AMMAN — The University of Jordan, the largest public university in the country, has announced it intends to make some private investments to overcome growing financial difficulties.
“This would affect university’s performance at all levels and limit its dependence on government support,” said Ekhleif Tarawneh, the University of Jordan president, in an interview with a local newspaper.
The university will try to generate 50 million Jordanian dinars (about $70.5 million) in revenues annually. “This is the only way for budgetary support without resorting to raising student fees,“ Tarawneh said.
Two buildings have already been constructed for investment purposes in the northern area of the Amman campus. The university has the right to erect such buildings but will need the approval of the board of trustees and the government before proceeding farther. The investment buildings will hold shopping centers, supermarkets, car parking, cafeterias, offices and other facilities. The fourth and fifth floors of one of the buildings house sixteen apartments of varying sizes, for rent.
A third complex is under construction. It will hold a spacious supermarket and many shops and restaurants that will cater to the needs of students and others who live nearby.
Some observers are concerned about the new direction of the university. “How can we guarantee the independence of the university now?” said an assistant professor at the university, who requested anonymity. “Instead of being interested in supporting the human resources within the university, curriculum development and scientific research, the administration is busy finding sources for funding,” he said, adding that public universities should receive more attention from the government to “avoid turning into private universities.”
This year the Jordanian higher-education budget jumped 27 percent, according to the government (see a previous Al-Fanar Media previous story here), but this does not seem to be reflected at public universities as they say they are facing a crippling financial crisis.
“We do not interfere in the public-university budgets,” said Mustafa Al-Adwan the secretary general of the ministry of higher education and scientific research. “The university board of trustees is responsible for all financial and educational issues.” The ministry does not oversee the universities, he said, but provides logistical services and financial support when necessary.
“Universities in the south, in particular, face financial deficits. We use to assist them in securing salaries of their teaching staff on an almost monthly basis,” Al-Adwan said.
For him, the new investment trend is welcomed as it would reduce financial pressures on university management and help for future expansion. “There are several popular international universities that have investments. So, why not?” he said.
In the absence of government support, some professors believe that investment could be a lifeline for the kingdom’s public universities. “Let us look at this as a cup that is half full,” said Rana Dajani, a biology professor at Hashemite University, another public university located in Zarqa.
According to Dajani, the investments could create partnerships between academic life and the labor market. “When the university becomes a party to investments, it will know more about the requirements of the labor market,” she said, “and it will reconsider all the information and experience offered to students.” The projects will also create opportunities for training and internships for the students, she said.
She stressed, however, the importance of having skilled and independent management for the investment projects to ensure that “there is no conflict with the principles of university autonomy.”