Policy-making is political theatre. No doubt about it. That which is not behind closed doors is posturing. But rather than condemn posturing, we should try to understand it. After all, it serves a purpose. It makes public the intent to create buy-in as well as detect common resistances. Conferences oriented towards policy-making are hardly about making decisions then and there. It's about feeling the pulse, NOT of the generic public per se, but about key stakeholders in the game. So with this higher education reform conference in Amman that I was part of, ministers, deans, professors, private education consultants, ed publishers and others congregated for a period of 3 days to discuss key problems and solutions for higher ed reform. About 500 delegates including from Lebanon, Syria, Palestine and others in the region took part in this process. It was an impressive turn out of card touting and name dropping. It was true to form, a networking event. All this should not surprise.
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It’s like a James Bond film really: indoor palm trees, high ceilings, limestone walls, sheiks in long white robes helping themselves to a luxurious breakfast buffet at the Le Royal hotel ; the chatty cab driver who tells me that he has friends everywhere and a Maltese girlfriend waiting for him at home. Military men with guns (well, not flowers obviously), guarding precious property…hang on, the property is the American University! Nothing invites students so enticingly as the nozzle of the gun. The only deviation from this sexy storyline is that we are here for a higher education reform conference. From exciting thriller to drama (or documentary perhaps), the term “education” has a way of sobering this momentum. This is a collaboration between Columbia Middle East Research Center and the Jordanian government. Columbia University , much like several universities in the US, is eager to gain an academic foothold in the Middle East and capture a new consumer base of young doe-eyed stu