Page 1

Nr. 6/2003

SIU Rapportserien

Cooperation between Institutions of Higher Education and Research in Norway and the Muslim World Preconditions, possibilities and considerations

ISSN 1503-2582

Marit Tjomsland, Ph. D Dept. of Research and Development, Bergen University College



Cooperation between Institutions of Higher Education and Research in Norway and the Muslim World Preconditions, possibilities and considerations Marit Tjomsland, Ph.D Dept. of Research and Development, Bergen University College

Introduction It is now ten years since the American professor Samuel P. Huntington published his much debated article The Clash of Civilizations. 1 In this article, he declares the antagonistic relationship between the Muslim World and the West a result of cultural incompatibility; the two regions of the world are products of civilisations too opposing for mutual understanding and cooperation to be likely in the foreseeable future. Recent developments – September 11, the American crusade against Muslim terrorism and the wars against Afghanistan and Iraq to mention a few – appear to support Huntington’s thesis: Cooperation, or even co-existence, between the two world regions seem less possible today than ever. But is the current situation really rooted primarily in cultural – or civilisation - incompatibility? Critics of Huntington tend to emphasise the absence of power relations in his world image. 2 Countless commentators – the Norwegian professor Johan Galtung figures prominently among them - have in the aftermath of September 11 pointed to the dangerous and deceptive nature of such a world image, because it veils facts that are fundamental for a proper understanding of the situation: It is not USA’s status as the central representative of the Western civilisation that causes aggression from nonWestern civilisations. Nor is it USA’s position as hegemonic super-power that in itself causes terrorist attacks. Rather, it is the arrogance with which USA exercises its power and increases its wealth without much consideration for the consequences of its actions beyond the Western sphere that provokes other regions of the world. The fact that most Americans and quite a few Westerners of other nationalities seem largely unaware of this

1 2

Huntington 1993. See for instance Alam 2002.


is no sign of civilisation. Rather, it suggests a lack of information, or a lack of intercultural communication. The Muslim World is significantly worse situated than the West regarding standard of living, level of education, economy, and similar factors. This situation is in itself likely to produce tension between the two world regions. The last couple of years, massive transfers of money have taken place from the West to the Muslim World. Rather than being spent on reducing this tension-creating gap in human conditions, most of it has been spent on wars against Muslims, some on reconstruction after the wars. While the necessity of the wars is debatable at best, the necessity of reconstruction is not. However, the wisdom of focusing solely on basic reconstruction in war-stricken areas is in the current situation not evident. Assuming that lack of information and communication is a significant factor behind the current tension between the Western and Muslim regions of the world, measures to increase access to information and facilitate communication should be taken. Mending crises caused by Western warfare is not alone likely to improve the climate for cross-cultural communication significantly. Other means must be sought. International cooperation between institutions of higher education – commonly concretised as research cooperation, teacher exchange, and student exchange - has bridge-building across borders as one of its most central by-products. Through professional collaboration in fields important to all involved parties, whether students, teachers or researchers, exchange of culture, thoughts and perspectives takes place as a natural spin-off. Moreover, mutual professional interest is a forceful adhesive with a significant potential for generating strong and viable projects of collaboration. Institutional cooperation in the fields of research and higher education constitutes in other words an important potential means to broadening the dialogue between countries in the Western and Muslim regions of the world. Hence, cooperation with institutions of higher education in the Muslim World may produce intercultural dialogue. However, it may be initiated for at least two more good reasons: First, research cooperation and teacher- and student exchange have an evident independent value as academic activities. And secondly, academic cooperation may also under certain conditions function as development aid, and can hence contribute


