Arab 'universities' mushrooming in the Netherlands

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Seven Arab universities have recently been established in The Hague. Some of them train pilots, others offer courses in Islamic sciences or nuclear physics. But far from everybody is convinced that the degrees the universities offer hold any value.

By Tariq al-Qaziri
Dr Khalil, an Iraqi man in his mid fifties, is visibly proud of the Free University in The Hague of which he is the vice-rector. He describes it as a 'non-profit organisation' providing education for Arabs who migrated to the Netherlands for economic reasons. Only a handful of people work at his office in a modern building in The Hague; there are no students to be seen. According to Dr Khalil, the actual teaching takes place at another location that is not accessible at the moment of the interview. He adds that his university also teaches by mail and through Paltalk, an internet chat programme.
All teaching at the Free University is in Arabic. "Most of the books written in the English language are translated from the Arabic anyway", explains Dr Khalil. This year, he says, 150 bachelor students, 32 master students and 25 PhD students will obtain their degrees in various subjects, including political science, philosophy and law.
The Free University is not the only one of its kind. There are six more in The Hague, all established by Iraqis in the past few years. In fact, Dr Khalil happens to be the rector of one of them: La Haye University, which is located in the same building. He has established this university himself, he says, because the Free University could not accommodate certain subjects. The website of La Haye University mentions an agreement with the Royal Jordanian Aviation College, to train 100 pilots and 200 aviation engineers.
Another member of the board of directors of the Free University has his own university as well, which is called the Dutch University for Science and Arts. Each of the three universities calls itself the 'friend' of the other two.
Outside the Netherlands, this mushrooming of Arab universities has already caused some commotion. Some time ago, the Iraqi Ministry of Higher Education reported that a certain 'Open University' in the Netherlands sold high academic degrees to Iraqis who did not have any academic training. Some of these degrees, it said, were in very specific fields such as nuclear physics. More recently, the Swedish Ministry of Education issued a warning against fake universities, mentioning in particular the Free University of Sweden, an affiliate of the Free University in The Hague.
Dr Khalil is not concerned about the Swedish warning, saying it is based on a misunderstanding. But in the Netherlands, too, doubts are growing stronger. The Free University was recently expelled from the Dutch organisation the Platform for Recognised Private Educational Institutions (PAEPON) 'for the misleading information it distributes on its website'.
Life experience
Dr  Khalil himself holds no fewer than three PhD degrees. One is from the Free University of which he himself is the vice rector. According to a publication of his university, he further obtained a PhD in Administration from the United States, but no particular university there is mentioned. And in his CV, Dr Khalil finally mentions a PhD from Suffield university. This American institute - not to be confused with the well-known Sheffield University in the United Kingdom - issues degrees on the basis of 'life experience'.
In the Netherlands anyone who takes the trouble to visit to the local Chamber of Commerce and pay about 50 euros can put a sign on his door that reads 'university'. That is not to say, of course, that this 'university' and the degrees it offers are recognised by the Dutch authorities. But Dr Khalil is optimistic. Dutch law, he knows, stipulates that a university can only apply for official recognition four years after it is established. So the recognition of the Free University is "only a matter of time."