Research Project: History Writing at Lebanon’s Universities // Dynamics of connectivity under the impact of reform, innovation and political change

© Jonathan Kriener

By Jonathan Kriener

In the winter term of 2010/11, postgraduate students of sociology at the Lebanese University (UL) protested against its newly established Doctoral School for Humanities and Social Sciences. The campaigners claimed that the reform was designed to functionalise graduate studies merely to serve the globalising labour market. Maybe it is not by coincidence that the campaign started with a boycott of the entrance exams to the Doctoral School. In the exams, foreign language skills were tested; skills which, on average, are less developed among the constituencies of the two March 8 parties who supported the protest. Following the protest, a government decision exempted one of the five local branches of the Institute of Social Sciences from the new system. During the academic year 2014/15, however, the new regulations for doctoral studies were finally adopted by the entire Institute of Social Science.

In 2007, with the support of the TEMPUS programme of the European Union and inspired by the French Écoles doctorales, Lebanon had established three doctoral schools at its national university. They enrol doctoral students of all disciplines from UL itself as well as from other universities in Lebanon and other Arab countries. Their mission is to enhance the quality of research by connecting and integrating it nationally, throughout the Arab region, and internationally. Since their foundation, doctoral studies at UL are centralised there. At the beginning of 2017, more than 1,300 graduate students were enrolled at the largest of them, the one for humanities and social sciences. The innovation was part of a reform that also included the adjustment of UL to the European Credit Transfer System. In the debate preceding and following the reform, some participants expressed the hope that it would provide structures and parameters for a more effective assessment of higher education, for a lack of which the Lebanese academic system had often been criticised. Others mocked such expectations, e. g. in the al-Nahār daily of 16 September 2005 entitled Yad ūrūbiyya tantashil al-ta’līm al-lubnānī min ma’ziq (“European hand saving Lebanese education from crisis”).

Such voices and the protests mentioned are but a few examples of the debate that was the focus of my recent work on the project “History-Writing at Lebanon’s Universities“. The mechanisms set up to implement the Doctoral School’s mission – mandatory involvement of the doctoral students in colloquia, conferences and publications – seem to clash with other dynamics that move the social sciences and humanities in Lebanon in a different direction: the social reproduction and increase in the number of academic personnel, and the ongoing fragmentation of the Lebanese landscape of higher education institutions. Critics do not expect the new system to lessen the notorious isolation of doctoral research in the humanities at UL.

The Doctoral School thus seems to constitute an interesting case of externalization (Schriewer, Jürgen; Martinez, Carlos (2004): Constructions of Internationality in Education. In Gita Steiner-Khamsi (Ed.): The global politics of educational borrowing and lending. New York: Teachers College Press, pp. 29–53), meaning that an educational reform with reference to an international model plays out in a very specific local practice and thereby runs counter to the standardising effects posited by other theories of globalisation (e.g. Meyer, John W. and Francisco O. Ramirez, “Die globale Institutionalisierung der Bildung,” in: John W. Meyer, Georg Krücken, Barbara Kuchler (Eds.): Weltkultur. Wie die westlichen Prinzipien die Welt durchdringen. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 2005, pp. 212–234). Trying to understand the balance between these different forces in Lebanon, this project focuses on the development of connectivity of doctoral research in the humanities before and after the establishment of the Doctoral School.

Jonathan Kriener is research associate at the OIB.

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