UCF partners with university in Saudi Arabia for strategic research
Published: Wednesday, June 13, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, June 20, 2012 15:06
Correction: In the June 14 issue, it was incorrectly noted that the program has served 30,000 people since its inception in 2001. The program has had an audience of 30,000 people this year, with a total of 180,000 people since its inception.
Two universities divided by more than 7,000 miles and strikingly different cultural and political practices are coming together to forge an academic partnership based on issues vital to the future of both.
UCF and Prince Mohammad bin Fahd University, located in the eastern province of Saudi Arabia, have laid the groundwork June 3 to June 6 for the Prince Mohammad bin Fahd Program for Strategic Research and Studies at UCF.
John C. Bersia, special assistant to the president for Global Perspectives, headed the effort to secure the program for more than two years. PMU was amenable to a collaboration extended by UCF, Bersia said. The program will be funded by a $1 million pledge from PMU that will be paid over four years.
“In a general sense, UCF has been reaching internationally in many directions,” Bersia said, citing the recently funded India Center. UCF has an interest in East Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean “and very much in the Middle East.”
Bersia said that PMU was chosen because of its like-minded individuals and students.
“We looked at colleges and universities that are young, community oriented,” Bersia said.
The existence of an engineering and business school, and plans for a medical school were also a plus.
The process of forging connections between international universities can be time consuming, Bersia said. The India Center program took 10 years.
“Relationship building in the rest of the world is a long-term understanding,” Bersia said. “There may be a hundred cups of tea. You have to know each other.”
The outcome Bersia hopes to see is a vibrant, co-curricular program and a better understanding of the two nations’ economic relationship, common interest in regional security and the issue of Islam in the West.
“The people of the United States and Saudi Arabia have a vital stake in each other’s security and well-being,” UCF President John C. Hitt said in a UCF News & Information release. “Our university family and members of the Central Florida community will benefit from new opportunities to learn about one of this nation’s most important partners and to better understand the common challenges that face both countries.”
Programs will include a robust speaker series much like the ones hosted by Global Perspectives in the past. The series will include third-party perspectives and panel discussions as part of the array started by Global Perspectives in fall 2001. Global Perspectives speaker series has reached an audience of 180,000 attendees since its inception, Bersia said. Currently, “we are at a program a week.”
In regard to the endowment, “It is well understood that UCF has been going through a difficult financial period. There is no state money,” Bersia said.
As of now, any new programs will have to be funded through a source other than the state.
Chad Binette, associate director of UCF News & Information, said that there has been a $150 million cut to state university funding in the last five years.
The endowment would cover money needed to start up, as well as staffing, programs and scholarships for students. No state or tuition dollars are being used for the initiative.
Scholars and students would have opportunities to travel, Bersia said, but it would not be mandatory for the program.
“Being there makes all the difference in the world, but it’s all optional because we currently don’t have any funding,” Bersia said.
Further details, as well as a start date, will be forthcoming.
“We are literally at the first step,” Bersia said.
Bersia looks past any potential trepidation.
“What you have to do in today’s world is set your sights and move in that direction. For example, Bersia said, the situation in Iraq is troublesome, but the university felt Iraqi and Kurdish studies are a vital course of study. In today’s world, you have to set your sights and move in that direction.