Academic Life Under Occupation: The Impact on Educationalists at Gaza's Universities
This sociological study explores the past and current higher education (HE) experience of educationalists at Gaza’s universities and how this experience may be evolving in the shifting socio-political context in the Arab World. The thesis is motivated by three questions:
What are the perspectives of academic staff in the Faculties of Education at Gaza’s universities on their own past HE experiences?
What are the perspectives of students and their lecturers (academic staff) in the Faculties of Education at Gaza’s universities on students’ current HE experiences?
How do educationalists in the Faculties of Education at Gaza’s universities perceive the shifting socio-political context in the Arab World, and what current or future impact do they think it will have on the education context at Gaza’s universities?
To examine these questions, I conducted an inductive qualitative study. Using 36 in-depth, semi- structured interviews which lasted between (90-300 min), I collected data from educationalists (15 academic staff; 21 students) at two of Gaza’s universities. Due to difficulties of access to the Gaza Strip, the participants were interviewed via Skype from Cambridge. Informed by the literature review, and triangulated with other research activities, such as reviewing participants’ CVs, browsing universities websites, and keeping a reflective journal, a thematic analysis was conducted on the interview data. Theoretically, although this study has benefited from conceptual insights, such as those found in Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed and in Pierre Bourdieu’s work on symbolic violence, it is a micro-level study, which is mainly data driven.
The findings of this research show that in the past, educationalists were relatively more passive in terms of shaping their HE experiences, despite efforts to become resilient. In the present, students and their lecturers continue to face challenges that impact negatively on their participation and everyday life at Gaza’s universities. However, how the HE experience will evolve out of this context in the future is uncertain. The Arab Spring revolutions have had an influence on Gaza HE institutions’ campuses as they have triggered more awareness of students’ grievances and discontent. Because of some political and educational barriers, however, students’ voices are a cacophony; they remain split between “compliance” and resistance (Bourdieu, 1984, p. 471; Swartz, 2013, p. 39).
Previously, Sara Roy (1995) rightly indicated a structure of “de-development” in the Gaza Strip (p.110). The findings from this research show that the impact of occupation and of the changes in the Arab World on the educational context in Gaza are more complex than previously thought. There is a simultaneous process of construction and destruction that is both external and internal to educationalists and which undermines academic work at Gaza’s universities. Based on this, the study concludes by explaining six implications of this complex structure for academic practice at Gaza’s universities, offering nine policy recommendations for HE reform, and highlighting six areas for future research.