The authorities in Jordan are taking steps to reduce the current gap between the university classroom and workplace, while also opening the door to more foreign students.
The government has said it would like the higher education system to be more closely aligned with the needs of the economy, including creating more places for students in areas where there is demand for talent and experience. This need has become more apparent in recent years, as some sectors have faced challenges in filling positions, despite the high level of unemployment, estimated at around 14% by the World Bank.
One of these sectors is information and communications technology (ICT), long identified as a key industry in transforming Jordan into a knowledge-based economy. The government has already had significant success in building up the ICT industry – it accounts for 14% of GDP and the low-cost, highly-skilled local labour force is considered an attraction for foreign investors.
However, Jordan risks falling behind, in part because nearly half of university students attending ICT courses earn degrees in fields with relatively low prospects of employment, the ICT Association of Jordan (int@j) said in a report last year.
Moreover, rapid changes in technology mean that some universities face challenges in keeping abreast of latest developments. In the National ICT Strategy 2013-17, the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology said the university system has been slow to modify its curricula to meet the needs of high-tech employers.
“Education, training and certification play an important role in determining sustainable competitiveness and longevity. Jordan already is well known for its university system. However, the university system is not agile enough to remain completely relevant with the demands of the ICT sector,” the ministry wrote in its report.
Other areas where greater educational emphasis can be expected are chemical-pharmaceutical engineering, with Jordan looking to further develop its pharmaceuticals industry, tourism and construction-related vocational studies.
While acknowledging that more needs to be done, Issa Batarseh, the president of the Princess Sumaya University for Technology (PSUT), says the education system has already become more responsive to the needs of the economy.
“On the whole, Jordan is attempting to drive the educational sector towards an innovation driven and entrepreneurial mind-set,” he told OBG. “Universities have established incubator systems to allow students to be creative, with noticeable success over the past 10 years.” PSUT runs an incubator lab in cooperation with US-based technology provider Oracle.
Other universities are strengthening their ties with the business world. In February, the state-run German-Jordan University (GJU) and the Tamweelcom-Jordan Micro Credit Company announced they had signed an agreement that would allow management and logistics sciences students to take on internships at the microfinance outfit.
Established in 2005, GJU is focused on applied sciences, including business informatics, water and environmental engineering, logistical sciences and chemical-pharmaceutical engineering. The university provides students with a one-to-one mix of practical and theoretical training, and all GJU students complete a six-month internship at one of GJU’s industry partners in Europe.
Education as an export
Among them, Jordan’s 10 public and 19 private universities serve some 250,000 students, around 10% of whom are foreign nationals, the majority from countries in the region. While many Jordanian students study overseas, the number is only around one-third of the estimated 28,000 or more foreigners taking courses at local institutions of higher learning.
Stronger links to the business world could help Jordan build on its appeal as a centre for higher education. A recent survey conducted by the Beirut-based Arab Thought Foundation showed that many in the region felt the education systems in their countries were not in step with the needs of the economy.
By offering educational services both of higher quality than elsewhere in the region and with a solid career-based focus, Jordan’s universities should be better placed to capitalise on this growing demand, both from foreign students and those seeking knowledge at home.