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What is wrong with Jordanian universities?

Jul 08,2019 - Last updated at Jul 08,2019

Kuwait and Qatar have made a decision to revoke the accreditation of some 15 Jordanian universities. This decision triggered a public debate in Jordan as to why Jordanian universities lose their once good reputation. To start with, the explanation given by Minister of Higher Education Walid Maani is both defensive in nature and conceals a grim reality of higher education in Jordan.

In a meeting with the faculty, President of University of Jordan Abdul Kareem Qudah told us that the university suffers from a financial crisis. My understanding of his assessment of the future of the university is that making money should be the number-one priority for the university. While underscoring the need to control the educational process to secure the targeted quality, he made it perfectly clear that the key challenge is linked to how to balance the budget. He also talked about how 5,000 students from the Gulf pay almost JD30 million a year.

Not surprisingly, other universities in Jordan are also financially desperate. Perhaps, the grave impact of the deteriorating financial situation of Jordanian universities, especially the ones in the periphery, pushed them to relax instructions and change laws to make these universities attractive to students from the Gulf. There are stories of students from the Gulf receiving preferential treatment. Certainly, these stories damage the reputation of Jordanian universities.

Those in charge of higher education are not serious about improving the standards of universities. All statements about dealing with defects in higher education are made for local consumption. I really cannot understand how a president of a university seeks to help his university reach universality and bring deans that are below the bar. How a professor, who does not speak one word of English, is appointed dean of a faculty that teaches most of its courses in English! The mechanism of appointing deans remains one of the main reasons for the inability to improve the standards as well as the status of many universities in Jordan.

And yet, some presidents are trying their best to advance the quality and standards of professors. Abdul Kareem Qudah of the University of Jordan just offered incentives for professors who publish in international journals. He refuses to cave in to pressures to open weekend courses for students from the Gulf, preferring to maintain the standards of teaching. But even the University of Jordan is not without problems. Years of official interference in hiring and firing have left a huge burden that the current president of the university has to grapple with.

The Kuwaiti and Qatari decision should serve as a wake-up call. The government should step in to help the universities financially. More importantly, the government must understand the defects in the educational system as a whole, which entails paying special attention to schools starting from kindergarten to high school. I am aware of the existence of the strategy for higher education. But that is easier said than done. For such a strategy to be implemented, we still need a political well that is unfortunately not available.

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