Interview: Labib Khadra
How can higher education institutions adapt to the changing demands of the private sector?
LABIB KHADRA: Modifying academic programmes and degrees to the needs of the private sector has been a challenge for years, and this issue has become even more crucial as youth unemployment reached more than 18% in the first quarter of 2017. Thus, there is continuous dialogue between the private sector and higher education institutions to improve cooperation in areas such as technical training. However, each side must be more aware of the needs of the other. Vocational institutions have to keep in mind that trainees represent a cost for these companies for a period of time, while businesses must understand that students need stimulating activities while they are in the field.
The National Strategy for Human Resource Development, adopted at the beginning of 2017, fully takes into account this need for dialogue between higher education institutions and the private sector. The strategy underlines the role that vocational training will play in the coming years to maintain Jordan’s high level of human capital. However, reaching the goal of having 30% of all students enrolled in vocational studies by 2025 requires a renewed approach to the design and promotion of new curricula.
What key considerations are taken into account when new training programmes are developed?
KHADRA: The purpose of the programmes we promote is not only to provide students with relevant technical skills, but also to stimulate an entrepreneurial and proactive way of thinking. As technology evolves quickly in certain sectors and can sometimes disrupt the traditional ways of doing business, it is important to give future workers the adequate mindset to anticipate these changes, get a relevant understanding of them and be able to adapt. Promoting entrepreneurship also represents a central state priority. Students will be able to participate in small labs that will not exceed 10 people, and learn from young entrepreneurs and members of the private sector. Emphasis must also be placed on keeping the number of enrolled students compatible with the purposes of vocational training: classes and technical courses with 30 or 40 pupils cannot provide the same quality as those with fewer students, so training institutions have to be more committed to delivering training to smaller groups.
Finally, partnerships and exchange programmes with foreign higher education institutions in the US and Europe will also provide students with a wider perspective and cross-cultural soft skills.
How could vocational studies be made more attractive to prospective students?
KHADRA: The number of applications to Al Hussein Technical University indicates a great level of interest from students, but it is true that there are challenges that Jordan has to tackle in order to attract more pupils. It is important to bridge the gap between technical and vocational training on one side, and “ordinary” curricula on the other, by introducing greater flexibility between different programmes. To do so, we introduced gateways between different careers within the university, and introduced one- and two-year degree programmes at other institutions. A further step would be to implement equivalent measures that will allow graduate students to enter another career and get a degree in two years instead of three, provided their previous curriculum is relevant to the new one.
Students think about future job opportunities when they enrol in a particular course, but might regret the choice they made a few months later. That is why it is very important for universities to provide pupils with career guidance while they are studying, by showing them gateways between different programmes or opportunities for academic exchange. By doing so, we give students all the tools they need to build their own career, on both a professional and personal level.
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