Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Killing the goose

I believe that one of the most important pillars of social stability in Jordan is the prospect of upward mobility. People are willing to forfeit their desire for economic justice if they feel that their children will be afforded an opportunity for a better life. This is why people are willing to deprive themselves, are willing to sell their assets and are even willing to go hungry for the sake of sending their kids to university. Simply said, Jordanians view a university education as being an indispensable key to economic and social advancement. This attitude has led to some of the highest levels of university graduates in the world.

And this has been a boon for the Jordanian state. Hundreds of thousands (600 thousand in the Gulf alone) of well educated Jordanian expatriates send home over two billion dinars a year, making up 18% of the GNP. The government doesn’t need to find them jobs, and they support their families so that they are not a burden on the state. So far, this has been successful formula that partially concealed the government’s failure to create enough jobs for everybody, kept the economy afloat and helped sustain the social peace.

So, why would anybody tinker with such a success story?

I wrote a couple of years ago about the financial problems at state universities. Following that, the government of Adnan Badran promised to gradually pay off the debts of these universities. While financial conditions were still weak, it looked like there might be a sustainable future for the higher education system in the country. Some people were still skeptical about future designs on the structure of higher education, specifically, questions were raised about the desire to raise university tuition fees and the ultimate desire to privatize the universities. A campaign calling itself dhabahtoona (essentially meaning you are killing us) was started in order to protest and raise awareness. The campaign is vocal but has yet to gain much traction.

A couple of days ago, the minister of higher education announced that government “support” of the universities will be reduced by 5 million dinars this year, and said that universities should become self funding. Dhabahtoona held a press conference to highlight this development, and once again pointed out that the government is ripping off the universities by not giving them their full due of the university fees tax. The bottom line is that the government is treating the universities as bad investments, while in fact they are major assets that help sustain the country economically and socially. Starving these institutions will not be favorable to students, families, the society or the state. It will be more like killing the goose that lays the golden egg.

Of course, this latest announcement comes in the context of all kinds of other challenges to the living standards of Jordanians. It looks like the government is not content with lowering current standards of living, but wants to rob us of hope for the future as well.

And what is life without hope?


At 9:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

WHAT ARE THEY DOING? Please can someone in the government explain to us what they think they are doing with the economy and the country as a whole? All I can see is the government voluntarily undoing the bases of social stability in Jordan one by one. No one denies that the situation needed reforming because of its inefficiencies, but this is not the way to go about doing it, just why does the government expect Jordanians to pay more and more taxes in return for less services and care!

At 1:22 AM, Blogger Abu Daoud said...

I have a question about the Jordanian universities though: I know of people who graduated with bachelor's degrees in computer science. To me that means they know how to create computer programs in languages like C++ and VisualBasic. But I found that it generally meant they knew how to use Microsoft Office or something like that. Which I knew how to use before even starting college.

Is that others' experience too? I mean, if that is what a degree is worth then maybe the universities are a poor investment.

At 2:31 AM, Blogger Tallouza said...

This reminds me of the famous phrase inscribed on the gate of Hell in Dante's "Divine Comedy" -- "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here". Life does imitate art in Jordan.

By the way abu daoud is talking about visual Basic and C++...I happen to know a computer science graduate who does not know the difference between saving files in folders vs. on the Desktop. The caliber of college graduates is scary to say the least. No offense to anyone, but judging from the poor work ethic and the pathetic quality of work of several Jordanian university graduates with whom I worked, I have a feeling they cheated their way through university.

At 2:42 AM, Blogger Tallouza said...

On a more serious note, Khalaf I thought the goose was cooked!!!!!

At 6:30 AM, Blogger Khalaf said...

Onzlo: When I figure out what they want, I will let you know. This question has been bugging me for a while.

Abu Daoud: I think that the university from which a person graduates makes a difference. In the last 8 years or so there has been a proliferation of IT faculties in Jordan due to rising interest in this field. It takes a while to build faculties, and some programs are suffering due to overambitious expansion. I would point out that it wouldn't be fair to use IT graduates as a yardstick in general.

