Lebanon’s long history of university education and multicultural, liberal society has afforded the country a strong base of human capital, while successful members of the diaspora boost the reputation of Lebanese graduates worldwide.
Describing Lebanon as “the minaret and the lighthouse of education” in the Middle East, Hiam Sakr, President of the American University for Science and Technology (AUST), highlighted the reality that “many believe that if one wants to receive a world-class education, one should study in Lebanon as it is a bridge between the West and the East and its academic programs are of the highest caliber.” According to the World Bank, public expenditure had reached 1.8% of GDP in 2009, down slightly on the figure of 2% recorded in 2008. The higher education sector remains dominated by the private sector, which is working with the government to stem the flow of Lebanese graduates moving abroad and keep the country’s top brains on board.
Lebanon’s education system falls under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Education and Higher Education (MEHE), which maintains a balance of public and private schools. While the sector has relied heavily on private education, requirements for graduates to pass the government baccalaureate examination at the end of the secondary cycle have kept private schools from deviating from the state curriculum in pre-university education. The MEHE is responsible for public education from pre-school to secondary level in 1,365 schools, according to the Center for Educational Research and Development (CERD) for the school year 2010. In addition, it is also responsible for 38,723 teachers and 285,399 students. Furthermore, it is the authority over vocational and technical education, comprising 105 institute and technical schools employing 12,502 teachers with 37,317 students. The Ministry also enjoys guardianship over the Lebanese University, which boasts 72,813 students, 7,000 professors and trainers, and 1,700 members of staff. It is additionally guardian of the CERD, accommodating 314 staff training 15,000 teachers per year. The MEHE also watches over the affairs of the private sector, which comprises 1,400 schools employing 50,000 teachers, and additionally sponsors 351 private technical institutes employing 7,000 teachers and administrators. There are also 40 private institutes and universities in the higher-education sector, with 42 branches across Lebanon and with over 110,000 students enrolled.
The education system is broken into three stages in Lebanon; primary education, basic education—comprising elementary and intermediate levels—and secondary education. Primary education takes place between the ages of three and four, while elementary level covers grades one to three, intermediate level covers grades four to six, and the intermediate level is grades seven to nine. Secondary education then takes place between grades 10 and 12. Following the completion of three years of secondary education, students take the Lebanese Baccalaureate exams in one of four areas: humanities, economics, life sciences, or science. Lebanon recorded a net secondary education enrollment rate of 75% in 2009, according to the World Bank.
There are around 40 private institutes and universities making up the higher-education sector, and one public university—the Lebanese University, founded in 1951. The American University of Beirut is the oldest university in the country, founded in 1866, and well known as perhaps the best institution of its type in the region. The close links with the US education system have led to the founding of the Lebanese American University in 1924, the American University of Science and Technology (AUST) in 1994, and the American University of Technology (AUT) in 1998. Further cementing the country’s cosmopolitan nature, there are a host of Arab, French, and German universities also present, and foreign students are an ever more familiar sight on class roster lists. “About 20% of our student body comes from 86 countries around the world,” Joseph G. Jabbra, President of the Lebanese American University, told TBY.
The flow doesn’t, however, only go in one direction, and the gradual loss of Lebanese graduates abroad, especially to GCC countries, is a concern for the Ministry of Labor. “The education system has adapted itself to… the export of skilled or semi-skilled labor, while importing non-Lebanese workers on low wages, with low qualifications. This is our greatest concern,” Charbel Nahhas, Minister of Labor, told TBY.
To challenge this effect, the sector is now also working effectively to engage the private sector in order to place students. “At the beginning, when people went to the Gulf to find work, it was like the quest for gold in America,” Hiam Sakr, President of AUST, told TBY. “When a student is able to join a firm while still studying, that person gains seniority in the job, and by the time of graduation it doesn’t cross his or her mind to work in the Gulf or elsewhere abroad.”
© The Business Year