University Dialogue with the Islamic World
Project Purpose & Scope
“Our cultural diversity is a stimulator of creativity. Investing in this creativity can transform societies. It is our responsibility to develop education and intercultural skills in young people to sustain the diversity of our world and to learn to live together in the diversity of our languages, cultures and religions, to bring about change”. This quote of Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO, could be a comprehensive statement of global diversity and its significance. Every civilization and culture has been constructed on its historical corner stones through centuries. Owing to different historical, geographical, environmental and social factors, societies have developed more or less differently. However, the ever-increasing developments in communication and transportation technologies, and in the life quality, necessitate the utilization of the resources not locally, rather globally. Accordingly, it is inevitable and even necessary to take advantage of this variety for improving the economic, educational and cultural issues through the aggregative combination of various features offered by different cultures. In this point of view global diversity can be regarded as a collective strength rather than a threat.
The western and European societies and the Islamic countries have followed different ways of development throughout their histories, especially after the industrial revolution. Though, the current globalization trend makes these variant societies touch each other’s boundaries, which gives rise to the opportunity to take advantage of individual capacities and characteristics of these societies. In order to achieve this goal, it is crucial to introduce and deepen the understanding of the opportunities and threats introduced by cultural diversity, and to extend the domains of collaboration within the generated cultural infrastructure. The most effective tool to promote the mutual understanding among different cultures is a “dialogue”. The rationale for establishing an effective dialogue is to extend this cultural wisdom in parallel with the technological cohesion within the cultural diversities, which not only means across the political boundaries, but also beyond the religious, traditional and social borders. Every economic, technical and social cohesion without cultural preparation could cause misunderstandings and lead to irreversible outcomes. The recent tragic conflicts in the Middle East, Africa and Eastern Europe, for example, magnify the lack of a mature understanding of cultural diversity even within societies sharing the same historical background, religion and language. The first step in establishing cultural dialogue is to focus and discuss the uniqueness, similarities and differences of different cultures. The reasons behind their diversity are also worthy of attention as they can provide a start point for an effective communication. Accordingly, any technological, scientific, financial and social interaction could be accompanied by a goal-oriented dialogue to make it more efficient, more pleasant and also more sustainable.
Purpose of the dialogue
The purpose of the present proposal is the establishment of a dialogue between higher education institutes from different cultural worlds who share more or less the same research interests, manufacturing, industrial and mechanical engineering. The partners of the program, as described in section 4, are Furtwangen University from Germany, German-Jordanian University from Jordan and Shiraz University of Technology from Iran. The dialogue will be focused beyond the technical and scientific issues, and considers three cultural and regional points and their causes and effects. The main goal of the program is improving the connection and relationship between university and industry. the benefits of a close contact with the industry for the universities and students and methods to improve the relationship with the industries will be discussed and practiced. A dialogue between Sunnis and Shiites engineering students is also another aspect of the proposed program. The main objective is to establish a dialogue that despite the current crisis situation in the Middle East can contribute to an educationally meaningful development. The identification of the target societies will be done with respect to educational and cultural background, and their distinguishing features will be magnified with the help of statistical evidence.
Finally, In order to extend the achievements of the study in time, a sustainable approach will be proposed based on system dynamics method. The model can predict the effects of cultural and educational parameters on the time dependent situation of the target societies. The influential parameters including the results of an effective intercultural dialogue will be distinguished and their interaction will be established to predict and optimize desired outcomes of a structured collaboration.
Themes of the dialogue
Role of the contact with the industry in improving engineering careers
It has always been the idealized goal of engineering sciences to get as much integrated with the industries as possible. This integration would benefit both academy and industry by providing financial and technical supports, and qualification of the graduates for the former, and structuring a knowledge-based and relevant base of industrial research and development for the latter. The local industrial potentials of the partners which could be suitably addressed by the partner universities are promising topics for an aimed dialogue. The successful experiences of the KSF institute in holding periodic seminars for the education of employees introduced by industrial associations (Weiterbildungsseminare), meetings for the industrial challenges encounters by a working group (composed of 14 industrial partners from different fields of manufacturing technologies), accomplishment of different industrial projects, and the definition of theses from different courses of study (Bachelor, Master and PhD) in the framework of industrial projects could be a pattern for the establishment of the industrial role within the partner universities.
Education system variations
As one of the most contributing factors to the potentials of the higher education institutions and their graduates to play successful industrial roles, the education system variations of the partner universities will be discussed. With increased federal support for US-American university research after World War II, many practical university courses were replaced with advanced theoretical courses in the American education programs . Consequently, the same thing happened to the countries which followed these programs or were based on the American higher education system. The result was the emergence of graduates which lack professional, communication and teamwork skills [1,2]. This situation is even more pronounced in Asian and especially Islamic countries which were not only influenced by the American education system, but also owing to less research investments could not focus on the practical aspects of engineering careers. On the other hand, the education system in German universities has been more practically oriented . Therefore, the graduates of a German higher education institute would have more practical and team work abilities. The theoretical and practical differences between the education systems of the partner countries provide a promising subject for the establishment of an effective dialogue. The theoretical aspects of the engineering education system in the Islamic countries which strengthen the underlying knowledge of the students and researchers, in parallel with the more practical approach in the German partner could be discussed. Consequently, a deep familiarity of the partners would be achieved which helps them identify their diversities, and optimize their weaknesses through a planned collaboration and dialogue.
Women participation in academy and industry
In the western countries, the labor force participation of women rate increased significantly during the latter half of the 20th century. For instance, women’s labor force participation in the United States of America and west European countries has experienced an increment from about 35% in 1950s to over 55% in 2010. At the same time in the most Muslim countries the female labor force participation has been less than 20%, while no considerable increment can also be noticed.
Figure 1. The number of admitted bachelor and master students in Iran
According to the World Bank the labor force participation of women has been 16% and 15% in 2012 for Iran and Jordan respectively. The first conjecture could be that the education level of women in the Muslim countries is lower than men. Having a glance at the admission rate of the university entrance exam in Iran, for example, rebuts this assumption. Since the Islamic revolution, Iranian women have made gains in education and employment. Women now make up more than 60% of college undergrads in Iran. According to the Center of Strategic Research of Iran, the admission rate of women has overtaken the rate of men in the last two decades in all bachelor, master and doctor of philosophy courses of study. Figure 1 presents the corresponding statistical data for bachelor and master studies. Therefore, the women are potentially qualified to handle skill-based professions but in fact there is a large gap between the potential and actual participation of women in the economy and industry of these countries. Even the number of women engaged in the academic sector does not exceed 20% of the whole faculty members in Iran. Many reasons could be associated with the larger participation of women in following academic courses, and with their lower employment prospects. The motivation of women to gain higher social positions and independence through studying, higher interest of women in human sciences, compensation of the social inequality with men are associated with the former, and lower self-confidence of women especially for taking practical jobs, lower confidence of the employers in women’s abilities and the cultural beliefs that consider women to be harmful for the working atmosphere can be related to the latter. Regarding the common interests of the dialogue partners, the causes and effects of the women labor force participation rate provides an interesting dialogue topic. More importantly, as the women are already successful in fulfilling academic careers in the Muslim world universities, any promotion of collaboration between academy and industry leads to the increment of their labor force participation, and benefits the industry by providing qualified human resources.