Tallouza: Killed and cooked :)

At 7:55 AM, Blogger Masalha1 said...

The poor quality of education is the consequence of lack of funding, and you can't judge the quality of graduates based on a few bad apples who bought their way, which eventually they will fail in a later stage, our education system is deteriorating we all know that, private universities are not doing any better, but is that a reason to cut funding by 5 million Jd instead of increasing it by 5 ?
Can you blame Jordanians who send their kids to Jordanians universities where they suppose to be tought well and be prepared for the work force? is it the parents Job to monitor the quality of education or is it the ministry of higher education?
I don't know what they are trying to do but it does not look good and I wonder if one day they'll tell us we can't afford to fund elementary schools any more and go back to BAIDHA and RGHEEF era.

At 10:01 AM, Blogger No_Angel said...

Regarding the quality of graduates here it is absolutely dismal and it partially stems from the ideas reflected here.
in university you are supposed to be learning the skills that will allow you to acquire knowledge later on not the knowledge its self since its ever changing. for example judging a computer science student by whether he knows C++ or not is non sequitor since he should be learning the basics of math, coding, and software/hardware interactions and general computer architecture, the programming used is just relevant to attempting to implement that theory and if there is proper understanding of the basics changing from language to the other is trivial.
so yeah usually graduates are useless for the first 3 years since they even lack common sense more so than technical knowledge. (i dare generalized based on the amount i have worked with and seen)

As for what they are trying to do, maybe they are encouraging a push to provide employees for blue collar and service occupations and they are just creating the employment pool ;)

At 11:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As crucial the gulf part for Jordan is, but the theory of exporting educated Jordanians there does not help build Jordan well. The hundreds of thousands there in their majority are performing normal jobs like an accountant, architect, doctor and they are only a part of the economy, nothing so special about them. In dubai for instance, the majority of the twenty sth. year old jordanian acquire 9000Dirhams, which can barely make a living. the millioners and key personnel were built mainly during the golden age of the seventies and eighties. Soon, a replacement may arise and whats considered in our assets may just not be there anymore. Jordan has the lowest illetracy rate in the arab world, we don't have well prepared work force.. that need to be changed, all of us are academics, majority with poor quality as witnessed by many local business owners without mentioning the international markets!... the problem in my opinion is that some of the governments actions are isolated from the master plan, though they might be in the right direction, yet not connected to a grand policy. You hear that the support is gone, you can see the military started the ambitious project of training professional work force, you hear about great investments in the infrastructure, you read great documents like the national agenda, "kolna al-urdon", you hear speeches about freedoms and political reforms.. some are not happening, or just no main frame to view us in Jordan functioning as a country: external/internal politics, constitution and freedoms, society and religion, macro economics and business development. this is happening due to week communication across the board and lack of trust between government and the people.

At 11:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Surely also much of the blame lies in that fact that so many people who are mediocre academically are accepted into mediocre private universities, and so it goes on ? Many people would prefer to have poor degree, and any kind of desk job, rather than aquire a vocational skill that will earn them a good living.

At 3:47 PM, Blogger Osaid Rasheed said...

Hello Khalaf
Nice post

Regarding the quality of university graduates , which is simply under the level and sadly above expectations , I believe that the first reason for this is lack of PLANNING , the last is lack of funding.

You cannot see ANY clear ( or even written ) policy in any long standing university , and the management system of all universities is on the operational level ONLY. Even those "professors" who are leading and managing the local universities are not doing any good.

Maybe the problem in with US , not with funds or what others are doing.

At 9:24 PM, Blogger Abu Daoud said...

I think you have ti right Osaid, and this is a small sign of hope. I think we all know that the press in Jordan is highly controlled by the government, so we should not bee surprised that we rarely see people taking responsibility for anything.

But you Osaid, are a sign of hope because once younger people take responsibility for the situation things can start to change.

5 اتَّكِلْ عَلَى الرَّبِّ مِنْ كُلِّ قَلْبِكَ، وَعَلَى فِطْنَتِكَ لاَ تَعْتَمِدْ.


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