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A couple of notes regarding our higher education ‘sector’

Jul 11,2019 - Last updated at Jul 11,2019

Much has been written for years about the status and quality of the Jordanian higher education “sector”, by a lot of stakeholders from within and without the sector.

More recently, and in light of the decision by two Gulf countries to stop sending students to a number of Jordanian universities, there has been a flurry of comments on the subject.

While some of the comments have been constructive, even when harshly critical, many have been unnecessarily derogatory, cynical and negative.

Interest in any subject by all concerned is generally positive. Dialogue on matters that touch upon our lives is always welcome, as it enriches our understanding of issues and helps us come up with ideas and measures for reform and improvement.

However, impressionism, amateurism and emotionalism are counterproductive.

Diversity of opinion is a blessing; satire and venom are not.

Without delving at length into, and deconstructing, some of the fallacies that some have seized the opportunity to start promoting, as they do whenever a sensitive or controversial issue receives public attention; I wish to assert the following two points regarding the said “sector”.

The first is that it is incorrect to talk about our higher education “system” or “sector” in the singular form.

The sector is diverse, complex and multifaceted.

We have more than 30 public and private universities, and more than 40 public and private community colleges.

While the work of these universities and colleges is governed by uniform legislations, and monitored by the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, as well as the Higher Education Accreditation Commission, each university and each community college has its own special environment, standards of learning, modes of administrative operations and character.

Though many of them share similarities, and common problems and challenges, none is identical to the other.

Some are public, and some are private. Some are more than 60 years old, and some are a decade or less old. Some are large, and some are small.

Some focus on humanities and social sciences, and some on technology and the sciences. And some combine both.

Some are at the top of regional and world rankings, some are at the middle or bottom.

Some deliver the highest quality of learning and research, and according to the strictest of standards. Some are middle-of-the-road and even mediocre.

The strongest of them are strong in some specialisations, but not very strong in others. Similarly, the less competitive ones may be strong in some programmes and not so strong in others.

Therefore, lumping them all together under the world “system” or “sector”, putting them all in one basket, is false.

An intelligent conversation on their standing and quality, even when critical, should recognise the diversity and the plurality.

The second point is that, overall and allowing ourselves for the moment to speak in totalitarian terms, our educational “sector” or “system” is healthy and strong. It has, for more than half a century, served the country, the region the globe extremely well.

Many of our graduates have pursued very successful career paths, and have excelled greatly in what they have done, in many spheres.

Many of them are leaders and heroes in their fields.

Many of our graduates also do extremely well and achieve exemplary results when they join the most reputable world-class universities across the entire globe.

Having said that, and having a lot of faith in the “system” or the “sector” does not mean that all is milk and honey.

There are many challenges: financial, pedagogical and managerial. And there are many problems, mishaps and weaknesses, even failures.

Our job is to address those head on, and do our best to always uplift, upgrade and improve performance.

And this comes about through a lot of careful analysis and positivity, and not through sweeping generalisations and negativity.

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