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Text of Dr Abdul Karim al-Irayani's Speech

Dr Abdul Karim al-Irayani served as Prime Minister of the Yemen Arab Republic from 1980 to 1983, and as Prime Minister of a unified Yemen from 1998 to 2001. He is currently political advisor to President Hadi and Chairman of the Yemen College of Middle Eastern Studies Board of Governors.

This is the speech that he gave on 9 June 2013 at the reception to celebrate the College's 25th anniversary and the graduation of the Department of English's first batch of Business English Diploma recipients.

al-irayani speech

It’s a pleasure to be here on this occasion, to celebrate the graduation of the 2013 class in Business English from the Yemen College of Middle Eastern Studies.

I need not have to remind our soon-to-be graduates that this college has rigorous standards of instruction, which is why they have worked very hard to get to this point. I need also not remind them that learning another language well -- which is to say, learning not only to speak it socially, but to use it as an intellectual tool in both speaking and writing – is hard work, perhaps the hardest work there is in education, which is why yours is such a remarkable achievement.

So, when you look at your diploma, remember that it is more than a certificate, more than a piece of paper with which to get a job or impress your employer. You have learned English well enough to build a business and to run one, to communicate with your business colleagues all over the world – a world in which, whether we like it or not, English is the lingua franca of not only business but of science and diplomacy -- and you have learned english well enough to speak to your fellow travelers from India and China and Latin America about their lives and businesses. You are in a sense poised to become men and women of the world and not only of Yemen. So, once again congratulations on your hard work and achievement!

Some of you may know that I was Minister of Education in Yemen from 1976 to 1978 (I am showing my age here), but what you may not know is that it was the most enjoyable and satisfying government post I held in my career.

Why was that? Because to oversee the education of our youth, arguably this nation’s most valuable asset, was very exciting. In my free time (such as it is) I am a person who likes to read –- to teach myself from books --and so I relate to students and their work. I have been a student all my life, even long after I got my PhD. To think about a curriculum and how best to meet it at the highest possible standard was and still is interesting to me.

But Yemen in those days was a different country, and the world in those days was a different world too. We have to think about how education can be responsive to these changes.

I submit to you that this college succeeds precisely because it is responsive to these changes, and the challenges they bring. Yemeni students not only learn English, as in this graduating class, they learn from students who come from all over the world to study Arabic and the Middle East at the college. This intenseley international flavor is a microcosm of the global world in which we live. If Yemenis do not ordinarily have the opportunity to meet foreigners, here they do, and the intellectual value of such contact is inestimable – to both sides of the exchange, Yemeni and non-Yemeni.

And, as we have learned from the speeches today, YCMES helps the needs of foreign students who want to learn Arabic, not just in their classrooms at home but in an Arabic-speaking country such as Yemen. It may be a simple but no less profoundly important point that Yemen is a place foreigners want to come to because they have something to learn from it and its people. We ought to welcome them for that purpose.

And I hasten to add that the learning at YCMES is not superficial, a sort of cultural tourism in which one need hardly know Arabic or bother to get to know other Yemenis, but is a rigorous course of instruction, led by some of the best teachers in the world. What students experience is an intense dialogue (excuse me if this word “dialogue” seems very much in my mind these days) between peoples who speak different languages and have different histories and cultures.

This is what is distinctive about YCMES: it is a college that intends to be equally relevant for Yemenis and non-Yemenis, in the hope that they will learn from each other, and learn what it is like to live and learn in this world together.

So, it is fitting that we should be celebrating not only the graduating class of 2013 but the achievement of this unique college on this occasion, its twenty-fifth anniversary. To YCMES, we owe a debt of gratitude.

Let me end by reminding us that delivering such an educational product comes at a high cost, a cost that cannot be sustained by tuition alone, and especially not so if the College’s mission is to educate Yemenis who may be too poor to afford that tuition. I therefore ask that you think about how to support the College and its mission in whatever way you deem fit. Offering scholarships is an excellent way to do this, but above all remove the travel restrictions. I repeat: remove the travel restrictions. But whatever you do to help, take my word for it: it’s for a very, very good cause.

Thank you very much.