to reducing the tension-creating gap in human conditions between the Muslim and the Western Worlds. All projects of cooperation will not have equal potential to cover all three areas, however. It is therefore important in each case to define the purpose of the project and the main aims it is intended to fulfil, and to design the project accordingly. Irrespective of the main purpose of a project of cooperation within higher education, certain factors that are essential for the functioning of academic collaboration will have to be taken into consideration: It will be important that the cooperating institutions keep a certain level of academic quality, they should also preferably share a basic understanding of the disciplines involved in the cooperation, there should be a shared language to facilitate the cooperation, and there should exist a professionally motivated interest within the involved institutions to drive the cooperation forwards. Hence, in a search for possible partner institutions in the Muslim World, one should search for academic environments sufficiently resourceful to be able to fill the role as academic partners, in societies sufficiently stable and resourceful to offer the necessary practical conditions for co-operation. As a demarcation of a particular geographical region, ”the Muslim World” may be a useful concept. On most other analytical levels, the term is rather problematic. Including more than a billion people distributed across three continents, the region is highly heterogeneous both when it comes to economic performance, political preferences, historical frames of reference, and culture. This is an important insight to bring into the search for potential partners of co-operation in this region of the world, because it implies that no country or partner is more ”representative” of the Muslim World than others, and that one cannot aim to cooperate with ”the Muslim World”, only with individual states and institutions within the region. It also implies that a comprehensive presentation of the situation within higher education and research in this region is a major task that cannot be adequately performed within the framework of this rather limited report. This problem is dealt with here by directing the main focus towards a more confined part of the Muslim World: The Arab World. This choice has been guided by rather pragmatic concerns. First, it is the part of the Muslim World that is closest to Europe historically as well as geographically, and therefore presumably a natural place to start a venture into the Muslim World. Secondly, it is the region where most viable


Norwegian cooperation within research and higher education already exist, cooperation that – as will be discussed later – constructively may serve as fundaments for geographical and thematic expansion of activity. And thirdly, it is a more homogenous region and hence possible to present in a meaningful way within the framework of this report. This report is initiated by the Centre for International University Cooperation (SIU), as a brief initial mapping of preconditions for a possible new Norwegian initiative to increase cooperation with institutions of higher education in the Muslim World. It consists of three sections, corresponding to the main areas of interest defined in the report’s terms of reference: *The situation in the Arab World in the fields of higher education and research *Structures and networks organising higher education and research in the Arab and Muslim regions of the world *Assessment of possible cooperation with countries in the Muslim World

The situation in the Arab World in the fields of higher education and research ”Higher education is characterized by decreasing enrolment, and public spending on education has actually declined since 1985. In all cases, nevertheless, the most important challenge facing Arab education is its declining quality.”3 This quote adequately sums up the main conclusion of the UNDP Arab Human Development Report 2003 on higher education in the Arab World. 4 According to the report, the Arab World is loosing out compared to the rest of the developing world in the areas of higher education and research. Despite significant investments in higher education, the countries are not able to keep up with the increasing demands for capacity produced by rapidly growing populations. Moreover, the investment rate has increased significantly less in the 1990s than the previous decades, and the Arab World today ranges lower than countries it is 3

UNDP: Arab Human Develoment Report 2003 :3. The report provides an updated analysis of higher education and research in the Arab World. However, the report to a large extent treats the region on aggregate level, and thereby veils significant internal differences. Moreover, according to the Arab thinker Mounir Shefik (al Jazeera 14.10. 2003), several of the Arab contributors to the report have distanced themselves from the end result, claiming that the conclusions 4


reasonable to compare with, such as Hong Kong, Korea and Taiwan, when it comes to enrolment in higher education: about 4.5 per cent of the population against 9.8 per cent in the Asian countries. 5 A larger problem than the quantitative shortcomings is, however, the decrease of quality in Arab higher education. According to the report, low level of knowledge attainment and poor and deteriorating analytical and innovative capacity currently characterise Arab education at all levels. A central and worrying consequence of this is a relative mismatch between the societal needs for qualifications and the competence of graduating students. The result of this for individual graduates is low demand and low pay for their qualifications. This again tends to result in a devaluation of higher education as a means to obtain better living conditions, and consequently a de-motivation for young generations to study. The result for the Arab World as a whole is inadequate access to the competence needed to further develop Arab countries, and risk of isolation from the global knowledge society. The situation within Arab research and development in most central respects reflect that of the sector of higher education. Arab countries have some of the lowest levels of research funding in the world (0.2% of GDP)6 . Research-based technology and expertise needed to run the oil-industry and other technology-rich industries that exist in the region are often imported from foreign contractors who also provide the operating expertise. Such science- and technology units are rarely connected to local research environments, with very low output in terms of local expertise as result. Measured according to standard indicators of science output (number of scientific papers per unit of population), the average performance of the Arab World is two per cent of that of an industrialised country. Moreover, this figure increases at a considerably slower pace than in other developing countries it is reasonable to compare with, such as China or India. 7 Research environments in Arab countries also have rather weak connections to similar environments abroad. This is the case when it comes to global networks, but even more internally in the Arab region. Despite clear common challenges and interests in the of their partial reports have been distorted. Despite these weaknesses, the report represents the best and most comprehensive analysis of an otherwise scarcely documented thematic area. 5 UNDP Arab Human Development Report 2003 :196. 6 UNDP Arab Human Development Report 2003 :4.


