Gestures

Following lobbying from members of the University of Bath asking that the university provide funded studentships for refugees from Syria, the senior management team has laid out a response under the title `Partnership, not gesture: Jordan commitment‘. The substance of the management plan is outlined below, with a response.

Following our discussions in Amman two weeks ago we now undertake to make a range of brand new commitments in Jordan to build that resilience:

1. Working with a local University in Amman with a focus on STEM we will support the training of faculty to doctoral level in areas such as engineering and mathematical innovation, essential for the development of resilient systems.

Laudable though this contribution to Jordanian Higher Education might be, it is not a proposal to offer any chance of higher education to Syrian, or other, refugees. There is an additional impediment: according to a report on the status of Syrian students who have sought refuge in Jordan, Jordanian universities require Syrian students to produce documentation on their previous studies:

students reported to us that although in some cases documentary requirements have been eased, some Jordanian universities continue to require documentation. Since many Syrian refugee students were forced to leave home without this paper work, failure to waive these requirements creates an effective bar to accessing higher education in Jordan.

For obvious reasons the Syrian embassy in Jordan is not helpful to Syrian refugees looking for copies of their educational qualifications, so in practice Syrian refugees find it almost impossible to enter a Jordanian university.

2. We will commit to partner with the Royal Scientific Society of Jordan to conduct research in areas of national priority.

Again, this is a laudable proposal, although it does require some detail. For example, is this to be funded by the University of Bath, or does it depend on external funding? If the latter, it is simply a strategic internationalization decision, and not an act of generosity or solidarity by the university. In neither case is it an offer of assistance to refugees fleeing war in Syria: it is cooperation on work of national importance to Jordan.

3. We have now launched a Study Centre in partnership with the Amman Baccalaureate School where we will deliver our MA in Education. We will teach the teachers to provide future leadership in education.

This is not a `brand new commitment’: the `new study centre’ was opened at the end of January by Princess Sarvath, an honorary graduate of the University of Bath.

4. We will strengthen our partnership with the British Institute in Amman to develop research which can inform how governments, NGOs and other parties might more effectively respond to the long-term impacts of the crisis.

Neither is this.

5. And we will provide scholarships on our postgraduate MA Education programme in Amman to refugees displaced by the crisis. These scholarships will complement work being undertaken by the British Council, whose EU-funded LASER (Language, Academic skills and E-learning Resources) Project is developing English language skills with refugees and host communities in Jordan and Lebanon.

This is a very limited offer. The MA in Education programme is open to `qualified educators‘. This translates into a requirement that students on the programme be `qualified teachers‘. At best, this is an offer of scholarships (of what value?) to refugees who already hold a teaching qualification: it offers nothing to those who hold a qualification in any other discipline, and nothing to those who have not started or completed a qualification.

These are all new initiatives for the University. Together, they form a multi-layered commitment to Jordan in its vital stabilisation efforts in this deeply troubled region.

On a charitable reading, some of these initiatives are new `for the University’. They are not, however, a response to the humanitarian crisis of refugees fleeing Syria: they were in place long before the issue of aiding people fleeing war was even raised. Indeed, the word `Syrian’ does not appear in the proposals, and there is absolutely no proposal to offer assistance to Syrian refugees in the United Kingdom.

Our community started out with a call for support for refugees. We are going far beyond what was sought.

It is true that `our community started out with a call for support for refugees’. This plan is not a response to that call but the passing off of existing initiatives as aid for refugees. It does not go `far beyond what was sought’; it is not even movement in the same direction.


So now engineers are jihadis too?

[This post is to be treated as a draft rather than a fully-developed position: so I welcome comments, and requests to expand points, and may well change my mind about certain things.]

Not for the first time, the argument is being made that STEM turns its graduates into uncultured oafs, recoverable only through the application of the mind-soothing balm of the humanities. This time, however, it’s serious: Paul Vallely, citing a British Council study, claims that there is `“an engineering mindset”, which makes science students easier prey for terrorist recruiters.

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How to be a bastard: crowd control in the academy

When I had my first academic job, new staff spent a couple of days of induction learning about how to teach. On the afternoon of the last day, which was the Friday before teaching started, the course tutor asked if there was anything he hadn’t covered which we would like to learn about.

A colleague said he had 150 first year engineering students on Monday. I laughed. The course tutor laughed. Nobody else laughed. The tutor explained to the other academics, mainly from the humanities, that engineering students, at least in Ireland, are a notorious shower of animals, liable to throw things at the lecturer, including, on one occasion, a frozen chicken.

“So you want to know how to be a bastard?”
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Immigrants ate my country

Another translation of an article by the Neapolitan writer Rosario Dello Iacovo. The original is here.

