Strengthening Academic Ties between Emirates and Germany
It certainly won't be the typical semester abroad for Erasmus stipendium holders, who will soon be boarding a flight from Germany's Nuremberg Airport to Ajman, the smallest of the United Arab Emirates.
The Ajman University of Science and Technology (AUST), established in 1988, recently signed a cooperation agreement with the Friedrich-Alexander University of Erlangen. The agreement foresees an exchange of students and scholars, as well as the organization of academic conferences and joint research projects.
The project is meant to lay the groundwork for further beneficial scientific, technological, and economic exchanges between Europe and Arab countries.
Erlangen's close relations with the Arab world
The whole idea got off the ground in an extremely unbureaucratic manner. Not long ago, the director of the University of Ajman, Saeed Abdallah Salman, underwent a medical check-up at the clinic in Erlangen. The results must have been quite good, as from this point on, he became an enthusiastic proponent of cooperation with the University of Erlangen. As a matter of fact, the university has long maintained close relations with the Arab world.
In the early 1950s, Erlangen's Middle East specialist Hans Wehr compiled an Arabic-German dictionary, which to this day remains essential reading for Germans studying Arabic. Geographers from Erlangen have intensively researched cities in the Arab world, such as Aleppo, Sanaa, Cairo, and Damascus, as well as conducting numerous academic excursions throughout North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula.
Correspondingly, a wide network of relations has been built up, manifesting itself in university partnerships with Amman, Baghdad, and Mosul. At present, the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg is active in the reconstruction of the university system in Iraq and is providing assistance in drafting the legal system in Afghanistan.
"Up until now, we have lacked closer contacts with the Gulf states. Such contacts are valuable not only because of the prominent position of the Gulf region in the global economy, but also because the Emirates possess a long and historic culture, as well as an aspiring educational system," said university director Karl-Dieter Grüske.
Boom region on the Gulf
Emiratis make up only 20% of their country's population. The aim of the country's leadership, therefore, is to prepare the younger generation for future administrative positions.
The creation of educational facilities to meet this goal began in 1977 with the establishment of the Arabic speaking United Arab Emirates University, which is exclusively for local students.
The Higher Colleges of Technology joined its ranks in the late 1980s, and was modeled after American institutions specializing in practically-oriented technical education. Accordingly, English was chosen as the language of instruction.
In addition to these state universities, the Ajman University of Science and Technology (AUST) was established in 1988 as a private university. It maintains four campuses in Ajman, Abu Dhabi, al Ain, and Fujairah.
Women right and men left
What can students or guest lecturers expect from a semester or more in Ajman? First of all, there is a wide variety of subjects to choose from. The university offers 23 Bachelor level programs in the fields of computer science, medicine, engineering, business administration, and languages. Some 16,000 students are currently enrolled, making AUST the largest private university in the Emirates.
According to the German Academic Exchange Service, DAAD, the classrooms and laboratories are all excellently equipped. The working and learning atmosphere is heavily influenced by all the latest technologies, including monitors for video conferences.
"Men and women, however, are instructed separately," reports Professor Hartmut Bobzin, Islamic scholar at the University of Erlangen and initiator of the project. "When a course is given in the laboratory, the women enter first through a door on the right and conduct their experiments. When they are through and have left the room, the men come in through a door on the left."
One has to get used to the local culture, claims Bobzin. Yet, this doesn't mean that the university atmosphere is in any way backwards. "Women are not required, for example, to wear a headscarf. One girl from Iran enrolled in Ajman, especially so she could be free to move about without a headscarf."
Only a small proportion of the teaching staff comes from the Emirates. "Here you will find a great number of foreigners, especially from Egypt, Palestine, and Libya," explained Hartmut Bobzin. "The financial incentive for them is simply greater."
Among the students, the mix of Emeratis and foreigners is about equal. Due to the large number of foreign students, as well as the strong orientation towards the American model, English is the language of instruction in the science faculties. Only pedagogical courses are conducted in Arabic.
According to Hartmut Bobzin, cooperation will continue at various levels. "Our first step will be to offer German courses in Ajman. In addition, we will help in the development of various faculties at Ajman, particularly medicine. In turn, the University of Science and Technology will open its own campus in Germany. Erlangen and Berlin are being considered."
This would be the university's second campus in Europe, besides the one in Valencia. It will prove to be an excellent location for scientific exchange and a pragmatic dialogue with the Arab world.
© Qantara.de 2005
Translation from German by John Bergeron