"Are we just providers of education or builders of modernity and civilisation?"
This is the question Dr Hussam Badrawi of Cairo University and chair of the Badrawi Foundation for Education and Development asked academics at the Arab Network for Quality Assurance in Higher Education conference recently.
He was addressing the challenges of quality assurance facing higher education institutions in Arab countries at the event, which was hosted by the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research's Commission for Academic Accreditation.
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Most Arab countries are in transition when it comes to quality assurance, Badrawi said. In 2004, there were only three countries that had quality assurance bodies and now more than 70 per cent of these countries have them.
The specific challenges he observed in Arab countries are:
Insufficient choice of various fields of study related to career preferences.
Inadequate preparation for the job market because of poor curricula
The absence of practical skills because of the overemphasis on memorising course content
Lack of facilities due to funding.
However, he noted that the problems facing Arab universities varied from country to country depending on the population and resources available.
Badrawi called for universities in the region to better understand the needs of students, society and employers. Understanding students' needs was imperative if they are to successfully integrate into the labour markets, conduct research, innovate and also strengthen their country's economy and political landscape.