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Educators Work To Increase U.S. Study Abroad In The Arab World

New report examines challenges and opportunities

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NEW YORK, March 19, 2009—Reflecting a growing interest in the Arab world, enrollments in Arabic language classes on American college campuses are on the rise, and more U.S. students are studying in Arab countries. Yet the numbers are still very small; the Arab world attracts only 2,200 American students a year, or less than one percent of all Americans who study overseas for academic credit annually, and more than 80 percent go to one of three countries: Egypt, Jordan or Morocco. A new report issued by the Institute of International Education in cooperation with the Hollings Center for International Dialogue looks at Expanding U.S. Study Abroad in the Arab World. This is the latest issue in IIE's Study Abroad White Paper Series, “Meeting America's Global Education Challenge."

The report found that capacity does exist to host more U.S. students in the region, and that there is great enthusiasm for increased study abroad among both U.S. and Arab-world educators, despite the challenges they face. The white paper contains a thorough discussion of specific challenges and opportunities, including those involved in increasing study abroad in countries and institutions that are currently underrepresented.

The white paper was released today by IIE president Allan E. Goodman at the Institute's annual conference on "Best Practices in Internationalizing the Campus." The event convened some 200 university presidents, provosts, deans, administrators, and government officials to share strategies and achievements in international education. Dr. Goodman chaired a panel discussion on "Institutional Linkages with the Middle East," which featured insights from representatives of the Qatar Foundation, the lead sponsor of IIE's Best Practices Conference, and Carnegie Mellon University, which has a campus in Qatar's Education City. In addition, a dean from Champlain College shared her experiences in the Middle East through the Institute for Global Engagement, for which the college won IIE's 2009 Andrew Heiskell Award for internationalizing the campus. Today's conference marked the 90th anniversary of IIE's founding in 1919, and included an awards luncheon at the United Nations to recognize the winners of the Institute's 2009 Andrew Heiskell Awards for Innovation in International Education.

“Expanding study abroad to the Arab world is a timely and complex issue, and one that is important for educators who wish to prepare their students to succeed and prosper in a global economy and an interconnected world,” said Dr. Goodman.

The new report, written by Mary Kirk, Robert Gutierrez, and Christopher Powers from IIE, and Amy Hawthorne from the Hollings Center, grew out of a 2008 workshop that IIE and the Hollings Center convened at Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane, Morocco, with support from the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the U.S. Department of State. Representatives from 19 Arab-world universities in 11 countries and from study abroad programs and U.S. sending institutions took part. They explored ways to diversify the base of programs across the Arab world and enhance their capacity to host American students. Participants also discussed how to create high-quality programs that promote intercultural learning, build proficiency in the Arabic language, and serve the needs of both Arab and U.S. institutions.

The new report recommends actions needed to encourage more U.S. students to study in the Arab world and make it easier for them to take part in programs that currently host few U.S. students. It contains a thoughtful summary of the diverse perspectives of workshop participants on topics such as credit transfer and academic standards, international partnerships, cross-cultural issues, safety and security, resources and marketing capacity of host institutions, and Arabic language study.

Professor Rachid Benmokhtar Benabdallah, former president of Al Akhawayn University, wrote a foreword to the report, and Dr. Ahmad Y. Majdoubeh, Dean of the Faculty of Foreign Languages at the University of Jordan, contributed an article entitled “The Americans are Coming.” In addition, the white paper contains the results of a survey of 33 senior-level faculty and administrators who participated in the workshop. Finally, the authors have compiled a practical inventory of participating Arab-world institutions, with information on their programs for American students, contact details, and instructions on how U.S. students can apply.

Following the 2008 workshop, IIE and the Hollings Center have taken several immediate steps to support the development of capacity and thoughtful expansion of study in the Arab world. These include creating the initial inventory of programs, providing complimentary IIENetwork membership to the Arab-world workshop participants, and providing small grants from the Hollings Center to assist in the establishment of an Arab Association for International Education and to support a conference on the teaching of Arabic dialects to U.S. college students.

Longer range recommendations include: expanding the inventory to include all institutions in the region; expanding Arabic teacher training and teaching materials; awarding study abroad scholarships for U.S. students to study at any institution in the region; organizing U.S. campus study tours for underrepresented Arab-world institutions; and sustaining ongoing dialogue through follow-on workshops and seminars.

About the Institute of International Education

The Institute of International Education (IIE), an independent, nonprofit organization founded in 1919, is the world’s most experienced global higher education and professional exchange organization. IIE has a network of 22 offices worldwide, more than 1,000 college and university members, and more than 5,000 volunteers. IIE designs and implements programs of study and training for students, educators, young professionals and trainees from all sectors with funding from government and private sources. These programs include the Fulbright and Humphrey Fellowships and the Gilman Scholarships administered for the U.S. Department of State.

 About the Hollings Center

The Hollings Center, established as a nongovernmental organization through legislation enacted by the U.S. Congress, provides a forum for dialogue involving citizens of the United States and predominantly Muslim countries on issues of shared concern, in order to open or reinforce channels of communication and to deepen understanding. The Center believes that people-to-people dialogue is an essential component of the long-term process of strengthening relations.


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Dr. Allan E. Goodman
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Peggy Blumenthal 
Senior Counselor to the President