region – oil and water are two obvious keywords here - there is very low activity in terms of common research- or development-initiatives. Both the low level of research-activity within the Arab countries and the low degree of research-collaboration between them must be seen in connection with the relative absence of well-developed national scienceand technology systems. Unless political attention is focused on these challenges and resources are made available to meet them, it is unlikely that the situation in the Arab World concerning higher education and research will improve significantly in the foreseeable future. There are many reasons for the unfortunate situation that currently dominate higher education and research in the Arab World – a few will be briefly suggested here. The relative lack of cooperation within the region should first of all be seen in connection with the colonial history of the region. While the British colonial power generally kept Arabic as main language within local institutions of higher education, France made French main language of higher education in its colonies. French ex-colonies have for a large part continued to teach technical and natural scientific disciplines in French, while British ex-colonies generally teach all disciplines in Arabic. As a consequence, the potential for inter-Arab academic cooperation is in practice limited to disciplines like Arabic, philosophy and religion. Moreover, the region has over several decades experienced brain drain to Western countries, primarily USA. This problem is of course not unique to the Arab World. However, Western presence has for decades been relatively strong in the region. Western elite institutions of higher education - the American University in Cairo is perhaps the best known of many examples – have contributed significantly to this presence, which, moreover, seems to be increasing: Germany opens in October 2003 its first university abroad - in Cairo. 8 Recruiting staff among the best qualified local academics, and students from the local elites, these institutions’ role in the export of human capital is evident, and gives reason to assume that this problem is not less significant in this region of the world than elsewhere.

7 8

UNDP Arab Human Development Report 2002 :66 Die Zeit, 1. Oktober 2003 :42.


On the other hand, the low public expenditure on higher education in most Arab countries has not given young promising academics any reasons to stay. Low wages, high numbers of students, and absence of research funding make academic positions increasingly unattractive in many Arab countries. Partly, this situation is related to the obvious facts that the region belongs to the developing world, that illiteracy many places is still high, and that consequently, a main purpose of higher education is to produce teachers for basic education of the population. Research may in many cases be beyond the reach of the funding authorities. However, the fact that many Arab governments invest significantly less in the sector than other countries of similar resource-capacity suggests that it also may be a question of priority. A rather wide range of factors are likely to contribute to giving research low priority in Arab countries. The region includes some of the poorest and some of the richest countries in the world, and a variety of political regimes. Hence, some countries have to focus their resources on covering the most basic needs of the population. Other countries are ruled by authoritarian regimes that tend to consider a well qualified and freely thinking intelligentsia a threat rather than a resource. Elsewhere, such as in the oilproducing Gulf-states, favourable economic conditions and small populations have made it tempting to import expertise and technology rather than producing it at home. Yet other Arab countries have actually given priority to higher education and research, and fare correspondingly better than other countries in the region. 9 There is, in other words, not necessarily one single �Arab factor� explaining the shortcomings within higher education and research in the region a whole. Hence, aggregate analyses even of a relatively homogenous sub-region of the Muslim World such as the Arab region is of limited value as guide to possible new partners of cooperation, as it is bound to disguise what one is looking for: individual countries and institutions with characteristics of particular interest or relevance to Norway. Against this background, it is clear that an adequate analysis of the situation within the sectors of higher education and research in the Muslim World requires a larger format than this report may offer. It also emphasises the importance of thorough knowledge of possible targets for new Norwegian initiatives of academic cooperation in the Muslim region of 9

UNDP Arab Human Development Report 2003 :204-206.


the world, whether they are selected primarily according to political or academic preferences.

