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The prime minister is an optimist!

Jul 15,2019 - Last updated at Jul 15,2019

I was invited to attend, last Sunday, a meeting with Prime Minister Omar Razzaz to discuss various issues of national interest. While Razzaz was not oblivious to the challenges ahead, he seemed optimistic about the future as if things would turn around to the best. 

Razzaz underlined the new methodology in the work of his government. He said that it is the first time a government in Jordan sets goals, benchmarks and timeframes. Perhaps he is right! Whether the first government or not, it is positive to have such an official mindset. And yet, what is more important is delivery. And this raises the question whether the optimism on the part of Razzaz is not misplaced. The economic figures are not good. Unemployment is still at 19 per cent while poverty is at 15 per cent, according to official figures. Reality may even be worse. While his blame to regional and international factors starting from the financial meltdown in 2008 is warranted, the prime minster glossed over the official mismanagement of the national economy and the failure to fight corruption.

To his credit, the prime minister was a good listener. Unlike many previous prime ministers, he listened to our comments with interest and tried his best to respond to each one of them. That being said, I was not convinced by his response with regard to higher education. Of course, I disagree with those who paint the sector as nothing but a failure. Once, higher education was the hallmark of national success. However, we have to admit that it is not without defects. More importantly, these defects and imperfections are due to official policy and the mechanism of hiring presidents, deans and professors at universities.

This mechanism is marred with official interference, nepotism and cliques. For instance, I cannot understand how a dean with zero knowledge of English could be hired to preside over a school that offers two-thirds of its programmes in English! I was told that he was appointed because it was the turn of that particular geographical area! By the same token, a certain university hired a professor to teach subjects related to national education. The university offers all courses in English, but the newly-appointed professor told them that because he cannot teach in English he will use Arabic in class. Shockingly, the president of that university agreed! The problem with higher education is many of those in charge at universities — at various levels — develop vested interests to keep the status quo lest they lose their positions. Those people are quick to accuse critics of being emotional and sceptic. Of course, the list of criticisms of higher education is too long to be talked about in an article.

The soft-spoken prime minister agreed with the points I raised on higher education. Besides, he maintained repeating the mantra that education is the key but without telling us if the government was going to take this as a priority. In a word, I like to be optimistic, but this should not substitute hard work.

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