Students from the German-Jordanian University are currently arriving in Germany to improve their language skills at courses. Mona Naggar on this project and other forms of cooperation between German and Arab universities
Swenja Zaremba is a student of German literature and journalism at the University of Karlsruhe. She is one of a group of Germans working on a joint learning module with their contemporaries from Manouba University in Tunis.
"It's about Euro-Arab parallels in the history of ideas," says Zeremba. "We're looking at the philosophy and history of Europe and the Arab world, and comparing great philosophical thinkers on the one hand.
On the other hand, we're comparing 'motclais', i.e. certain key terms and ideas such as freedom and the state. The goal is to create a mutual set of semantics, a meaning of these key terms that both sides can agree on."
Experience with different forms of communication
The products of the German-Tunisian collaboration will soon be published, and will also become part of the degree course on the "History of European Culture and Ideas" at the University of Karlsruhe. Working with the Tunisians, which takes place in French, has not only brought Swenja Zaremba into contact with Europe's Arab legacy, but also with the different way of communicating at the Tunisian partner university.
The project she has been taking part in is one of around 80 cooperations between German and Arab universities. There are summer schools, joint research projects and bilateral degree courses.
One particularly ambitious project is the German-Jordanian University in Amman. Since autumn 2005, it has offered young Jordanians the opportunity to study business administration, computer science or biomedicine technology, based on the German academic model. And the students also get to know the world of German universities and gain work experience in German companies.
Hierarchical structures are a hindrance
The degree courses all include a semester abroad and a six-month work placement. The university's German Vice-President, Peter Uecker, is very pleased about the open and enthusiastic new students. However, he does worry about the university's hierarchical structures – a widespread problem in Jordanian society. For instance, Uecker explains, there was initially no selection process to speak of, and the system is still having difficulties in this area.
That makes Peter Uecker wary of describing the German-Jordanian University as a form of "Euro-Islamic dialogue". For him, the project is more of a bridge between Germany and Jordan – and especially a bridge between institutions.
Alaa al-Hamarneh from the University of Mainz also has difficulties viewing all cooperations between German and Arab universities primarily under the aspect of Euro-Islamic dialogue. In some projects, such as the collaboration between the universities in Karlsruhe and Tunis, dialogue is part of the concept. In others, however, intercultural dialogue is restricted to personal contact between the students:
"There are targeted projects that aim at inter-faith or intercultural dialogue, but there are also many projects in the fields of engineering or medicine, and they have nothing to do with intercultural dialogue," explains Alaa al-Hamarneh.
Exporting German education models to the Arab world
Since the UNDP report on human development of 2003 at the very latest, Arab states have been working hard on making academic training more international. The report highlighted the poor performances of Arab schools and universities in comparison to the rest of the world.
International cooperations and private universities will now bring about a change, it is hoped. Germany has been involved in promoting its education models in the Arab world for some years now. Alaa al-Hamarneh welcomes this development, but sees a lack of concepts for the future on the German end.
There is the German University in Cairo, and other examples in Jordan and Syria. Each model is a project of its own, but there is unfortunately no strategy as yet for exporting German education models, says al-Hamaraneh: "We don't have any branding, the universities don't take their names abroad with them like the Sorbonne or Harvard. The only label we have is 'German University', but I'm afraid there's no strategy behind it."
© Qantara.de 2007
Translated from the German by Katy Derbyshire