Structures and networks organising higher education and research in the Arab and Muslim regions of the world Regional cooperation within higher education and research is as already mentioned rather limited in the Arab part of the Muslim World. The divide between British and French ex-colonies remains essential to academic structures and networks, as non-humanist disciplines generally are thought in different languages at different sides of the divide. Shortly after de-colonisation, the lack of teachers able to teach in Arabic actually led to a significant import of academic staff from ex-British Middle East to exFrench North Africa. However, this academic contact was stopped as soon as the local production of teaches allowed it, largely because of a fear of Islamist influence, as the teachers as well as the Middle Eastern university environments of which they were products generally were perceived as sympathetic to the early expressions of the Islamic trend. This fear has continued to contribute to a limited political interest in North Africa for creating formal exchange programmes or otherwise encourage student- and teacher exchange with the Arab countries further east. Significant numbers of students have studied in the Middle East, but mostly on private initiative. It is perhaps symptomatic of this politicisation of cooperation within higher education that the inter-Arab organisation specialised in facilitating such cooperation recruits members on state rather than institutional level. The Arab League Educational Cultural and Scientific Organization (ALECSO), established by the League of Arab States in 1970, is a specialised organisation which primary responsibility is the promotion and co-ordination of educational, cultural and scientific activities at the regional and national levels in the Arab World. 10 All Arab states are members, including Somalia and Djibouti. However, after a peak in the 1980s (100-130 projects within education and 4060 projects within science and research per two-year periods), the organisation has faced a dramatic drop in activity during the 1990s, and is currently back to the activity-levels of 10


the very early years of the organisation (about 30 projects within education and 15 within education and research in 1999/2000). 11 Hence, the current state of ALECSO is indicative of both the paralysation of Arab cooperation during the last ten years, and the general problems within higher education and research described by the UNDP Arab Human Development Report 2002. The Federation of the Universities of the Islamic World (FUIW) constitutes a considerably more vital Muslim organisational alternative to the Arab ALECSO. The organisation is placed under the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO)12 which again is part of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC),13 the official organisation for cooperation and dialogue within the Muslim World. FUIW organises more than 170 institutions of higher education, distributed over 54 countries, 46 of which are OIC members. 14 ISESCO, of which FUIW is a part, has strengthening of Islamic culture and identity and support and promotion of cooperation between Muslim states in the areas of education, science and culture as main objective. FUIW has been given the special mandate to support universities and institutions of higher education in the Muslim World and to facilitate cooperation between them. The FUIW model of recruiting members at institutional rather than state level makes it an organisation which activity is considerably less dependent on regime-level political approval than ALECSO. This may be one explanation why the organisation appears to be significantly more vital. It organises a number of symposia and conferences with different target groups and themes, publishes scientific journals and newsletters, compiles and publishes information about institutions of higher education and research in the Muslim World, facilitates through grants and otherwise the exchange of staff from member organisations, and organises activities for students. 15 FUIW also seems to be attuned to recent developments in international university cooperation, as it from the autumn 2003 introduces a partially e-learning-based �Integrated University�. Partner institutions in this initiative are 3 conventional universities (Cairo University and 11 13 14 12


Mansoura University, Egypt, and Damascus University, Syria) and two e-based institutions with address London: International Technological University (ITU) and International Colleges of Islamic Sciences (ICIS). 16 The fact that FUIW’s new e-learning initiative is constructed on state universities in countries that used to constitute core areas of Arab cooperation - Syria and Egypt – suggests that the organisation currently is perceived as a more interesting arena also by actors that earlier have emphasised Arab rather than Muslim unity. The organisation has, however, a much broader geographical and cultural base than the Arab World. Bangladesh (5), Malaysia (5), Indonesia (8), Iran (13) and Pakistan (13) are among the main suppliers of member institutions, while several significant Arab states are rather weakly represented. FUIW also organises institutions from newcomers among the Muslim states, such as the Central Asian republics. Of the regionally founded associations organising cooperation within higher education and research in the Muslim world, FUIW clearly constitutes the most vital and significant. 17 Firmly based within an OIC organisational framework, the association clearly carries the cultural and religious characteristics of the Islamic heritage. However, the concretisation of these characteristics is of a broad and including nature suited to accommodate member institutions from three continents and many different sub-cultures. A striking feature of the organisational landscape structuring cooperation within higher education and research in the Muslim World is, however, the significant presence of organisations of non-regional origin, notably organisations dominated by the two major ex-colonies in the region: France and Great Britain. Agence universitaire de la francophonie (AUF) recruits member institutions from more than a dozen Muslim countries, and in several of these countries, the AUF member institutions outnumber the FUIW member institutions by the double or more. 18 Commonwealth Learning is AUF’s British-dominated counterpart. Based on the Commonwealth countries, it recruits member institutions to individual programmes and projects, and it is therefore more 15 17 Organisations defined according to regions that covers parts of the Muslim World, such as the Association of African Universities (AAU) also have significant prescence in certain Muslim countries. Sudan has the highest number of member institutions (20), Egypt has 15, Algeria 7, Libya 5, and Morocco 4, to mention the mot active ( 16


