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Al Qasimi Foundation Co-funds Visiting Assistant Professor Position at Teachers College, Columbia University

Al Qasimi Foundation
September 27, 2015

The UAE’s Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research is jointly funding a position with Columbia University’s Middle East Institute and Teachers College to strengthen research and teaching focused on the MENA region while advancing policy research in the emirate of Ras Al Khaimah.

The collaboration is embodied in a visiting assistant professorship at Teachers College, Columbia University. Although the Middle East Institute and Teachers College have a history of faculty position partnerships, this is the first time they have involved a regional collaborator.

“The Middle East Institute’s mission is to foster research and teaching about the Middle East and, through this, to create an informed public,” says Dr. Lila Abu-Lughod, who served as the Institute’s Director. “Teachers College has long been a crucial partner in our work, and our new partnership with the Al Qasimi Foundation has made Columbia’s visiting assistant professorship much more exciting by directing it toward policy research and providing a genuine link to education in the GCC region.”

The appointment was formally launched on September 1 when Dr. Elizabeth Buckner began her role of Visiting Assistant Professor in International Comparative Education and Middle East Studies for the program’s initial two-year term. She will teach and advise students at Teachers College while spending at least one month each year conducting research “on the ground” in Ras Al Khaimah, United Arab Emirates.

Dr. Buckner earned a PhD in international and comparative education from Stanford University. Her research prioritizes both education and the Middle East region and has been welcomed by top journals in the field, including Comparative Education Review, Comparative Education, and the International Journal of Educational Development.

“At Teachers College, there is a tremendous interest in courses and research on the Middle East, so we were very fortunate that Professor Buckner was able to accept this position,” says Dr. Gita Steiner-Khamsi, chair of the Department of International and Transcultural Studies, where the position resides. “Professor Buckner brings language, context, and content expertise to the job. She is renowned for her work on international higher education and has worked in several countries of the Middle East and North Africa.”
Dr. Buckner is equally enthusiastic about joining the international collaboration.

“I am excited to focus on my work on the UAE because the GCC countries, with their strong economies and large numbers of foreign workers, are unlike any in the world. Their distinctiveness means that the challenges they face receive less attention than those of other regions, but it also means they may serve as a model for other countries, in terms of what education may look like in an increasingly globalized and cosmopolitan future,” she explains.  

Dr. Buckner plans to focus her research on teacher quality, higher education, and early childhood education. Her research will provide the emirate with more evidence upon which to base public policy recommendations and build the UAE’s knowledge economy.

Dr. Buckner hopes her findings will prove useful to policymakers and other local stakeholders, who often strive to make decisions based on research even though data on the region has been relatively scarce. She will use her experience in Ras Al Khaimah and findings from the Emirates to inform the graduate courses that she will deliver to future education researchers and advocates at Teachers College.“Because Professor Buckner will carry out research in collaboration with researchers and policy analysts from the Gulf, this effort will not only improve the quality of the research at Columbia, but it will also enhance the relevance of the findings for applied policy issues in the region,” says Dr. Steiner-Khamsi.

Dr. Buckner, the Middle East Institute, Teachers College, and the Al Qasimi Foundation hope that this cooperation will leverage the reputations and respective strengths of each institution in order to increase the combined impact of their work. It may help remove barriers between academic fields like education and Middle East studies.

“I think we’re all eager to see how Dr. Buckner’s work will benefit communities on both sides of the Atlantic by producing new research into educational issues in the Middle East that can inform students, academics, and policymakers,” says Dr. Natasha Ridge, the Foundation’s Executive Director and a Teachers College graduate.

In today’s ever-globalizing context, comparative education has become a field that neither academics nor governments can afford to ignore if they intend to promote diverse, sustainable growth. The Middle East Institute, Teachers College, and the Foundation understand this, and are pleased to support the visiting assistant professor position and to fund its initial two-year term, though all three partners are open to exploring the possibility of renewing the position in the future.

“In the mean time,” says Dr. Ridge, “both New York and Ras Al Khaimah welcome Dr. Buckner to her new transnational role and are eager to support her work on Gulf education in any way possible.”