German universities expand in Arab world
Amman - When the first batch of 130 graduates from the German-Jordanian University (GJU) received their diplomas in November 2010, they were offered a year in Germany plus an internship semester there.
“Of the 50 who went, 42 remained there,” said Ayham Qsous, a computer scientist who was one of the GJU students who spent 2011 in Germany but returned to Jordan to take up a family business in his field.
“I miss Germany, speaking German and being in a German environment,” Qsous, 26, said, reflecting on his education and exposure to German culture, values and traditions.
Many Arab youths like Qsous attended one of the handful of German universities mixed with domestic partners in Egypt, Jordan and Oman. The schools compete with scores of the more popular British, American and French colleges because many in those countries are accustomed to the languages of their former colonial rulers.
Nonetheless, more German universities are planned, including one in Doha, which is expected to open in 2016. It will be the first private German university with the top cadre comprised of native German educators.
Germany’s recent policy that attracted hundreds of refugees from Syria and Iraq was an eye-opener to many across the globe of the country’s quiet but sturdy moves towards embracing young migrants from the Middle East.
“Besides it being humanitarian, the reason is demographic,” said Rayan Abdullah, a dean at the Academy of Visual Arts in Leipzig, Germany. He is one of four Arab investors in and the creator of the German university to be built in Doha.
“Because of the ageing population, Germany needs these young aliens to learn the language, culture, values and traditions and pass them on to other generations,” Abdullah explained in a telephone interview.
Referring to Germany’s educational engagement in the Middle East, Abdullah said it was designed to “build the bridges between Germany and the various Arab countries”.
Another reason is the “unique” system of German education, which heavily depends on research, remarked Abdullah, who is credited with helping alter the coat of arms of Germany, known as the Bundesadler or Reichsadler.
“The system of higher education in the Arab world is way below the German standards,” added the professor.
Explaining Germany’s approach to its educational programmes abroad, Isabell Mering of the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) said her country has three models of what is called “transnational education (TNE)”.
That includes individual study programmes abroad, branch campuses and bi-national institutions or those with international partners like the mixed universities in Jordan and Egypt, according to Mering.
The programmes aim at “promoting internationalisation efforts at German universities, helping developing countries build their own systems of higher education and supporting German studies and German language programmes abroad,” Mering said.
DAAD is overseeing “70 different projects all around the globe, with a concentration of TNE projects in Asia, Eastern Europe and the Middle East,” she said. DAAD, an association of German institutions of higher education, is an autonomous self-governing body of the universities and is funded by the German government.
Admittedly, Mering explained that the TNE sector has for a long time been “seen as a primarily Anglo-Saxon phenomenon with the major stakeholders of Australian, British and American universities”.
“The German TNE engagement started later and took a different turn compared to its Australian, British and American forerunners but proved to be very successful in its own way”, added Mering, who heads TNE’s projects in the Middle East, Asia, Africa and Latin America.
“In part, this can be explained by the fact that German universities were encouraged and supported to venture abroad by the German government via the DAAD as part of the government’s higher education internationalisation strategy,” she maintained.
Mering insisted that a key word for the German educational engagement abroad “is ‘sustainability’, as the supported TNE study programmes aim to foster bilateral scientific exchange on a long-term basis and strengthen higher education infrastructures in their host countries”.
For students, the benefit comes from “an addition to the study opportunities within their reach”, while the involved German institutions of higher education “benefit from an improved position in the international education market”, according to Mering.
“At the same time and because of the strong practical orientation of German TNE projects, the universities benefit as well from intensified industry contacts and an extension of their course portfolios.”
Many Arabs, especially students such as Qsous, praise the transfer of the illustrious German know-how to the Arabs. But some warn it may be another form of colonialism.
“My university education was very beneficial because the extensive research and the practical implementation of certain methods on the ground expanded my horizons,” Qsous noted.
But for Ahmed Oweidi Abbadi, a former Jordanian lawmaker and a professor of Arabic literature, the German moves “are tantamount to a new colonialist approach”.
“The British, French, Italians, Americans and others once controlled Arab lands with their guns and tanks,” he said.
“Now, the Germans are after Arab minds to control through the books.”