complicated to get an overview of the total number of institutions involved. 19 However, judging from information at the two organisations’ web-pages, it is clear that their level of activity in Muslim countries exceeds that of the regional organisations by far. The organisations have been particularly active in the area of e-learning. Considering the investments involved in initiating activity in this area, it is hardly surprising that they have been able to exploit its potential for collaboration within higher education better than their regional counterparts. The strong position of these organisations is yet another illustration of the weak regional ties that exists within higher education in the Arab and Muslim Worlds alike. More importantly, the presence of these organisations contributes to maintaining and strengthening division lines hat has hampered regional cooperation since de-colonisation.

Assessment of possible co-operation with countries in the Muslim World The Dutch equivalent of Norwegian Centre for International University Cooperation (SIU), Netherlands Organization for International Cooperation in Higher Education (NUFFIC), recently tried to organise cooperation between Dutch institutions of higher education and institutions in half a dozen states in the Middle East, including Oman, Yemen, Iran, and Palestine. In some of the cases, the initiative to the cooperation came from the Middle Eastern party, the other initiatives were based on the political preferences of the Dutch government. Discussions went on from ministry level down to relevant university faculties and departments, and the talks on all levels were characterised by good will and interest in collaboration. Despite these apparently favourable preconditions for co-operation, none of the projects lived beyond the preparatory stages. What went wrong? Political considerations will evidently be a central factor in the creation of national strategies for international cooperation. However, if the preconditions for viable cooperation are not present, such considerations have limited value. Hence, in a process of setting political co-ordinates for international cooperation within higher education,

18 19


three questions must be asked: Which partners are desirable from a political viewpoint, what would be the main purpose of the cooperation (academic cooperation, cultural exchange, development aid), and which partners will it be practically possible to cooperate with, given the predefined aims and preconditions? Concerning the first question, making political judgements concerning choice of possible new partners is beyond the mandate of this report. Some suggestions of regions made on more general terms will, however, be presented later. Concerning the second question, it focuses on an issue that would be absolutely central to a possible new initiative of academic cooperation with countries and institutions belonging to the Muslim World. The current world situation strongly calls for increased intercultural communication between the Western and the Muslim Worlds, which indicates that this is an aim that should be given large priority in possible new projects of cooperation. On the other hand, Norway has its own academic needs that not necessarily are compatible with this aim. For instance, as a result of the Quality Reform and its emphasis on student mobility on BA level, Norway has an increasing need for student exchange with Muslim countries within a range of disciplines: Turkish, Arabic, Persian, religion, archaeology, history and social anthropology to mention a few. In theory, there is no contradiction in combining the two aims - although the unfortunate lack of possibilities for funding of South-North student exchange on BA-levels complicates the task considerably even on a theoretical level. In practice, it gets even more difficult, as low quality of teaching at state institutions of higher education induces Norwegian universities to send their students to Western institutions in the Muslim region, such as the American University in Cairo, the Goethe-Institut in Damascus, and others. 20 Arabs both teach and study at these institutions, so Norwegians do get a certain contact with Arab culture while there. Nevertheless, while fulfilling Norwegian needs for academic cooperation, such agreements can hardly be presented as adequate vehicles for intercultural dialogue. Hence, there is a potential incompatibility between Norwegian academic needs and good


