Missions Impossible

Higher Education and Policymaking in the Arab World

John Waterbury

None of the momentous challenges Arab universities face is unique either in kind or degree. Other societies exhibit some of the same pathologies—ins

English edition
1 November 2020
344 pp.
13 b&w and 26 tables, integrated
15 x 23cm
ISBN 9789774169632
For sale worldwide


None of the momentous challenges Arab universities face is unique either in kind or degree. Other societies exhibit some of the same pathologies—insufficient resources, high drop-out rates, feeble contributions to research and development, inappropriate skill formation for existing job markets, weak research incentive structures, weak institutional autonomy, and co-optation into the political order. But, it may be that the concentration of these pathologies and their depth is what sets the Arab world apart.

Missions Impossible seeks to explain the process of policymaking in higher education in the Arab world, a process that is shaped by the region’s politics of autocratic rule. Higher education in the Arab world is directly linked to crises in economic growth, social inequality and, as a result, regime survival. If unsuccessful, higher education could be the catalyst to regime collapse. If successful, it could be the catalyst to sustained growth and innovation—but that, too, could unleash forces that the region’s autocrats are unable to control. Leaders are risk-averse and therefore implement policies that tame the universities politically but in the process sap their capabilities for innovation and knowledge creation. The result is suboptimal and, argues John Waterbury in this thought-provoking study, unsustainable.

Skillfully integrating international debates on higher education with rich and empirically informed analysis of the governance and finance of higher education in the Arab world today, Missions Impossible explores and dissects the manifold dilemmas that lie at the heart of educational reform and examines possible paths forward.

To read an excerpt, click here.

For the Table of Contents, click here.    

John Waterbury

John Waterbury is former president of the American University of Beirut (1998–2008). Before that he was a professor of political science at the University of Michigan, a faculty associate of the American Universities Field Staff in Cairo (1971–77), visiting professor at the Université Aix-Marseille III in France, and for twenty years a professor of public policy and international affairs at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School. In 2011 he was senior advisor on higher education to Abu Dhabi’s Executive Authority and from 2012 to 2015 visiting professor at NYU Abu Dhabi. He has published widely on the political economy of the Middle East as well as on the politics of transboundary resources.