in continental-level competition, but the domestic product is mostly characterised by empty stadiums in which lavishly-paid players – many of whom are non-GCC nationals looking for one last bumper payday – amble around in the stifling heat.

The same pattern seems to be repeating itself in higher education. Countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council are splurging untold millions and billions on bringing in some of the best institutions and professors that money can buy. They are generously subsidising cohorts of students – most of whom are non-GCC nationals and are unlikely to stay much beyond their degree programmes, particularly given the dim-to-non-existent prospects of naturalisation. The actual benefits to the Gulf Cooperation Council itself – particularly when measured proportionate to the vast sums being outlayed – could end up resembling something of a mirage.

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I Never Saw No Military Solution: Can the Self-Styled Islamic State Be Defeated By #Education?

As at least some Western countries seriously contemplate full-scale military action against the Islamic State (‘IS’, ‘ISIS’, ‘ISIL’) – an internationally unrecognised entity which presently controls significant chunks of Iraq and Syria – it is worth recalling that an uncritical belief in the efficacy of armed intervention has probably run its course, and that other types of solution are worth considering. A perceptive recent article by the prolific Ceylan Özbudak (An antidote for ISIS’s poisonous narrative, Al Arabiya News, 13th September 2014) serves as a timely reminder of this perspective.

Özbudak persuasively posits that ISIL have not arisen out of nowhere; in fact, it can be stated with some confidence that prior to the Second Gulf War (2003-2011), the IS barely even constituted an idea. (ISIL was only declared a state by its own founders on 3rd January 2014.) While many elements have come together to engender this group, one of them is indubitably the ideology – a form of extreme Salafism – which motivates them and explains their actions; in order to effectively counter ISIS, educational measures which can counter this ideology are essential.

At a time when much of the developed world is beyond insolvent, another US$3trn error – Columbia professor Joseph E. Stiglitz’s conservative estimate of the tab for the Iraq War – is not an appetising prospect; a largely non-military solution with education at its heart is a compelling alternative vision. However, in order for this to be effective, it should take into account the following factors:

  1. Budget. The IS can call upon significant financial resources, both from sponsors in the Gulf and its own oil wells. Education is much cheaper than war – but the initial capital injection still needs to be there.
  2. Electronic Media. The statistically insignificant proportion of people who have been attracted to ISIL’s nihilistic ideology do not seem to be getting most of their information from books: the Internet is where counter-ideological efforts could have the most impact.
  3. Consistency. Several countries – particularly, though certainly not exclusively, some members of the Gulf Cooperation Council – would do well to reconsider their own educational syllabuses, which at times replicate an ISIL-lite worldview.

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