Higher Education in Lebanon Post

As most of you know, Lebanon is a small county on the Mediterranean sea, with a population around ~6 million.  A statement found in the  2012 European Commission report on higher education in Lebanon, precisely describes the status of the relation between Lebanese government, higher education, and foreign education “Lebanese higher education is [characterized] by a historical openness to the outside world… It is hard to find one institution that does not have a convention or an agreement with one or more institutions in the region, in Europe, in Canada or in the United States. However, there are no national policies or measures to promote the foreign mobility of students during their higher education studies.”

The Lebanese higher education system is primarily dependent on one public university, and the remainder are private universities, which can be expensive. The top university in the Arab World, the American University of Beirut (AUB), charges 600-800$ per credit for undergraduate level and 800-1000$ per credit for graduate level, beyond 15 credits, students are not required to pay. The government expenditures on higher education is less than 0.5 % of the GDP. Other sources of funding are primarily students and their families, or in some cases foreign governments and private institutions who donate money to certain institutions.    40% of the Lebanese students are enrolled in the Lebanese University (the national public university), while the majority are enrolled in private institutions.

Due to the strategic location of Lebanon, it attracts international students to study at one of its institutions. In 2014, 17,500 international students have been reported to be studying in Lebanon, a decline from what was reported in previous years due to the regional conflicts. Although there is no clear list of the nationalities of these students,  700 U.S students were reported to be studying at AUB in 2012. There are 15,000 student seeking degrees abroad, as reported in 2015, primarily targeting France, UAE, U.S, and U.K.  The high number of students studying abroad are mostly related to employment abroad.

There are currently 31 accredited  private universities listed by the Ministry of Education and Higher Education. In an effort to raise the quality of education, “The Ministry of Education and Higher Education (MEHE), and a group of Lebanese universities partnered with the European Union starting in 2011 to develop a quality assurance framework and agency for Lebanese higher education”. The project is known as TLQAA (Toward the Lebanese Quality Assurance Agency).  Unfortunately, this draft law targeted to establish a national  quality assurance in higher education fell prey to the inactivity of the Parliament.  However, many institutions are accredited by external bodies in the USA and Europe.

**The numbers in this report are based on the World Education News+Reviews article in 2017 found here.

What school to pick for your higher education Post?

I have always wondered on how each individual makes the choice of which school to pick for their graduate studies: Why some people prefer to change universities for their master’s degree, while others stick around at the same place where they did their undergrad, which is more advantageous to do, and is there a wrong decision or does it depend on case per case?

Recently, I stumbled upon an article that addresses the issue of advantages and disadvantages of doing your graduate studies at the same university where you did you undergrad. The advantages the article list include the higher probability of being accepted at your own school, the discount at assistant ships you might likely be offered making it cheaper to attend there; your familiarity with the place and people and the academic environment, and other minor reasons. Honestly, I do agree with all of these reasons, as I personally did my masters degree at my undergrad university and I can particularly relate to the importance of familiarity of the place on one’s choice.

On the other hand, the article does mention one main disadvantage of staying at the same university: the risk of settling for a less reputable school instead of aiming for more research oriented schools, which might open new opportunities for you after graduation. Not all of us might get the chance to attend good well-known schools for their undergrad, probably due to low grades at school or money issues and not trying to apply for better universities to proceed with your higher education might not be the best option.  There is no guarantee that you will get accepted, or be able to afford it,but I personally think, the least to do, would be to seek advice, study all possible options and go for what you think will serve you better in your future endeavors, even if it meant sacrificing your current comfort zone and trying new places and new people.

Sustaining Education Under a Crisis

As all of you are aware, with the recent changes forced on our lifestyle and everyday activities, education was one of those fields in an urgent need to adapt to these changes. Although online teaching is not an uncommon term in our lives, the sudden and total shift to online teaching is definitely a first.

With the rise of the threat and the importance of social distancing, schools and universities had to shut down in an effort to slow the rapid spread of the pandemic. In the amidst of it all, several education institutions were not ready for this transition: not equipped with the technical support to run 5000 or more courses online at the same time; not prepared to shift lab courses into virtual screens; and not used to make older generation professors to deliver course content on a screen instead of board and a pen. All of these factors and others imposed more challenges on the administrations to keep the same quality of teaching despite all the sudden changes.

Although this did seem to be a hectic journey for education, things seem to be going well now. With a lot of glitches at the start of the journey, online teaching experience seem to be improving day by day. This improvement was derived by the new fact imposed on all of us, and aided by the tools and online platforms and technical support teams making it all happen.

In some universities as Illinois and Stanford, who already were heavily invested in MOOC, and online courses, the transition was easier. Instead of shifting the whole course content to fit online teaching, faculty members utilized the online courses to deliver their content without the need for much adjustment.  Of course, there is still a substantial percentage of courses that need to be shifted to online courses now, however, the inclusion of technology as part of the education system under normal circumstances has definitely helped some schools to adjust easier and faster to the sudden shift to online teaching. This might change the new era of education, raising some important questions on how well technology is integrated into our education systems, and how much are we behind in catching up with the latest innovations in teaching?

