Every year, Jordan’s Higher Education Council makes decisions to suspend some university study programs and launch new ones with the aim of reducing the kingdom’s high unemployment rates, which recently hit about 50 percent among young people, according to a World Bank report.
For this school year, the council approved suspending admission to 13 academic programs, most of which are related to humanities and social sciences majors, while introducing 20 new majors that it says are needed by the local labor market.
But academics disagree over whether that approach will succeed in reducing unemployment or is even in students’ interests.
‘Stagnant and Saturated’ Disciplines
The Higher Education Council’s recent decisions go in line with the recommendations of the Jordanian Civil Service Bureau, a government institution that regulates public employment. In August, the bureau issued a study on the labor market’s “stagnant and saturated” disciplines, for which their graduates’ job applications will no longer be accepted.
In general, Jordan’s Civil Service Bureau annually accommodates between 35,000 and 40,000 graduates in government jobs out of a total number of about 70,000 graduates from Jordan’s universities, Sameh Nasser, head of the bureau, said in a televised interview. Nasser explained that the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research makes its decisions about whether to stop or start an academic course in coordination with the bureau. (See a related article, “Jordan Data Suggests Universities Contribute to Unemployment.”)
In addition to the effort to reduce unemployment rates, other reasons for halting the admission of new students in the 13 suspended majors include that the programs have “exceeded their capacity or due to defects in the accreditation standards,” Muhannad Al-Khatib, the spokesperson for the higher-education ministry, said in a phone call.
“Sometimes, we have to stop admission until we have a sufficient number of professors, in coordination with the Jordanian Accreditation and Quality Assurance Commission.”Nathir Obeidat
President of the University of Jordan
While he did not mention the number of students enrolled in the suspended majors, Al-Khatib stressed that the suspensions apply to new students only, and that students who are already enrolled in these majors will be allowed to continue their studies and graduate.
The 20 new majors introduced this year include cybersecurity programs, industrial chemistry, data science and artificial intelligence, digital marketing, financial technology, renewable energy engineering, anesthesia technology, respiratory therapy, crisis management, information security, and digital evidence.
Different Reasons for Shutting Programs
Nathir Obeidat, president of the University of Jordan, thinks there are other more important reasons than addressing unemployment behind suspending some majors at his university. One is the lack of enough faculty members for some disciplines.
“Sometimes, we have to stop admission until we have a sufficient number of professors, in coordination with the Jordanian Accreditation and Quality Assurance Commission,” said Obeidat.
There are about 50,000 students at the University of Jordan, the kingdom’s first public university, studying in 150 academic programs offered by 24 colleges in various disciplines. The university has 1,700 faculty members.
“Reconsidering a study program itself in terms of curriculum, outcome, and teaching requirements is a correct idea,” Obeidat said in a phone call.
However, he declines to link offering a study program to its demand in the local labor market, due to the presence of foreign students at Jordan’s universities. (See a related article, “Little Hope of Jobs for Syrians in Lebanon and Jordan.”)
Lack of Supportive Policies
Some academics at Jordanian universities and economic experts doubt that suspending some majors will affect unemployment rates. They believe that this solution looks at education from a “myopic, career-centered” perspective.
“There is a significant increase in the number of graduates of all disciplines, which causes a surge in unemployment rates for structural reasons that have more to do with the private sector than the public sector,” Musa Shteiwi, a professor of sociology at the University of Jordan, said in a Zoom interview.
“There is a significant increase in the number of graduates of all disciplines, which causes a surge in unemployment rates for structural reasons that have more to do with the private sector than the public sector.”Musa Shteiwi
A professor of sociology at the University of Jordan
Sociology, the major taught by Shteiwi, who is also the former director of the Center for Strategic Studies at the University of Jordan, is one of the disciplines in which admission to some of its programs was suspended. Shteiwi thinks working to develop curricula would be a better option and more responsive to the requirements of the labor market, inside and outside Jordan.
Shteiwi believes that the considerations that govern the expansion of Jordan’s higher education and private sector are “ill-planned,” and they mainly lead to an unprecedented rise in unemployment rates.
“Suspending some educational programs responds only to plans to reduce public employment in light of the great pressures on it and the decline in its absorptive capacity due to the economic crisis,” he added.
In turn, Ahmad Awad, director of the Phenix Center for Economic and Informatics Studies, an independent policy research center in Amman, believes that such a solution to deal with the unemployment problem is a “mechanical and inadequate” approach.
A better way to modernize the educational system, he said, would be to expand investment in intermediate education, which includes vocational and technical colleges, and to encourage young people to choose such fields, which offer greater opportunities in the labor market.
“This will force them to work in other professions, as is the case for many Jordanian youth, who work in jobs unrelated to their university majors.”Ahmad Awad
Director of the Phenix Center for Economic and Informatics Studies
The percentage of intermediate education graduates in Jordan does not exceed 10 percent, and the sector’s budget allocations have not increased for ten years, according to Awad. (See a related article, “Zig-Zagging Government Policies Hurt Jordanian Vocational Education.”)
On the other hand, the fate of students currently enrolled in the suspended programs seems ambiguous in terms of job opportunities after graduation.
Awad believes that students enrolled in the suspended “stagnant” majors will exacerbate Jordan’s unemployment crisis.
“This will force them to work in other professions, as is the case for many Jordanian youth, who work in jobs unrelated to their university majors,” he said.
Private vs. Public Education
Jordan’s government pursues a policy of privatizing public education programs, and increasing the number of private universities to 19, compared to 10 public ones. It wants to cut financial support for public universities, while seeking to provide quality programs that meet the needs of the labor market, but in return for tuition fees, according to Awad. (See a related article, “Rising Tuition in Jordan Highlights Flawed University Finances.”)
Awad believes that canceling majors contradicts education’s legal and philosophical core, which guarantees every student’s right to freedom of choice. He calls on the government to reduce the tuition fees of the programs needed by the labor market instead of raising them, and to limit fee-based programs to private universities.
“The policy of expanding the establishment of private universities is a gain for the government, and a way to support the local economy, promoting educational tourism, especially for students coming from dozens of countries to study here.‘‘Mohammed Obaidat
president of Jadara University
However, Mohammed Obaidat, president of Jadara University, a private institution, disagrees with blaming private universities for high unemployment rates.
“The policy of expanding the establishment of private universities is a gain for the government, and a way to support the local economy, promoting educational tourism, especially for students coming from dozens of countries to study here,” said Obaidat in a phone call. “It also plays a role in enhancing the labor market with well-equipped graduates with the necessary skills.”
[Enjoying this article? Subscribe to our free newsletter.]
He explained that private universities offer majors not available in public universities, like the Internet of Things, customs and tax sciences, cybercrime law, electronic games, and marriage counseling.
“The financial budgets of public universities may prevent the opening of some of these majors,” he said. “They might even lack the financial resources needed to operate them, like faculty members and some logistical equipment, leading them to decide to suspend them after a while.”