Graduate Student Conference on Palestinian Academic Research Achievements and Challenges January 2009
In early January, 2009 PARC joined eight other research centers and institutions to cosponsor and support the first annual Graduate Student Conference entitled “Palestinian Academic Research: Achievements and Challenges” that was organized by Birzeit University’s Academic Support Unit. During the two-day event, conference participants discussed the achievements and challenges of Palestinian academic research under Israeli occupation and presented their ideas on how to increase the quantity and quality of Palestinian research and to provide a solid and appropriate conceptual framework. In his opening remarks to the conference, the Birzeit VP for Academic Affairs stressed the significance of holding a conference on this topic during the Israeli invasion of Gaza.
The conference was organized around four major themes. The first theme, “Academia of the Colonized,” included an analysis of knowledge production across countries with colonial histories and an examination of the technical and logistical difficulties of conducting research in Palestine.
Papers presented around the second theme, “Research Questions and Priorities in the Case of Palestine,” investigated the politics of knowledge production at the governmental and non-governmental levels. An overall conclusion of these discussions was that a general absence of ‘new’ questions and the dominance of ‘obsolete’ paradigms leads to research that heavily favors quantitative methodology at the expense of qualitative research. This, along with the politics of research questions, priorities, and funding agendas, has led some institutions to avoid addressing some of Palestine’s most pressing political and social issues.
A third theme, “Resources of Palestinian Research: Abilities and Possibilities,” addressed the need to develop human resources with the potential to conduct cutting-edge research in Palestine and abroad. Presenters attempted to identify these resources in terms of fields of specialty, recruitment, immigration, employment, and incentives, also taking into account the present conditions of both governmental and non-governmental institutions. The session also examined accessibility and obstacles in terms of scientific research in Palestine.
The fourth and final theme of the seminar tackled the plight of “Palestinian Institutions under Israeli Occupation.” Aside from detailing the effects of Israeli policies on Palestinian academic institutions, papers presented on this topic also highlighted “success stories” of institutions that have overcome obstacles to produce exemplary research.
Participants drafted a concluding statement with recommendations for improving Palestinians’ research capabilities. The statement stressed the importance of communication with human rights organizations and other entities concerned with academic and intellectual freedom at local, regional, and international levels. It also emphasized the need for direct communication between academic and research institutions in Palestine’s various geographical areas for the purpose of cooperating on the development of research priorities, policies, and agendas. Finally, participants recommended the formation of committees that would facilitate joint research projects, networking and the exchange of expertise, and increase the potential of academia to play a role in the theoretical unification of the country even in the absence of its geographic unity.
PARC is grateful for funding from the U.S. Department of Education to support this event.