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Degrees of Dignity: Arab Higher Education in the Global Era
By Elizabeth Buckner
University of Toronto Press, 2021, 264 pp.
A brisk, comprehensive look at universities in the Arab world, this book seeks to assess how well the institutions fulfill their missions. Buckner has lived and worked throughout the region, and she puts to good use her understanding of a variety of educational systems, including in Jordan, Morocco, Qatar, and Syria. Growing populations, shrinking government budgets, and increasing global competition have put a strain on ministries of higher education in the region. Many governments have responded by authorizing the establishment of private, sometimes for-profit institutions to operate beside the public universities that were established soon after many of these countries won independence in the twentieth century. Sometimes, these new private initiatives have absorbed some of the demand for university places, created healthy competition, and encouraged the introduction of novel curricula, particularly if they are affiliated with foreign institutions or offer instruction in foreign languages. But often they have failed in these tasks and poorly serve their faculty and students. Buckner argues that by framing education and research as technical issues—quantified in terms of graduation rates, citation frequencies, and institutional rankings—governments end up crippling universities and suppressing their intrinsically political, often subversive missions of fostering critical thinking, thoughtful research, and creative invention.
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