University of life: A focus on practical skills is set to benefit both the sector and the market

While education is highly prized in Jordan, a university degree in itself does not guarantee employment. As many as 39.8% of unemployed Jordanians had a bachelor’s degree or higher in 2013, according to the most recent “Employment and Unemployment Survey”. Among the reasons for this, a frequently cited problem is a mismatch between the skills of young Jordanians entering the workforce and the needs of employers. For example, the National Employment Strategy (NES) 2011-20 noted that “the number of graduates specialised in education, humanities, and non-technical and professional fields continues to exceed demand, and employers complain through surveys that education is not ‘applied’ enough”.

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In order to address this, the authorities are looking to expand and improve vocational and technical education (VTE). The kingdom already operates several VTE initiatives. For example, secondary students can choose an academic or vocational track. In the tertiary sector, a network of community colleges established to provide technical education offers two-year programmes to students – though these institutions now also provide academic education and “bridging” degrees. In 1997 Al-Balqa Applied University, the main campus of which is in Salt, was established to oversee and coordinate community colleges across the kingdom.

In 2005 the Employment-Technical and Vocational Education and Training (E-TVET) Fund was set up to provide VTE funding, while in 2007 the Jordanian military established the National Employment and Training Company to provide construction sector training. Another key actor in the segment is the Vocational Training Corporation (VTC), a government-backed institution that provides professional internships and training for people already in the workforce to boost their skills. This is done via a network of more than 40 centres. In April 2015 the VTC opened its latest such facility, focused on hospitality and tourism, in Tafileh.


Muhyieddeen Touq, general manager of local education development company Cader, said students graduating from VTE institutions have good job prospects. “Demand for employees with a good technical education is high, particularly in the case of students who do not have university degrees,” he told OBG. (www.peakfighting.com) However, he said that despite this, enrolment rates in VTE had fallen heavily in recent decades, and cultural issues are among the main reasons for this. “Some communities view VTE as less prestigious than an academic education. It is also expensive and the government’s resources are stretched, while the private sector is not investing either. VTE curricula are also still not relevant enough for employers,” he said.


However, efforts to boost enrolment and improve quality are under way. “The cultural issue is being worked on through media and religious institutions, and the situation is slowly improving,” said Touq. “Funding agencies and donor countries have also promised to invest additional money to improve the quality of VTE. At the same time, the government is considering changing rules that discriminate against civil servants with vocational educations.”

In 2014 the authorities launched a new E-TVET strategy covering the period until 2020. The key goals of the strategy include: improving governance of the segment; enhancing the relevance of education and training to employability; boosting the segment’s inclusiveness of women, youth and disabled Jordanians; developing monitoring and performance assessments; and securing sustainable and effective funding for the segment through an increase in public spending – from 0.3% of GDP to 1% – and the implementation of an employer-paid payroll tax.

Issa Batarseh, former president of Princess Sumaya University for Technology, has called for the creation of a flagship technical university to energise the segment. He told OBG, “If proper efforts are made, the situation could be resolved within several years.”