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Dhow symbol which was incorporated into the Union Jack
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Dr. A. Al Sayyari
(Saudi Arabia)

Dr. Shihab Ghanem

Ashraf Girgrah, B.A. B.Ed

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Last update July 2020  التحديث الاخير في
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الدكتور عبدالله السياري

أسرة التحرير
الدكتور شهاب غانم
(ألامارات المتحدة)
أشرف جرجره
ب.ع. آداب، ب.ع. تدريس

أشرف جرجره

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The phenomenon of Aden College, Part II
by Alumnus Dr. Abdulla Ahmed Al Sayyari

In Part II of the article I will try to speculate about the motives which lead Britain to establish Aden College at that particular time. It remains to be seen that, what I’ll mention is in its entirety pure speculation. Everyone who reads this article is able to contribute as the English say, "your guess is as good as mine’’. Though, I confirm that I will try to list the footnotes and references of what is written (mostly obtained from the "National Archives" in the Kew Garden, London, UK.)

But before I do, I want to thank Dr. Adel Abdullah Aulaqi – an Aden College graduate - who incidentally holds a master's degree in history from the University of London. He added an important and interesting piece of information to part I of the article. He stated that the "Sheikh Othman Airport " was in fact called Bir Fadhl Airport during World War II.  He sent the reference from page 65 of a book written about Aden  which was entitled  "The Gaysh :A History of Aden Protectorate Levies 1927-1961 and the Federal Regular Army of South Arabia 1961-1967 by Frank Edwards, Helion and Co. Ltd 2004".

Accordingly, the original site of the College was in the West of Sheikh Othman in Al -Mansoura area, and not south of the current Sheikh Othman as I imagined and reported in Part I.

There are many theories as to the reason why the British built  Aden College. I’ll discuss possible reasons. But, I have no doubt that the readers of this article can predict that there may be other reasons which I did not think of,  and which perhaps are more important and  documented. 

One theory that has been levelled into consideration is that the English were in need to train and graduate low educated young locals to work in the offices as "clerks", to help in the daily running of office operations at low cost. The costly alternative would have been to bring the British or the Indians from overseas to do the work.
Let me mention some of the quotations that refer to this theory.

On page 254 of the book "Life at the age of adolescence in the Middle East" by Ali Akbar Mahdi, one reads the following:

 "In 1950: Aden College was founded, a school very sophisticated, like the British system of private schools. Education was in English. ........ Although the main objective was to prepare the clerks to fill the lower ranks of the civil service, but it has enabled a number of students to receive a limited modern education which paved the way for many of the graduates to get to higher education in colleges and universities in the Middle East and Europe ". End of quote.

Although this quote refers to the main aim which is to prepare the "clerks," but at the same time the author contradicts himself by saying that the College was founded  "in British system style of private schools," and said, "and it paved the way for many to be accepted in European universities" How valid could these two contradictions be?

And the theory that the aim of the College was to prepare clerks does not stand for many reasons of which I mention some below:

a.The aim from the very beginning (according to British archives, which I referred to in part I of the article) was to establish a sophisticated curriculum to conclude in sitting for  British GCE (general and advance levels) exams., including providing scholarships for postgraduate studies abroad for achievers (and this is what happened already).

b.The standard of the college graduates in quantity and quality (and I will return to prove it in detail in Part IV of the article) which supports this argument.

c. The standard and quality of the educational strategy was advanced in scale. This is true. It runs against the theory and I will mention some of these educational strategies in Part III of the articles.

d. If you look at the components of the curriculum as it appears in the British archives we will find its quality and intent were to improve student education to higher levels and include opportunities for leadership. (Look at the figure of subject periods in forms).

e. In the opening speech of Sir Christopher Cox, he expressed that the hopes were pinned on the college which will be the focus of the cultural dynamics of Aden and its vicinity, to become the nucleus for a university in the future. He drew a parallel with the evolution of the "Gordon College" which became the University of Khartoum.

f. The dropout rate of enrolled students at the College was more than 50% after the second year. This was an indication of the high standard of education to qualify and this disproves the theory that claims that the establishment of the College was for the need of the English "to train and graduate low level young locals to work as clerks in offices".

g. The establishment of the College was part of a strategy for the Government of Aden Colony. Its aim was to expand and spread education in the whole of Aden. The British
Archive pointed under the heading "Plan of Educational Development" in 1948, that in addition to the intention for the establishment of Aden College there was a plan to set up 3 schools for girls (including kindergarten) and two schools for boys and a technical college. It added that by the end of 1951 the number of school seats in government schools increased to four thousand seats from two thousand in 1947.
In the book by B. R. Pridham, ed., Contemporary Yemen: Politics and Historical Background and Economy, Society, and Culture in Contemporary Yemen (London: Croom Helm, 1985). Pp. 115. we read the following:

"In 1956 Aden College began to accept the best student achievers to its advanced level education. Those who successfully passed 6 or more subjects in the General level of education. Thus, higher education has become possible for a handful of students from the higher social class as well as from other social classes. "

There is another theory about the motives behind the establishment of Aden College by the English. It mentions that the aim behind it was to breed, raise and produce young influential loyal groups in favor of Britain and its policies with the intent of inhibiting and blocking the national and Islamic aspirations. This is perhaps equivalent to what has become known in our time - a time of globalization - "the scruples of alienation".
Without any doubt
- and this is the nature of things - that the English colonizer wanted to increase loyalty among the indigenous people, but I cannot find in my research any reference

that the policy of education and curriculum at  Aden College was what could be described as "brainwashing" or facilitating "Westernization ". But it was focused on scientific subjects in the curriculum. Subjects of Arabic and Islamic history and Islamic religion were taught by qualified teachers. They were proficient in their specialties, proud of their religion and their nationality (including teachers like Abdullah Uqba, Ali Awad Bamatraf, Hashim Abdullah, Lutfi Jafar Aman and others).

