Thursday, October 27, 2005

University debts

The Prime Minister yesterday met with the presidents of Jordan's public universities to speak about the level of debt these universities suffer. This has reached the unprecedented level of 117 million JD's. What I hate about such press reports is how useless they are. If you want to know what is really going on, you have to do your own research. Fortunately for you, Khalaf has done this for you.

The press report simply states that there was a meeting, and the PM told the presidents that something needs to be done (like they don't know). There is also a thinly veiled threat that the university independence from more government interference is at stake.

There are eight public universities in Jordan, with about 130,000 students studying for their bachelors degrees, 8,700 studying for their masters and 1,400 studying for their doctorate, according to the web site of the ministry of higher education. Public higher education in Jordan is among the finest in the region, as is attested by the success of the graduates of these institutions almost everywhere they go.

The issue of the debts run up by universities is not new. The rapid expansion in university establishment since the 1990's led to high costs in infrastructure development and the purchasing of equipment and the hiring of staff. Initially, a tax called the additional fees for Jordanian Universities was enacted in order to fund the first universities established (the University of Jordan and Yarmouk University). The tax is paid on almost any type of government and municipal procedure that can be imagined. Despite the high transparency of the ministry of finance on their web site, there is no, sign of the amount of the university fee collected in the 2005 budget. All of the fees collected are listed as a single budget item, with expected revenues of 310 million JD. I suspect a large proportion of these are university fees, since people pay them everywhere they go. On the other hand, the government donated 44 million JD as a subsidy for the universities and municipalities in 2002. I can't find more up to date information on the site but I believe that the number has now risen to about 50 million JD. In any case, it seems that the university fees are not being fully sent to the universities. Moreover, successive governments have established new universities with no long term vision as to how to cover shortfalls caused by spreading the cake too thin. So the universities are now holding the bag.

In order to cover shortfalls in their budgets, the universities started to raise tuition fees a couple of years ago. An uproar ensued, and the government took a decision outside its mandate to freeze raising of tuitions. The universities had to start accepting lower quality students in so-called parallel programs, which are the same as regular programs, but with higher fees for students who are not accepted in the normal procedure, but have money to pay. This helped alleviate the problem in some universities. However, the structural problem remains. The government doesn't want to pay a somewhat modest proportion of what they are collecting in the name of additional university fees to cover the cost of university well being. They also don't want the unpopular decision of raising tuitions so that the students will cover more of the cost.

In the final analysis, there are limited numbers of choices. The easiest is to let the quality of university education deteriorate, with inadequate libraries, laboratories, equipment and building maintenance. The second is for the government to pay up what they are collecting for this purpose in the first place. The third is to increase tuitions. A forth alternative, which many people suspect is the reason for all this, is to privatize the public universities. The general feeling is that it is in the interest of the owners of the private universities to let the public universities decay, since they represent competition. I am not in a position to know the reason why all this is being done, but I think it is not as sinister as the conspiracy theory has it. It is just another example of the government trying to achieve good results without spending money. In Arabic we say (Il bied ma bingala bi drat). You can't fry eggs with farts.


Al Ghad has a report on the subject. It is no surprise that none of the university presidents interviewed mentioned the university fee tax, and where the money is going. Their prime concern is keeping their jobs.



At 6:52 PM, Blogger jameed, RPh, MS said...

True,...the process of deterioration is well underway, not only in the quality of students accepted but also in the quality of professors hired. While a few of my memories of UJ are filled with pride, many more are painful. I am not talking about backwards mentalities or lack of social skills many students and faculty suffered from, but the absence of meaningful research (at least none in my related field of study). We can blame finances for that but the motivation to do science is free. Again, we can blame the whole atmosphere that kills creativity. It is a complicated situation and a vicious circle but at one point I have to blame teachers who did not instill a love of the knowledge in us.

But on the subject of debt, I think we have enough universities now to adopt a similar system to the in-state/out-of-state tuition of the US universities. Alternatively, and this maybe impossible and too radical to achieve, is to close down unnecessary programs at some universities (or close down whole universities) because the cost of running them is higher than any revenue that comes from them. Raising the tuition on all students will create all sorts of social problems and will restrict higher education to the financially able. I think it can be done provided solid means of financial aide exist from the universities and other sources. Most students in the US graduate with students debts, however in a country like Jordan it is just an added burden because there is no way one will be able to pay off the student debts and start a “normal” life; most students can barely afford to buy a car after graduation, let alone, start a family (with all the financial responsibilities that accompany that) and pay off student loans.

I wrote too much without offering any solution. I am back to work now.

At 8:29 PM, Blogger Hatem Abunimeh said...

This is the second blog that I see today that has a lot to do with money and at the same time the word [budget]is no where to be found. If we are talking about public university, private university, or even an individual endeavor of any sort, there has to be a budget figure attached to it. Now having said that the question then become: Is there a budget figure for these public universities? Are they limiting themselves to the budgeted figure or are they over spending? Do they put into account inflation and rising cost of living when they prepare their budgets year after year? Have they ever been profitable or were they always in the red? There are too many unexplained questions that beg for answers.

At 8:38 PM, Blogger Khalaf said...

Unfortunately, the budgets are not on line, as far as I can tell. Presumably, these budgets are studied by the ministry of higher education, and the spending side has no problems. The problem is with income. As I said in the post, either income will increase or spending will come down, to the detriment of quality of education.

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