Technology and Innovation in Higher Education Post

The article I am going to discuss in this post is “MOOC Professors’ Agency in the Face of Disruption” written by Andy Saltarelli, Amy Collier and Chris Glass in 2015. The article discusses the claims of disruptions of recent technological changes as MOOC, on the higher education and describe how Stanford University has built a supportive and innovative environment in digital learning.

Stanford built a “soft structure” that served as a platform for faculty to experiment different strategies and try various forms of digital learning. The goal behind soft structure is to empower people and allow faculty members to share insights and ideas embraced by responsive support to direct the digital learning experience.  The  open idea environment with no-constraint approach implemented at Stanford resulted in a welcoming response among faculty to bring their ideas and curiosity into the virtual learning world. The spark of this project started in 2011 where three instructors opened their courses to public which gained the attention of the media and motivated the school administrators to move forward with the concept of online courses.

The key factor that led to a successful experience at Stanford was the open space given to the faculty to design and suggest whatever ideas they had without any limitation and instructions. A team for logistics support was formed to provide assistant to the faculty members and provided feedback. Additionally, a seed grant program was developed to support faculty ideas.

The authors conducted in-depth interviews with faculty who taught MOOC to describe their experience in digital learning in a framework of intellectual and professional generosity; experimentation and risk-takings; personal expression; and healthy skepticism:

  • Intellectual and professional generosity: Faculty members expressed the positive effect of freedom on their experience with MOOC, wondering why would anyone not want to share any learning opportunities with as many people as possible.
  • Experimentation and risk-taking: the environment created at Stanford allowed everyone test all kinds of ideas despite how crazy, or weird they were which gave them a feel of safety
  • Personal expression: Professors were able to express different individual styles in teaching with their unique personality insights.
  • Healthy skepticism: the concerns about MOOC voiced among the faculty were heard and tolerated, and even encouraged sometimes.

Finally, the authors suggest some advice for a better digital learning experience, as the one at Stanford, by hiring the right people, embracing trials before launching a mega project, empowering faculty, and celebrating diversity.

Open Access Journal Post

The journal I plan to talk about in this post is the “Journal of rock mechanics and geotechnical engineering”.  In this bimonthly published journal, authors are not required to pay any fee for publications and articles are permanently free for download and reading. In fact, the first introductory lines of the journal goes as ” This journal is a peer reviewed, subsidized open access journal where Chinese Academy of Sciences pays the OA fee”.

This journal operated by the Institute of Rock and Soil Mechanics, Chinese Academy of Sciences started publishing in 2011, and it is expected to receive its first journal impact factor in June 2020. It’s  source Normalized Impact per Paper (SNIP), an indication of how well cited a journal is of 2.11 (greater than 1.5). And one of its most downloaded papers is the 2018 version of Hoek-Brown failure criteria and GSI, by Hoek and Brown, two of the most famous names in the rock mechanics world.

The scope of this journal, as published on their website, aims to “foster the international exchange of academic ideas and to promote the development of rock mechanics and geotechnical engineering, functioning actively as a bridge to link the research achievements with the international world, which aims to make more readers know the latest research development and key engineering construction in rock mechanics and geotechnical engineering.” The journal  idea of open access is intended to provide an opportunity for researchers across the world, in China and overseas, to read about latest research and exchange new and innovative theories and technologies, and this why the Journal is published in English, though it originated from China.

Although the journal doesn’t mention how it relates to other open access journals within the same field, it does reflect the motivation of sharing knowledge globally by everyone.  And in the geotechnical field, open access journals are not very common. Regardless of the reluctance of some researchers to publish in open access journal, due to the fear of lower quality research being published there, open access journals started to gain more attention recently with more research publications addressed to this type of Journals.

Ethics Post

Going through the ORI website makes me feel sad. Most of the cases of research violation were related to the fields of biomedical and medicine, which is shocking! One would assume those two fields are very critical interms of their effect on people’s health, and research in such fields must be carried with the highest degree of professionalism as they might change the future, however surprisingly, it seems those are the fields were most violations occur. The case of Alexander Neumeister, M.D., New York University School of Medicine, Langone Medical Center is one of the unfortunate case I read.

The New York University of medicine is one of the most reputable medicine schools across the country, ranked 9th in research according to the U.S. News and world report. ” Based on the report of an investigation conducted by New York University School of Medicine, Langone Medical Center (NYUSOM) and additional analysis conducted by the Office of Research Integrity (ORI) in its oversight review, ORI found that Alexander Neumeister, M.D. (Respondent), who was a Professor of Psychiatry and Radiology, Department of Psychiatry, New York University School of Medicine, Langone Medical Center (NYUSOM). Dr. Neumeister engaged in research misconduct in psychiatric clinical research supported by National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), National Institutes of Health (NIH), grants R01 MH096876, R01 MH102566, R21 MH094763, R21 MH096105, R21 MH102035, and R34 MH102871.”