This information is based on discussions with Gunvor Mejdell, UoO (15.10.2003), and Knut Wikør, UoB (14.10.2003) In 2002, Mejdell made a thorough assessment of the quality of Arabic teaching at the state institutions University of Cairo, Egypt and University of Damascus, Syria, and found it not adviseable to use the institutions for exchange of Norwegian students of Arabic and related subjects.


political intentions in this landscape that will have to be sorted out before a new initiative of cooperation is launched. The picture becomes even more complex if one adds the dimension of development aid as aim for cooperation. Academic needs and interests may be successfully combined with development aid, a fact the Norwegian NUFU-projects illustrate well. From the above presentations of the state of affairs in the Arab sub-region of the Muslim World it is furthermore clear that there is need for cooperation of this kind. However, when development aid is a driving motivation behind cooperation, Norwegian academic needs cannot constitute the main guideline of the project – it should centre primarily round the needs of the Muslim partner. Intercultural communication will presumably take place also within projects framed as aid, but programmes designed particularly for this purpose might produce better results. Hence, answering the question of the main purpose of new projects of cooperation should constitute the first step in a possible new initiative directed towards countries and institutions in the Muslim World. Turning to the third question that needs to be answered as part of creating a new strategy for academic cooperation with countries and institutions in the Muslim World, it is clear that the practical realisation of academic cooperation hinges on a range of preconditions. Within the sector of higher education, it has generally proved difficult to realise and maintain cooperation that is not based on manifest common professional interest among the partners. International cooperation is energy-consuming, and unless the people who are going to do the job – notably researchers and teachers - are motivated to do it, it will not happen. One of the best ways to ensure that a project will have access to the crucial resource of motivated staff is to formalise or expand already existing cooperation, whether within research, teacher- or student exchange. This method will also provide answers to most of the questions central to the success-potential of projects of cooperation: One will already have a reasonable impression of the partner’s academic qualities, one will have some kind of experience with the practical conditions the cooperation will take place under, and since the involved parties already are cooperating, one must assume that the arrangement is of use to them and their institutions. The Norwegian NUFU-programme is based on a similar philosophy that emphasises the bottom-up perspective in academic cooperation and draws extensively on the expertise


and motivation of local researchers in the formulation of research projects. Firmly based in local research expertise and activity, the projects are able to facilitate high quality student exchange on Ph.D and Master levels. It is hardly controversial to claim that a significant part of the success of the NUFU-model is derived from the fact that the partners know each other and in most cases have worked together prior to the actual NUFU-financed projects. There is one major draw-back with this approach to international cooperation: It will tend to reproduce existing relations and activities, and exclude new thematic initiatives and contact with new geographical areas. There are ways of amending this negative aspect, however. Many research-projects will have relevance for other countries and environments than those involved at any time. For instance, the ongoing NUFUcooperation Lower Jordan River Basin project between University of Bergen and Bir Zeit University, Palestine, which has water resources and conditions for irrigation in agriculture as a main theme, deals with issues of great interest not only to other Middle Eastern countries, but to many countries in the Muslim World. A range of researchprojects with similar relevance-scope already exist in the portfolio of joint research projects involving Norwegian and Muslim researchers. Norwegian initiatives to enter into cooperation with new countries in the Muslim region might profit significantly from a thematic anchoring in relevant existing research or other kinds of academic collaboration in the region. If new projects from the start are affiliated to ongoing activity, this might contribute to increasing the professional motivation of those invited to take part. It might also accelerate the process of developing a fully-fledged academic cooperation – a process that tends to be rather time-consuming, particularly when organised from scratch - 21 and facilitate South-South-collaboration within the projects. Independent of the approach to regional expansion that one might decide to follow, and whether one might give a possible expansion character of development aid, intercultural dialogue, or purely academically motivated activities, the success of academic cooperation will hinge on certain crucial factors: Some extent of local academic expertise must be available, the individual researchers and teachers in question must have


a real motivation to cooperate, and cooperation must also otherwise be practically realisable.