In the beginning were the terroni, scroungers and ruin of the nation. Then it was the turn of the Chinese, but the Chinese had money, opened businesses, and kept to themselves; they were too powerful to take on with some reasonable chance of success. So the average Italian thought the time might be come to aim up and take on the politicians, but the anger against the caste did not last long: the politicians shrugged their shoulders, as if they gave a fuck. Some new face from some new movement entered parliament and it all ended as it had started.

Then it was the turn of the refugees on the boats. “Perfect,” said the average Italian, because they were weak enough to have all the sins of the world dumped on them, without the slightest consequence. Like a charm, the dormitories became five star hotels. Even better than a share dividend or a stock exchange index, the maximum figure of 2 euro 50 cash per person per day rose to 1200 euros a month. In the province of Trento someone came forward to affirm that they got up to 2000. Everybody, ah, if it were only the refugees. And saying that it was European Union money, only one twenty-seventh Italian. After a devastating flood, caused by climate change, prolonged excessive heat, but most of all soil erosion, building speculation and planning corruption, the expression was coined: “Immigrants ate my country.”

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Cockburn on liberals

From The Nation, 24 November 1984, reprinted in Corruptions of Empire:

`Could the officer have aimed to warn or wound rather than to kill? Could the team have used Chemical Mace or tear gas?’ This was in a November 2 New York Times editorial, apropos the N.Y.P.D.’s shooting of Eleanor Bumpurs, the 66-year-old Bronx woman who was behind in her rent. I love liberals when they try to think constructively.


The Camorra is a pile of shit and Gomorrah is an ad for the Camorra

This article is a translation of a piece by Rosario Dello Iacovo which addresses the image of Naples presented by the television series (rather than the film or book) Gomorrah, and the way it glamourizes a criminal existence without making any reference to the struggling anti-Camorra or anti-Mafia movement in Italy. I thought it should have a wider readership, especially given that the series seems to have been adopted into the Eurocrime canon in the English-speaking world, and Rosario kindly agreed to let me present this translation.

If you want to see a great film about the anti-Mafia struggle, try The Hundred Steps/I Cento Passi.

I lose my patience, when my nephew answers the phone with the umpteenth phrase from the series Gomorrah. I thank the three thousand kilometers which separate London from Salento that my rage has no repercussions worse than the dressing down he has coming. He is not even thirteen, he comes from an honest working-class family, he works hard at school, he plays football well. A normal child who has the luck to grow up in a peaceful environment, but to hear him speak at times he seems anything but.

For some time in Naples youths not much older than my nephew have been taking shots at each other. Not with words but with bullets. And it is not teenage pride which is wounded, but bodies in flesh, bone, shit and blood spread on the tarmac. Is it the fault of Gomorrah and of Roberto Saviano if it happens? No, the Camorra was shooting when Saviano was still his parents’ dream of love. And long before, because the Camorra took over Naples when it entered the city on the bandwagon of United Italy plc, even if to say so seems unforgiveable Bourbonism to some. So what is the question?

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War on the humanities, again

The THE reports that leading historian Professor Peter Mandler has delivered a paper on the “crisis in the humanities”, concluding that there isn’t one. In particular, he says:

It is hard to take too seriously talk of a crisis in Britain when even by the narrowest definition of the humanities the absolute number of humanities students has increased fivefold since 1967, and by the broader definition almost 10-fold.

In the US, over a period of much slower expansion, their numbers have still doubled…Talk of a crisis triggered by a decline in a percentage point or two does seem like an over-reaction that is likely to contribute to rather than ameliorate the alleged problem.

As well as looking at student numbers, we can look at the UK data for academic staff numbers, as a proxy for resource allocation.

hesa-1

The figure shows the percentage of academic staff in STE (Science, Technology, and Engineering), Humanities (shown dashed), and Medicine from 1994 to 2008, using the freely available HESA data sets. The break in the curves corresponds to a change in the reporting of data. The details of how staff numbers were assigned to the three categories are given in a separate PDF.

The first part of the plot shows a drop in the percentage of STE staff, which might correspond to the closure of Chemistry departments over that time (the data for these years are not broken down to subject level), while Medicine rises, and Humanities are fairly steady.

After the change in reporting methodology in 2003, Medicine has about the same proportion of staff as before the change, while Humanities increases markedly and STE reduces. Clearly, this is an artifact of the breakdown of data and does not indicate real changes in the proportion of academic staff in STE or Humanities. The trends from 2003 onwards are validly indicated, however, and show STE and Humanities holding more or less steady.

In summary, the data from 1994 onwards show a sharp drop in STE, a rise in Medicine, and a small drop in Humanities.

Crisis in the humanities? What crisis?