Beirut boost after 9/11

August 16, 2002

The American University of Beirut has unexpectedly benefited from greater interest from the Gulf region after the events of September 11.

The AUB has been working hard since Lebanon's civil war ended in 1989 to regain its position as one of the Middle East's top universities, after suffering badly during the conflict.

Its president, Malcolm Kerr, was assassinated in 1984, classes were interrupted for seven months in 1989 because of shelling and the formerly international student body deserted in droves.

Almost a year on from the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, there is an increased interest from students from the Gulf. In 2001-02, the AUB had just eight students from Saudi Arabia; next year it will have 30.

Peter Heath, AUB's provost, said: "We are not talking huge numbers, but we are talking about a huge increase."

US immigration controls, which mean all Arab males between 15 and 35 are now photographed, fingerprinted and interrogated on arrival, have made many Saudi students reluctant to go there. "Everyone wants to go to an American University, but no one wants to go the US," Dr Heath said.

Two things hold back AUB recruitment from the Gulf. First, Beirut continues to have an image problem. Second, entry to the university is very competitive and based on the SAT-I exam, which calls for high standards of English.

Dr Heath reckons Lebanon has the best school system in the Middle East after Israel, and this means other students from the region cannot compete. "Sixty per cent of our students come from the top 20 per cent of their high school class," he says.

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