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Female Saudi Students and UK Universities

(10 Posts)
twofingerstoGideon Fri 12-Jun-15 12:37:09

I work in a UK university which has recently started taking Saudi doctoral students on a 'Joint Supervision Programme' (JSP).
link with more info
Basically, students whose 'family and social related circumstances do not allow her to spend many years abroad' conduct their studies in Saudi Arabia, travelling to the UK (usually with a Saudi escort) for 6 weeks of the year for intense supervisions/other events, rather than come and live her for the duration of their studies. Their doctoral award is conferred by the UK university.

I am involved with facilitating these programmes and have extremely mixed feelings about them. I dislike intensely the euphemisms used, eg. 'some obstacles have emerged' that prevent Saudi students from travelling. These 'obstacles' are entirely created by the Saudi government and I feel that the university I work for is enabling a culture which denies women their rightful freedom.

On the other hand, I recognise that without the JSP, many female students would be denied any opportunity for doctoral study, as they're not permitted to study alongside men in their own country, so it could be argued we are helping these women achieve their aims.

What do others think?

YonicScrewdriver Fri 12-Jun-15 13:12:32

Very tricky. On balance, I'd rather the education was happening than not so I would support the JSP. It's not like boycotting it would improve the lot of women, unfortunately - that would involve a far greater level of countrywide sanctions and even that is hard to enforce on an oil rich company in a global economy.

twofingerstoGideon Fri 12-Jun-15 14:02:56

I know what you mean, but I feel quite uncomfortable having even a small part of this. Everything the students do has to go in front of the 'men's committee' at their home institution. Such an awful regime in so many ways.

I agree that a boycott would not improve things for these women.

I think what I hate most is all the euphemism, the talk of 'social barriers', which have been entirely constructed by a male government.

I also have concerns about the freedom they have to properly research. For example, if their studies are about an aspect of the Saudi education system, they have to work within strict parameters and their research findings are steered in a particular direction, ie. their findings should 'fit in' with the expectations of the regime. It would be unthinkable, for example, that a study of their own education system could conclude that the current system disadvantages women! As one of the supervisors said, it's as if they're being directed to conduct research that will 'prove' the SA government is right, rather than reach any independent conclusions.

TheSweeper Fri 12-Jun-15 15:40:44

If they lack the freedom to conduct proper research, it seems to me that they are not achieving much of benefit. How much more effective for your (and other?) UK universities to refuse to countenance such JSPs, laying out explicitly - and very publicly - why.
These women should research here, properly, with all the freedoms that UK can offer. This halfway house sounds to me like aiding and abetting a horrible state of affairs, tbh. It's easy for me to say, of course, and I can see why you are uncomfortable with it and want to help them achieve what they can.

TheCountessofFitzdotterel Fri 12-Jun-15 16:21:30

Your university should not be facilitating openly biased research. It is academically dishonest . And let's not pretend your institution has the women's interests at heart - they're doing it for the fee money. The JSP is a good idea in principle but only if it is managed with integrity.

sanfairyanne Fri 12-Jun-15 17:09:01

i am a bit confused as to how this is different from other outsourcing uni programmes? large numbers of saudi women study postgrads alongside men in uk universities already so is it the saudi government stopping these particular women on this programme from coming to the uk for the whole academic programme?

twofingerstoGideon Fri 12-Jun-15 17:14:01

I agree about the fee money, Countess. That's another reason why it doesn't sit easily. Universities feel like businesses more than seats of learning now. I don't think the university I work in is unique in this at all.
The JSP is a good idea in principle but only if it is managed with integrity.
How could this be done, given how restrictive the JSP is?

Sweeper, yes, the 'benefit' to the student is that they get to have a PhD, which gives them some standing within their own university and presumably gives their home institution some kudos as well. Perhaps, too, it gives the student some insight into a world beyond their own country, albeit for only 6 weeks a year. I've noticed that some of them (a minority) can't wait to drop their cultural baggage as soon as they arrive, eg. unveiling, debating with male students, while others don't engage much beyond meetings with their supervisors.

When I say the research is biased, I mean their research question is more likely to be 'How does ICT Training of Female Geography Teachers in (named institution) in Saudi Arabia enhance the learning of their students?' rather than look at something in a broader context, ie. using comparisons with teacher training/use of ICT in other countries. So their study will have a very narrow field of enquiry and their data collection will be selective and produce the outcome their sponsos require (most of these students are government-funded).

twofingerstoGideon Fri 12-Jun-15 17:26:22

I don't know the answer to that sanfairyanne. I'm not an expert in any of this. The only previous Saudi female student we had in my department was in the UK with her husband who was also doing a PhD in our institution.

The link I provided suggests that most of the barriers are due to the travel restrictions that are placed on women. My understanding was that this is down to Saudi law, rather than just a cultural restriction imposed by (eg.) the women's families.

If it's family expectation that prevents the women from travelling abroad, rather than limitations imposed by her sponsor or government, I'd be able to see this in a more positive light.

I'm kind of trying to get my thoughts straight on this, as I feel uneasy about the actions of my university, but do see that it can benefit female doctoral students from that country.

TeiTetua Fri 12-Jun-15 18:01:39

Existing Saudi law says women under age 45 need the permission of their nearest male relative in order to travel. There's talk of changing that, though it's not clear how much more freedom is really being considered. I found that in this article:
www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/saudi-arabia-is-to-lift-laws-that-ban-women-from-travelling-without-a-mans-permission-10308153.html

If you go to that page you can also read all about "Female rugby player breaks nose, continues playing, proceeds to tackle two more players". There is blood.

sashh Sat 13-Jun-15 08:17:39

When Nelson Mandela was in prison he did a degree with the University of London.

I see this in exactly the same way.

Someone being unable to attend for a mixture of culture and law.

To an extent I can understand a family not wanting a 'girl' to go abroad, in 1960 literacy was something like 5% maybe lower and certainly lower than that for women.

Education isn't, as far as I am aware, compulsory to any level. So a grandfather who can't read my well be proud his children and grandchildren have an education but think going abroad is going 'too far'. And if she is not from a city but a village then she might not be able to marry afterwards.

I think it is difficult for people to understand how education works when they have not experienced it themselves. When the students were protesting in London my mother couldn't understand how they could all have Wednesday afternoon off, in her words, "they should be in a classroom studying" because her own experience of education was just that. She couldn't understand the idea independent study.

I'm not excusing it, just that I can understand it from the patriarchal point of view.

I grew up in Lancashire in the 1980s, one of the universities started to do satellite courses for teacher training aimed at women from Pakistani families, the families were happy for their daughters to get an education, and I think teaching was seen as 'suitable' employment but they wanted their daughters to be living at home. Providing classes nearer the women's homes meant they could get an education.

Those classes don't exist now, no one in the community would say it wasn't OK for a woman to have an education.

In Britain female education has been fought for, universities didn't allow women to attend, then they allowed them to attend and take exams but would not award them a degree, then they let women get degrees but only in some subjects.

Saudi has gone from not educating women at all to 50+% of students being women in a much shorter time than we did. I know their laws are draconian and I would not want to be part of anything propping that up, but the more women who are educated, anywhere on this planet the better as far as I'm concerned.

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