Dr. Neumister was found guilty in falsifying and fabricating intentionally clinical records of the research by changing the characteristics of the subject. Part of the violation done involved changing and ignoring clinical and psychiatric assessment data, using outdated clinical  assessments to determine eligibility of participating groups, claiming to obtain the help from trained assistant where no training or certifications were obtained, and many others. As a result, four search papers authored by Dr.Neumister are considered falsified and must be corrected.

This is frustrating at different levels. Dr.Neumister not only violated one or two of the research codes, he violated almost everything about this research, and most importantly, he lost the trust of the patients who thought this research might help improve other people’s lives. I believe what Dr.Neumister did is shameful, falsifying sensitive areas of research and falsifying actual patients records to publish papers.  It should be noted too that Dr.Neumiste neither admits nor denies ORI’s findings of research misconduct,  he went for a settlement with no admission of liability which personally, I find more frustrating. I understand that this settlement is the best option for his future career and not pleading guilty gives him a chance to further carry his research, but I find it a way of not confessing your guilt which is very evident. I think Dr.Neumister ruined his career the moment he decided to indulge in such actions, and I am not sure of agencies will be willing to fund and trust his research again.

Mission Statements Post

Today my blog will discuss two mission statements from two reputable universities from a similar part of the world. The first one is American University of Beirut (AUB) where I did my undergraduate and masters studies, and the second one is the American University Dubai (AUD).

AUB is a private, non-sectarian university with a closed campus located in Beirut, Lebanon, my home county, viewing the Mediterranean sea. It’s mission statement goes as follows: “The American University of Beirut (AUB) is an institution of higher learning founded to provide excellence in education, to participate in the advancement of knowledge through research, and to serve the peoples of the Middle East and beyond. Chartered in New York State in 1863, the university bases its educational philosophy, standards, and practices on the American liberal arts model of higher education. The university believes deeply in and encourages freedom of thought and expression and seeks to foster tolerance and respect for diversity and dialogue.Graduates will be individuals committed to creative and critical thinking, life-long learning, personal integrity, civic responsibility, and leadership”. AUB was established in 1866 and has always been considered among the most prestigious universities ii n the middle east. As a matter of fact, it is ranked top one according to the QS World University Rankings.

Having spent 6 years as both an undergraduate and a graduate student at AUB, I really admire how accurate this mission statement is in describing the university work. I can truly relate to most of the words said in that mission statement. The three major focus in this mission relates to knowledge and research, freedom of thought and diversity, and civic responsibility. Although research and knowledge are two of the most common words used in the mission statements globally, as posted by Julián David Cortés-Sánchez in his article, AUB nonetheless thrive to keep research going in all fields. The faculty tries to establish collaboration and connections with different parts of the world and tries to secure funding to the majority of students to participate in conferences/workshop/abroad studies. This applies to undergraduate students too, in a smaller scale. However, personally, what I admire about AUB most is the second focus of the mission statement, its diversity and freedom of thought. Few of you might know that Lebanon is a highly diverse country, it is a very small country (might be smaller than a state in the US) with 18 different religion living together. AUB students come from all regions and sects and they are all welcome to express their religious beliefs and traditions with ultimate respect inside the campus. Additionally, students are allowed to protest against university laws and are presented by committee of students from different faculties. Every year, students are invited to participate in the students election to form student representative committee that meets with the dean and president on a regular basis, and serve as a connection between the students and the administration . The third goal of AUB’s mission is the civic responsibility, which is highly valued at AUB. Social work is very common in all fields, particularly engineering as far as I know. As engineers, we have two camps per year, located at different parts of Lebanon or other parts of the world to help build homes and shelters for refugee camps or poor villages, teach kids languages and sciences, and fulfill the desires of people in need. I might be a little biased when I say AUB does reflect its mission statement, or at least try to do that everyday.

The second mission statement I am talking about is as follows: “The Mission of the American University in Dubai is to serve as a culturally diverse learning community committed to the pursuit of knowledge through excellence in teaching and scholarly and creative endeavor, leading to students’ academic, personal and professional success, as well as the advancement of society”. This mission statement is for the American Diversity of Dubai (AUD) located in Dubai. I picked this statement to look for the differences with AUB. As both american universities, chartered in New York and located in the Arab world, the focus of their mission statement is surprisingly not that similar. AUD is also a private university, however opposing to what Julián David Cortés-Sánchez mentioned in his article that private schools focus more on teaching than on students, AUD’s mission focuses on both. It clearly mentions the goal for student academic and personal success, which is not very common with other missions. The focus to serve diverse people is common with AUB, as both accept students from all over the world, while AUB is located in a more religiously diverse country, AUD nonethless host people from different nationalities and is a work hub for different parts of the world.  AUD does also mention the advancement of society and excellence in teaching in its mission statement, but it doesn’t mention research, a key word almost mentioned in every mission statement.  Due to my lack of knowledge about AUD research focuses, I am not in a position to speak on how indulged AUD is in research. However, it seems AUD focuses more on the excellence of teaching provided to students and on students success to better prepare them to serve the society,rather than focusing on civic engagements activities society engagement activities. Although the focuses of statement between AUB and AUD are not entirely the same, they both are reputable universities with a clear focus on teaching excellence and knowledge and creating better creative individuals for the advancement of society.