Houthis propagate ideology at Yemen universities

By Nabil Abdullah al-Tamimi in Aden

Yemeni university students attend a graduation ceremony in Sanaa on May 24th, 2017. [Mohammed Huwais/AFP]

Yemeni university students attend a graduation ceremony in Sanaa on May 24th, 2017. [Mohammed Huwais/AFP]

The Houthis (Ansarallah) have been interfering with the administration and operation of higher education institutions in Yemen in a number of ways, academics and researchers told Al-Mashareq.

The Iran-backed militia has been tampering with the administration of public universities by appointing faculty who do not meet academic requirements and by adding curricula that serve their own agenda, they said.

Appointments made by the Houthis in al-Hodeidah and Ibb universities threaten the future of upcoming generations, they said, as the militia has made academic changes that will have far-reaching consequences for Yemen.

At Sanaa University, the Houthis have modified some courses, especially those pertaining to Islamic culture, said Hisham Naji, a member of the administrative board of the Sanaa University Faculty Members' Union.

These changes were not approved by the Sanaa University Council because their content was not reviewed by specialised committees, he said, nor were they approved by the Students' Affairs Office.

Neither were any workshops held to discuss their content, he added, which is the standard procedure for the introduction of new curricula or courses.

"A workgroup comprising a number of the university’s professors are working to clarify these amendments and their essence," Naji said.

On February 28th, Al-Arabiya television and local news outlets reported that the Houthis had introduced additions and amendments to the Islamic culture course that had been taught at Sanaa University for decades.

Ideological manipulation

According to Yemeni news websites and students, the Houthis introduced new "national education" course material into all faculties and departments of al-Hodeidah University last October.

This included lectures on political events from the Houthis’ perspective, in addition to new courses that aim to propagate the group's ideology.

The Houthis also made appointments at al-Hodeidah and Ibb Universities that do not meet academic and legal requirements, installing an ally as vice-president of Ibb University, al-Masdar Online reported September 21st.

The Supreme Political Council issued a decree appointing Fuad Abdul-Rahman Hassan, assistant professor at the Faculty of Agriculture's Nutrition Department, as vice-president of Ibb University, in violation of the university’s bylaws.

These require that a candidate for the position be an associate professor at the very least and have 10 years of academic work experience, while the appointee is still an assistant professor and does not meet the other criteria.

Yemeni journalist Nabil al-Assidi posted a copy of the Supreme Political Council’s decision in early January to appoint the president and vice-president of al-Hodeidah University online with the accompanying comment: "These are illegal appointments."

"What is happening now in public universities that are under Houthis’ authority is the destruction of what is left of academic work and pursuit of university education," he said.

In its place, he said, there is a new focus on "doctrinal education to advance the ideology of a particular group" that seeks to alter the concepts of knowledge and education to suit its own political ambitions.

"The introduction of new curricula that consecrate sectarianism does nothing but destroy the social fabric in Yemen, which has been exhausted by wars," he said.

Low ranking for education

Yemen ranks last out of 137 regional and international countries surveyed in the World Economic Forum's 2017-2018 Global Competitive Index.

Yemen also ranks very low -- 154th out of 187 surveyed -- on the UN Development Programme's Education Index, published in 2016.

In the case of education, Yemen’s low ranking "is the result of the policies imposed on universities by the Houthis", writer and researcher Mounir Talal told Al-Mashareq.

"Since March 2015, the Houthis have closed more than 15 private universities on the grounds that they do not meet academic requirements," he said. "At the same time, we are seeing the opening of dozens of universities by people affiliated with the group."

With these measures, the Houthis aim to "destroy the education process, so as to abort the achievements made in this sector", he said.

As a result of these measures, he warned, universities will become "just a hollow form that is devoid of content, because of [the Houthis'] greed, opportunism and attitude that education is their exclusive domain".

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