Dr Nazmi al-Masri is Associate Professor of Education at the Islamic University of Gaza. He received his PhD in education from Manchester University and is currently Co-Investigator on two research projects with UK universities.
What has university life been like during the pandemic for you and your colleagues?
Academic life in Palestine in general and in Gaza in particular has been facing many protracted difficulties, most of which are consequences of living under Israeli occupation for decades. One of these consequences is isolating the Gaza Strip since 1967 and the ongoing blockade (siege) imposed on Gaza for almost 15 years so far. To overcome these difficulties, IUG built up-to-date IT and online networking and communication infrastructure which helped in reducing the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the process of teaching and learning.
Yet many challenges emerged at three levels: university senior management and online learning policy makers, the academic staff, and the students. The university managing body was taken by surprise by the pandemic and struggled to develop clear and detailed procedures in a short period. It took a few months to produce pedagogical guidelines for online education and for assessment. Many of the academic staff were not familiar with the necessary technical and pedagogical competencies and experience to produce quality online teaching and assessment which caused stress to both teachers and students. The university students were put under great pressure and suffered severely due to the lack of electricity (typically eight hours a day with frequent interruption), many of the students do not have laptops, many do not have high speed or reliable internet connection. The suffering of first-year students was doubled because they were looking forward to joining the university and they wanted to enjoy the social, recreational and academic life of the university but they felt the pandemic deprived them of this.
What are the main effects of the illegal closure of Gaza on higher education that you experience?
The ongoing blockade on Gaza Strip has been imposed since 2006. This illegal and immoral blockade has so many negative impacts on all aspects of life in Gaza strip: economic, social, psychological, academic, etc. The main impacts on higher education include immobility (closure of borders) depriving academics, researchers and students from contributing in international conferences and academic events in person. Some students lost exchange visit opportunities and others lost scholarships to study in Europe or the UK. We still cannot host British and European colleagues who are willing to come to Gaza as part of academic partnerships or part of a sponsored exchange programme. Another serious impact is the lowering of students’ motivation for higher education due to the high rate of unemployment among university graduates.
Can you describe the impact on you, your colleagues and students of the 11-day military assault on Gaza in May?
The 11-day aggression on Gaza has impacted all academics and students because it was an assault on Palestinian families, in the first place, which killed 66 children, 33 women, 17 elderly family members, and other civilians, in total 243 Palestinians. So no one, no family, no institution and no place was safe. This traumatised many students and academics including myself. I expressed this impact in a three-part series posted on CUSP project. The third blogpost described my experience during the war.
You have written about the importance of building hope under occupation. Where do you find hope today and what do you do to encourage it?
To Palestinians, quality education is the main source of hope to build a better life for current and future generations. It is also a means to get a job and lead a decent life and thus contributes to building stability and a productive society in Palestine, which has been occupied for decades. I addressed this very interesting question in more detail in a lecture jointly hosted by the Centre for Higher Education and Equity Research (CHEER) and the Centre for International Education (CIE) at the University of Sussex. The lecture was given about 2 months ago, entitled "Palestinian Higher Education in Protracted Crises: Identity, Resilience and Hope".
You have pioneered many joint research projects with UK and European partners. Could you tell us a bit about what you are working on now in cooperation with UK universities?
Recognising the importance of developing academic partnerships with UK and European Universities motivated the Islamic University of Gaza (IUG) to give high priority to such academic collaborations in its strategic plans and policies. These partnerships contribute to improving and internationalising the quality of education, promoting context-based academic research and building the capacity of a vulnerable and marginalised local community in Palestine, a context of challenges and protracted crises, especially the besieged Gaza Strip.
Building on IUG strategies, policies and the aims of such partnerships, I participated in about 20 international academic projects over the last 15 years or so. Currently I am working on three international projects with European and UK academic partners. One project involves IUG in full cooperation with the University of South-Eastern Norway (USN) and Hebron University to develop a pioneering joint and accredited master’s programme in Early Childhood Education.
Two more projects are still in operation with two British universities: one is with the University of Glasgow, entitled Culture for Sustainable and Inclusive Peace Network Plus (CUSP) which aims “to strengthen arts and cultural institutions in low and middle-income countries so they can become a reference point for the identification and transformation of social conflict.” Another project is with Birmingham City University, entitled “Disability Under Siege” which “aims to provide the intellectual, financial and logistical resources required to deliver a transformational step change in education provision for children with disabilities in conflict-affected states.” I find this process of developing international partnerships challenging but also inspiring and productive.