Where to direct new initiatives The following is a brief assessment of a selection of areas within the Muslim World that Norway might consider moving into or strengthening the existing involvement in. It is based on a broadly defined understanding of intercultural dialogue and understanding as main motivation for the cooperation. A more comprehensive mapping of academic environments in the Muslim World and possible partners within them might be instrumental as a preparatory part of a potential Norwegian initiative towards this region. Assuming that intercultural dialogue is the main purpose of possible new projects of cooperation, Muslim countries that express cultural and political preferences somehow related to the Islamic trend 22 logically become the more desirable new partners, as they represent the most recent, significant and vital expressions of Muslim culture. The Islamic trend has a vast number of local expressions, none of which are more ”authentic” than others. Most of the expressions currently lead an existence as more or less legal opposition movements under political regimes of quite different nature. However, there exist a few states in the Muslim World that reasonably may be described as ”Islamic” – or that claim to be so themselves. Some of these states are to be found in Sub-Saharan Africa, and represent important African expressions of contemporary Muslim culture. However, given that the Norwegian focus on this region already is very strong, both with regard to development aid in general and academic cooperation in particular, a possible new initiative should probably be directed in other directions. Africa north of Sahara belongs to the Muslim heartland. However, there are currently no North African regimes that reasonably may be perceived as expressions of


Tomas Kjellquist, SIDA, estimates that it takes 20 years to build the competence and network of a full research-cooperation with an African institution (Presentation at SIUs ”Høstkonferanse”, Os, 6-7 Oct. 2003.) 22 ”The Islamic Trend” refers to the resurgence over the last thirthy years of Islamic ideas and sentiments as foundation for political, social and religious movements of highly different kinds and of highly different messages. (Tjomsland, 2000 :10)


the Islamic trend. Moreover, recent attempts from University of Oslo (UoO) to collaborate with institutions in Tunisia – one of the North African countries with sectors of higher education and research of highest quality – has, furthermore, not been particularly successful. 23 In addition, there is a problem of common language, as none of the North African countries have English as second language. Hence, this is a region that therefore probably should not be given priority. Turning to the Middle East, some current regimes do carry more or less clear signs of the Islamic trend. Sudan is among them. Sudan is also a country that Norway has cooperated with in the fields of higher education and research for a long period, and consequently has considerable competence on. Cooperation with Sudan is rather low at the moment, however – at a time when the attention of the world is likely to turn to Sudan in the near future as a consequence of the peace-agreement between south and north Sudan that probably is approaching. Significant international assistance in reconstruction is likely to follow a peace-agreement. The quality of Sudanese higher education and research is generally low, 24 but Norway’s extensive network within these sectors represents a significant advantage when it comes to identifying relevant and interesting environments and institutions. Hence, in the current situation, a revitalisation of the Sudanese connection should be seriously considered. Yemen is another Middle Eastern country that might be considered for increased cooperation. Some activity already exists. University of Bergen (UoB) has in cooperation with Yemeni institutions until recently had active research projects there. 25 Moreover, UoO has sent language students to Yemen, to institutes of Arab language of good quality. On the other hand, the country currently suffers from social instability significant enough to constitute an argument against a possible expansion of activity in Yemen. Significant cooperation is already taking place between Norway and Palestine – the earlier mentioned NUFU-project Lower Jordan River Basin project is a prominent example of that. Although the Palestinian regime has an Arab nationalist orientation, 23

According to G. Mejdell 15.10.2003. UNDP: Arab Human Development Report 2002 :68 25 These projects have among other things dealt with the philosophical movement claimed to constitute core motivation for Hosema Bin Laden and his al-Qaida movement, and may thus contribute to the understanding of this central figure on the contemporary international scene. (Source: Leif Manger 15.10.2003.) 24


