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Lebanon 2013 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Ahmad Dallal, Provost of the American University of Beirut (AUB), on the general level of higher education and agreements with other universities and businesses.

Ahmad Dallal
BIOGRAPHY
Ahmad Dallal is Provost of the American University of Beirut (AUB) and Professor of History in its Department of History and Archaeology. He joined AUB in the summer of 2009 from Georgetown University in Washington, DC, where he served as the Chair of the Department of Arabic and Islamic Studies. His previous academic appointments were at Stanford University (2000-03), Yale University (1994-2000), and Smith College (1990-94). Dallal’s scholarship focuses on the history of science, Islamic revivalist thought, and Islamic law. He received his BE (1980) from AUB’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, and his PhD (1990) in Islamic Studies from the Department of Middle East Languages and Cultures at Columbia University in 1990.

How would you assess the higher education sector in Lebanon?

The education sector in Lebanon has grown significantly over the past two decades. Lebanon used to have a dozen institutions that had been around for quite a while, but recently that number has jumped close to 50. Previously, there were mostly not-for-profit institutions, and now there are a number of for-profit institutions. This puts clear challenges in terms of maintaining quality, and there are efforts now by the Ministry of Education and the established educational institutions to put measures in place to ensure the quality of education. There are many new laws that are either under consideration or have already been passed by the Ministry. This illustrates that education is in high demand in Lebanon and the region. There isn't a single, exclusive economic sector in Lebanon that is dominant. Lebanon depends on its human and knowledge economy more than anything. We have always produced expertise that has served not only Lebanon, but also the entire region. Increasingly, we are producing students that can compete not just on the local and regional level, but globally. Our graduate students are going all around the world. There are a number of older, established universities, and in the past few decades there has been an explosion of new ones. The Lebanese University is one of the older institutions. Not all programs are equally strong, but some are very strong. In recent years, reforms were introduced in higher education, including some recent reforms that were introduced in the Lebanese University. The Lebanese University is very large; it has branches throughout the country and the largest number of enrolled students. All the other universities are private. They have the same types of challenges that other institutions have—and maybe more so in Lebanon.

What role do agreements with other universities play for AUB?

Over the past four years, we have signed memorandums of understanding (MoUs) with more than 60 universities. Historically, our strongest relationships have been with North American universities. However, increasingly, we are starting MoUs with European universities. We have embarked on partnerships with multiple universities, both in Lebanon and in the Arab world. We are also beginning to look east and start relationships with universities in Asia. We already have a relationship with the National University of Singapore. We don't have anything in the works right now, but we also hope to establish links with India. The MoUs can take a number of different forms: they can be student exchange, research exchange, and so on.

What role do international students play at AUB?

Before the civil war, about half of the student body was made up of international students from the region and beyond. The numbers of courses dropped during the civil war, and we have been trying to improve these numbers. It fluctuates between 26% and 28%, which is lower than what we used to have, but is quite significant compared to many international institutions.

What is AUB's relation to business and industry?

Large engineering companies have historically hired our students and we have had beneficial relationships with them. These relationships haven't been standardized to the extent that they could be. Our business school, for example, has an executive education program that provides customized programs to various businesses. These programs are not as large as they could be, but they do exist and we are developing them further. We collaborate in terms of research with some of the major engineering companies. For example, Intel funds certain projects; we were offered very high-end, expensive software from Schlumberger and there are other similar examples. We work with ministries to provide educational programs for employees. This is another form of serving the region, and providing consultancy, expertise, and services to the larger community. There is more of that to be done. This also provides funding, especially when there is research involved, which everyone benefits from. This is not common in the region as of yet. Of course, all engineers have to do an internship, and the same goes for business graduates, but I'm talking about more structured relationships with industry and how this translates into research projects funded partly from outside. This is a challenge for us.