Press Review

Speech of the Chairman of the Board of the German Oriental Society for Higher Education at the first German-Arab Education Forum on 6 and 7 May 2009 in Berlin

New dawn of education in the Arab countries and the German contribution

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The speaker before me greeted you with لسم علیکم as-salam alaikum! The Arab conference participants among us returned the greeting immediately with: و علیکم آلسذم wa alaikum as-salam!I find that fascinating. A purely German audience would not react so spontaneously. I would also like to extend a warm welcome and wish you مساع الخیر masa´ al-chair. Encounter starts with language.

I would like to start by expressing my appreciation to the organisers of Ghorfa and i-move for the invitation. The German Oriental Society for Higher Education is still quite young, founded on 31 March of this year in Frankfurt am Main. At five weeks old, our new society is still an infant and my speech is consequently more like the cry of a child than an articulate address.

The founders of the German Oriental Society for Higher Education are professors, committed students and respected members of the business community. Our Board of Trustees is made up of university lecturers in Medicine, Finance and (Islamic) Law, as well as members like the publisher Dr h.c. mult. W Georg Olms. He has two passions: books and Arab horses. He breeds thoroughbred ‘Desert Blood’ Arab horses in his own stables. He hopes that this ‘Asil’ line will recapture the beginnings of this remarkable part of Arab-Bedouin culture.

And that is also precisely our aim with this young society: to return in our German Oriental educational exchange to the original geographic region, to the roots of Arab education and culture, specifically to the desert.

In a modern event room like the one in which we now find ourselves, the idea of hot desert sand may seem abstract. However, it is a fact that the three Abrahamic religions - Jewish, Christian and Islamic, as well as the Zoroastric doctrines – came to life in the desert. Monotheism was born in the desert. Our ‘Father Abraham’ started in Ur in Chaldäa, now Iraq.

A journey of learning today should take the reverse path to that of Abraham.

In terms of German Oriental educational exchange, the locations that witnessed the creation of Arab culture should also be selected as the intellectual starting point. A river is fresh at its source.

Also representing other Arab countries, the President of the United Arab Emirates, H.H. Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahayan, expressed it as a declared goal for his country to become a 'knowledge-based society'. To the same end, the Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates and the Ruler of Dubai, H.H. Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, announced the creation of an Education Foundation at the World Economic Forum for the Middle East held at the Dead Sea in Jordan. The foundation capital amounted to EUR 7bn. There were two reasons for the decision:

1. From the 10th to 12th centuries Arab culture reached its pinnacle in the sciences of Mathematics, Astronomy, Medicine and Philosophy. Europe was then at the receiving end of this Arab Golden Age of academic intellect. Europe owes a great deal to the Arab science and philosophy of that period. We would not, for example, have benefited from the knowledge of the complete works of the Greek philosopher Aristotle, had his works not been translated into Arabic and commented upon. Only through the 'indirect route' of Arab translations were European scholars able to reflect on the philosophy of Aristotle. To reconnect to this Golden Age of Arab learning and to regain this 'long-lost educational and scientific Arab terrain and open up to the Western world' is the objective in setting up knowledge-based societies. The Arab world once again faces an education revolution.

2. Young people should be presented with hope and attractive goals for the future in order to protect them from the use of violence. They should be discouraged from becoming 'captives of fundamentalist organisations'. Educated people do not become terrorists.

In developing knowledge-based societies, the universities will be transformed into ‘research-intensive institutes’. In his opening speech for this first German Arab Education Forum in Berlin, the Ambassador of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in Germany, H.E. Prof. Dr med. Ossama Abdulmajed Ali Shobokshi, also expressed the need for Saudi Arabian universities to become 'research-intensive institutes' of world renown.

The universities, as seats of intellect and research, thereby hold the key role in leading the revision of the societies. Changes are often initiated by universities and this can also be expected in terms of social change in Iran.

The Anglo Saxon university system is clearly dominant in Arab countries at present. The university fair in Getex in March of this year consequently saw primary university exhibitors from Australia, USA, England, Canada and India. Only one German university was represented, the German University in Cairo.

Senior Emirate leaders have recognised that the concept of research-intensive universities was developed in Germany in the mid 19th century, specifically here in Berlin under Wilhelm von Humboldt and in the classic Weimar of the Goethe age. The Humboldt reform initiated a development that is now called an ‘Excellence Initiative’ at European universities. It foresees intensive promotion of individual academic disciplines.

On the other hand, the typical German principle of education in the 18th and 19th centuries pursued comprehensive education of the person as a whole, including the knowledge of binding standards and ethical conduct. This all-encompassing principle of education, in contrast to the separation of knowledge into individual disciplines, also represents the typically German contribution that can prove particularly important to the restructuring of Arab universities.

The German approach to education can meaningfully support modernisation of the Arab universities operating under the Anglo Saxon system and counter any development that would reduce education to tuition. Germans enjoy an excellent reputation in the Arab world and precisely the German approach to education can make a valuable contribution to changes in Arab society.

The transformation of leading Emirate universities to internationally recognised research institutes, above all the United Arab Emirates University in Al-Ain on the border to Oman, is currently developing on the basis of the German University Framework Law (HRG). Exemplary here, however, is that less emphasis is placed on reformation of universities in accordance with the so-called Bologna Process, which focused on the international comparability of the university qualifications. UAEU is driving the transformation process in line with the German University Framework Law of 1985. Central here is the intensification of research at the highest international level. International university rankings, such as the Rating System Times Higher Education (THE) – QS from Shanghai, assess the leadership position of the universities by such criteria as whether the best professors lecture there, the number and quality of academic publications and doctoral theses, the intensity of the creative-productive research climate and internationality of the students. The objective of UAEU in Al-Ain is to achieve ranking among the top 100 universities in the world in five years.

The German Oriental Society for Higher Education was therefore created with two reasons in mind. Firstly to promote the transformation of Arab universities into research-intensive institutes through targeted cooperation with top German institutes in specific research fields. University exchange should therefore not be limited to universities in Arab countries, but extend to knowledge transfer with universities in Iran, Turkey and India.

Secondly, the German Oriental Society for Higher Education supports young universities in the Middle East to develop respected university reputations. Only an accomplished university brand can attract the best professors. Only a renowned university brand creates the appeal for talented students from abroad to continue studies at a desert university rather than Harvard, Cambridge or the Sorbonne in Paris.

Thank you for your time. Shukran. شکراً