And if one asks, "Why were most courses taught in English? I say that, to enable students to sit secondary school examination in order to qualify for admission to British universities. Similarly, one might ask why Arab universities (except one only) teach medicine to this day in English (or French).

If the British intention in establishment  Aden College was for westernization, then it has failed miserably in that its student graduate like Dr. Mohamed Ali Albar became a famous moderate preacher of Islam. Some others participated in the independence movements and became members of the National Liberation Front, or Front for the Liberation of South Yemen.

Then, there are those who take the view that the College was formed simply to serve and reward the elite of society by educating children of the most influential families in Aden, as well as the sons of sultans and sheikhs of the Protectorates. In other words, and in the final summation according to this theory - an elitist institution that will advocate divisions, polarize the community and increase the gap between the rich rulers on the one hand and the poor (labourers) on the other.

Accordingly, one might ask, "Did the sons of influential families already represent the highest rates in the college admissions or was this group relatively over-represented or not?" I have no figures to prove it or the statistics to substantiate such theory on the one hand or to refute it on the other.

And even if I found the figures which represent such relativity, as if to say for example that there were students from particular families were enrolled in the College - I say after careful study that I, at this point conclude that the reason for that - in most likely cases – was due to the fact that these families encouraged their children to study and achieve. Therefore, those students were legitimately and deservedly accepted in the College and successfully passed their entrance exam by competing with other students. In view of this,
if one considered the data of this segment of college students it may prove that they properly performed well in tests of high school and high British levels. They competed well and were able to be accepted readily in British universities.

The acceptance of students to the College was preceded by exams for all graduates from the intermediate schools in the Colony. The first ninety students were accepted each new academic year. There were many students from Aden and the Protectorates who were admitted and they were from working and middle classes of society.

But, with all these facts no one can deny or rule out - human nature being what it is across time and space - the possibility that students were admitted because of the

status of their parents in society (favouritism).
I did not find anything to suggest that these practices prevailed as a policy for admission to the College.

Another point of view excludes the existence of any theory of conspiracy or colonial ambitions behind the creation and establishment of Aden College. The advocates of this view simply see the reason behind the new approach taken by the Government in Westminster during the late forties and early fifties of the last century called for the development of education in the colonies and evidence of that is a similar pattern which was followed by Britain in other colonies.

For example, in Africa, plans for the development and increase in the number of institutions for higher education were carried out by the British colonizer. University colleges were established in Accra (Ghana) in 1948, Makrere University (Uganda) in 1949, and the University of Khartoum in 1951, and founded the College of Technology (later renamed the University of Science and Technology) in Kumasi (Ghana) in 1951, and founded the Royal College of Art for East Africa (which later became university college), Nairobi (Kenya) in 1954. And. starting in 1950, there were educational development in Ghana and Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, and Tanganyika.

Aden College graduate Dr. Adel Aulaqi argues that regardless of the motives of the establishment of the Aden College, the final product, its graduates were enabled to communicate with the external world in a language and aspects of modernity.

Annexes :

a. In part I of the article I reported that the total cost for the establishment of the College amounted to 150,000 Sterling pounds, but I found in the telegraphic message from the Minister of Colonies to the British governor of Aden - in 1955 - approving the cost increase in the budget to 230,000.

b. It is interesting that in his opening speech, Sir Christopher Cox expressed the following observations (and remember that he gave that speech on 13.01.1953)

c. He had referred to the need for women and girls education in Aden and the growing importance of women's education in a society.

d. The formal curriculum was not enough and always remained of great significance for the interaction of the student in his community and its surroundings to refine and build character and leadership.

e That it was the duty and responsibility of the students of the College and the successive graduates to work hard, with enthusiasm and sincerity in order to raise high the college reputation and make Aden proud of their achievements. That might motivate students from across the Muslim world to come to Aden and study in the College and to take advantage of what it might offer them.

f. He expressed the hope that the College will build a good and valuable reputation which will prompt students from different races and traditions to work together - in their formative years – for the very one goal - in the framework of mutual respect, understanding and a spirit of tolerance (and if this happened) it will be a payback and a direct contribution to improve the situation of humans in the world today. (i.e.1953).

In the Part III, I will try to discuss the teaching strategies that were adopted at Aden College.

Bir Fadhl site
AC prospectus
subject periods

Subject periods in Forms (classes)


The excerpt shows that 50% of college students leave after the second year (Photo from the British Archives)

Development plan

The excerpt shows that the number of school seats in Aden doubled from 2000 in 1947 to 4000 in 1951(Photo from the British Archives)


Excerpts from a speech by Sir Christopher Cox at the opening of the Aden College on January 13th, 1953 (Archive Photos from the British)

Cox lecture1
Cox lecture2
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