SAUDI MINISTER OF EDUCATION AND DELEGATION SIGN COOPERATIVE AGREEMENTS WITH UNIVERSITY OF ARKANSAS

This is the highest ranking group of Saudi education officials ever to visit the United States

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — His Excellency Khalid Al-Ankary, minister of higher education in Saudi Arabia, signed a memorandum of cooperation with University of Arkansas Chancellor John White during a ceremony today.

Also signing memoranda to promote exchanges and collaborative efforts were His Excellency Abdullah Al-Faisal, President, King Saud University; His Excellency Abdulaziz Al-Dukhayyil, President, King Fahd University; His Excellency Yusuf Al-Gindan, President, King Faisal University; and His Excellency Mustafa Alidrisi, Vice President for Graduate Studies and Scientific Research, King Abdulaziz University.

The memoranda formally state the intentions of the Saudi Ministry of Higher Education and its major universities to cooperate with the University of Arkansas and other Arkansas universities through:

Creating joint exchange programs for faculty and students;

Sharing scientific knowledge and research as well as information technology;

Formulating research and academic programs that will be mutually beneficial;

Supporting language teaching programs;

Participating in scientific seminars and symposia at partner universities;

The 28-member delegation is visiting Harvard, MIT, Northwestern, Michigan, UCLA, and the University of California System, to sign similar memoranda of cooperation.

Also accompanying the group are His Excellency Khalid Al-Sultan, Deputy Minister of Higher Education, and Dr. Mazyed Almazyed, Saudi Cultural Attaché to the United States.

During their three-day visit, the Saudi delegation met with faculty and administrators across campus, to learn more about UA programs and facilities.

They toured premier research facilities in physics, agriculture, the Sam Walton College of Business Administration, and engineering. They also were photographed in front of the Fulbright Peace Fountain, a monument to a Senator and former UA President who was admired by many in the Middle East. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was the single largest donor to the fountain.

"Since establishing the King Fahd Middle East Studies Program in 1993, the University's Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences has forged several such cooperative agreements," said Bernard Madison, Fulbright College dean. "We have built the program through joint projects and faculty-student exchanges, with the purpose of achieving better mutual understanding. We have been guided by the philosophy of J. William Fulbright, who held that only through education could we achieve any genuine understanding among nations."

UA Professor Randall Woods, author of Fulbright: A Biography, said that Fulbright was one of the first Senate leaders to advocate a more balanced approach to the Middle East. "He was sympathetic to the plight of the Palestinians and wanted America to become more involved in the effort to bring a lasting peace to the region."

Chancellor John A. White, who invited the delegation to visit the U of A, said that the University will take the initiative in involving more Arkansas institutions. "Through these agreements, the flagship campus has pledged to strengthen existing programs and involve additional system campuses in a wider partnership with Saudi universities," said White.

"Because the King Fahd Middle East Studies Program is based on bilateral projects, the entire University and all its disciplines have had opportunities to participate.

Some disciplines contribute by educating students and faculty about the Middle East, while others contribute by providing expertise and ideas for innovative projects," White added.

Funded by a generous $21.5 million gift from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the program is now in its sixth year. The program supports joint ventures, the UA Press translation awards, and a broad range of community outreach programs.

Since 1993, several collaborative projects with Arab countries have been instituted, such as an agreement to share technology between the UA Center for Advanced Spatial Technologies and the Royal Jordanian Geographic Center. Every summer, the U of A holds a Bioarchaeological Field School in collaboration with Yarmouk University in Irbid, Jordan, during which faculty and students from both universities conduct excavations in the Byzantine tombs of Yasileh.

The program offers ample scholarships, assistantships, and opportunities for study abroad. Currently 20 undergraduates are on partial or full scholarships, while 30 graduate students have received full assistantships. Students can earn an undergraduate minor, a dual major, or a graduate concentration in Middle East history, anthropology, political science, comparative literature, or literary translation.

Each year, Middle East Studies (MEST) also supports the UA Press Award for Translation into English of notable works in Arabic fiction and poetry.

The Arabic language program enrolls about 50 students each semester, who can take elementary to advanced courses in Arabic. Each summer, 12 to 15 students take intensive language courses in either Jordan, Morocco, or Lebanon.

In fall 1999, 12 Saudi graduate students will begin coursework at the U of A toward doctorates in curriculum and instruction. Their specializations will include science, mathematics, social studies, elementary curriculum, and educational technology.

Central to the program is an extensive range of public outreach activities. Middle East Studies (MEST) has organized and directed 13 teacher workshops drawing over 300 teachers,

In collaboration with the UA College of Continuing Education, MEST hosts a full-week annual Elderhostel King Fahd Middle East Symposium. In collaboration with the National Council on US-Arab Relations, MEST organizes annual high school Model Arab League conferences, bringing to campus students and teachers from Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. Faculty are in the process of creating a collection of print and media resources for school teachers and their students.

The program has also hosted several faculty from Middle Eastern universities and sponsored numerous speakers, guest lecturers, exhibits, and films on various topics related to the Middle East.

"The Middle East Studies Program here is unique," said Associate Director Mounir Farah. "While most programs concentrate on teaching the Middle East to American students, we are different in that we educate Middle Easterners about the West. We support faculty and students from the Middle East, who come here for American Studies. Through this approach, I believe, we have all benefited by gaining a much deeper understanding of our different cultures."

Every summer, a group of faculty from the U of A, Arkansas State University, and other UA system campuses take an educational tour of the Middle East. This year’s trip starts on May 27th, the same day the Saudi delegation is scheduled to arrive.

"While they are visiting our campus, we will be visiting Saudi Arabia," said Farah. "While they are here learning more about our programs and faculty, we will have Arkansas educators meeting their colleagues from Saudi universities and discussing ways to further strengthen ties among our programs and institutions."

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