Why a Regional Network and Why Now?
The Arab region is witnessing an upsurge of public interest in citizenship and participation. University students are among the most active sector, forming youth service organizations and creating other avenues for local and national participation.
Furthermore, a tradition of civic engagement and social responsibility has deep historical roots in Arab universities, but is in need of reinvigoration and redefinition. Recent decades of rote learning and theoretical distancing from everyday life have rendered many universities inhospitable to student impulses for a more engaged pedagogy. Additionally, some administrators view engagement as an alien idea – and one that interferes with a controlled academic environment.
Nevertheless, there are important signs of change. A number of public and private universities are now exploring off-campus programs, often linked to career placement and internships. At the same time, student clubs are lobbying for a more engaged relationship to local communities and problems. Challenges remain, but increasingly, more and more voices are calling for higher education to remember its responsibilities as a member of its community and society.
In order to further promote civic engagement in the Arab region, the Gerhart Center in partnership with the global Talloires Network, launched what we hope to be an Alliance of Arab universities dedicated to civic engagement and the promotion of ‘good’ citizenship in the region.