major Islamist movements exist in Palestine and constitute highly significant actors in the areas of culture as well as social welfare. Despite difficult conditions for the practical realisation of the cooperation with Palestine, existing projects continue to deliver good results. This indicates dedication and great motivation on the Palestinian side, and together with the large political interest of this region, and the importance of the research that is taking place, this speaks in favour of a continuation and possibly an expansion of the existing cooperation. Iran is an obvious candidate when it comes to selecting Middle Eastern countries with regimes affiliated to the Islamic trend. UoO has a certain need for student collaboration with Iran due to its course in Persian language. More centrally, perhaps, research collaboration on oil-related themes already exists between Norway and Iran, as well as competence-enhancing programmes for technical personnel. Given the substance of this collaboration –oil – it ought to have a large potential as thematic basis for new initiatives in the region. There are therefore several good reasons to preserve and possibly expand the existing links to Iran. Situated close to the oil-producing Central-Asian ex-soviet republics, Iran and the existing oil-collaboration might furthermore serve as a bridge into that particular area, which so far is fairly badly covered by Norwegian environments of research and higher education. Experiencing a significant religio-cultural resurgence after decades of repression, these Muslim states represent areas of great interest in a contemporary Muslim cultural perspective, and an initiative in that direction – possibly via Iran - should be considered. Pakistan and Bangladesh are Muslim states with relatively clear affiliations to the Islamic trend. As the most significant sending country of immigrants to Norway outside the Western region of the world, Pakistan in particular is of interest to Norway. Academic cooperation with the two countries has existed for a long period, and should be continued. The largest accumulation of Muslims in the world is actually to be found in South-East-Asia, notably Indonesia and Malaysia. This part of the Muslim World has, moreover, experienced significant, distinctly local expressions of the Islamic trend over the last years. Norway does not have any well developed academic connections with this very significant part of the Muslim World. As one of the major arenas of contemporary


Muslim culture, Norway might consider investigating the possibilities of setting up projects of cooperation with institutions of higher education and research in this region.

Concluding remarks A necessary first move in a possible new initiative towards increased academic cooperation with the Muslim World will have to be the determination of the terms on which the cooperation will take place. Development aid or fulfilment of Norwegian needs for BA level student mobility – these are the current extremes of the possible alternatives. The distance between them may not necessarily be so big, but combinations of different purpose in the same projects will require careful planning. Some of the main thematic areas of research Norway currently is involved in in the Muslim World – oil and water – are identified in the 2002 Arab Human Development Report as areas where the region is in particular need of expertise and may benefit from research cooperation. 26 The broader research area of Middle Eastern knowledge, in which Norway has been strong for decades, supplements and provides background for these more targeted research areas in a constructive way. Moreover, with its comprehensive approach to the region it may contribute significantly to reaching the Norwegian aims of increasing the national knowledge on global health, peace and development. 27 Hence, conditions are favourable for Norway to accommodate prioritised needs for knowledge both in the Muslim World and at home with relatively modest extra investments. Above, some possible new partners for academic cooperation within the Muslim World have been briefly suggested. Other good alternatives exist, and should be properly mapped before any well founded decisions can be made about a possible expansion of Norway’s academic collaboration in this part of the world. A comprehensive overview over existing Norwegian cooperation within research, teacher- and student exchange in this region of the world should also be developed as an instrument for the development of a strategy for expansion of academic cooperation with the Muslim World. In addition, an overview over Norwegian needs for cooperation in this region should be made. Norwegian institutions of higher education as well as independent research environments

26 27

UNDP: Arab Human Development Report 2002 :67. Stortingsproposisjon nr.1 2003-2004: 161


are involved in the region, and are likely to have clear ideas about the kind of new projects that might be compatible with their interests. Assuming that practical need and professional interest are strong motivations behind academic cooperation, it is recommended that any new initiatives are based in the academic realities in Norway as well as in the relevant countries in the Muslim World.

Literature/ sources of information: Alam, M.S.: ”A Critique of Samuel Hintington – Peddling Civilizational Wars”, in: Counterpunch,, February 28, 2002. Die Zeit, Nr. 41, 1. Oktober 2003 :42. Huntington, S. P.: ”The Clash of Civilizations”, in: Foreign Affairs, Summer 1993, v72, n3, p22(28). Stortingsproposisjon nr.1 2003-2004 Tjomsland, M. This, But Also the Other: Expressions of the Islamic Trend in Tunisia, Department of Sociology, University of Bergen, 2000 UNDP: Arab Human Development Report 2002 UNDP: Arab Human Development Report 2003

Ass. Prof. Knut S. Vikør, Dept. of History, University of Bergen Prof. Leif Manger, Dept. of Social Anthropology, University of Bergen Ass. Prof. Gunvor Mejdell, Dept. for East-European and Oriental Studies, University of Oslo Senior Consultant Kjell Pettersen, Office of International Relations, University of Bergen