HIGH MARKS

Jordan 2019 | EDUCATION | INTERVIEW

Jordan is trying to transform its education sector in order to spur the development of the Kingdom's knowledge-based economy.

Dr. Walid Maani
BIOGRAPHY
Dr. Walid Maani trained in medicine in Egypt and specialized in neurosurgery in the UK, where he obtained the fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons. Returning to Jordan in 1977, he worked as an assistant professor at the University of Jordan School of Medicine. He became full professor in 1987 and was later appointed dean of research, vice president for administration, and president of the University of Jordan. He was appointed Minister of Health and Minister of Education and of Higher Education in five Jordanian governments. He was also appointed a senator in the Jordanian Parliament. He holds the Jordan Star decoration of the first order and is an Eisenhower Fellow.

How is higher education in Jordan evolving to meet the demands of a knowledge-based economy and further develop its human capital?

The Human Resource Development (HRD) Strategy has identified outcomes sought from the national higher education system to draw a roadmap for Jordan's future as a knowledge-based economy, developing human, intellectual, and social capital. The higher education system will improve graduate employment in fields that have been identified as priorities for Jordan's economic growth and acts as a catalyst for entrepreneurship and innovation to foster and develop relevant skills among its graduates. To this end, the ministry has transformed the Scientific Research Fund into the Research and Innovation Fund. Higher education expects to compete with other sectors in supporting GDP, with the aim of contributing no less than 8%. For comparison, manufacturing contributes 17.7%, tourism 14.3%, ICT 14.1%, construction 4.3%, and agriculture 3.8%. This target is attainable through the booming number of universities, now at 32, and the enrollment of 350,000 students. Of the total number of students enrolled in higher education, 42,000 are international students from 105 different nationalities. The ministry, through its unified admission directorate, affords post tawjihi, or post-secondary education, students access to universities. There are different challenges facing HRD's future related to economic and demographic factors. Jordan's population expansion, which is expected to increase by 1.4% per year by 2030, may seem like an economic burden in a country with high unemployment. However, this challenge is juxtaposed by the increasing need for universities and skilled graduates in the labor market. Education can transform these challenges into opportunities. According to the Higher Population Council, this expansion is expected to provide a unique opportunity for Jordan by increasing the number of working individuals over the coming 20 years. According to Jordan 2025, 660,000 new jobs will be needed over the next 10 years.

How is the ministry looking to increase international collaboration and outreach efforts?

In a competitive world based on international best practices, we have adopted different strategies for internationalization. First, we are directing universities toward collaborative research and innovation, joint academic programs, and entrepreneurship, while encouraging universities to find potential partners that share similar strategic research initiatives. Furthermore, the ministry has networked with many international organizations, such as the British council, Plymouth University, and UK Higher Education Academy, to execute several collaborative projects and courses. For example, the Newton-Khalidi Fund connects new Jordanian academics with their counterparts in the UK, focusing on five priority areas for long-term sustainable development in Jordan: water management, renewable energy, agri-tech and food security, biotechnology and biosecurity, and nanotechnology. Additionally, the Advanced Training Program hosts workshops on various topics for directors of academic development centers in Jordanian universities.

With significant support from the UK for education reform following the Jordan: Growth and Opportunity Conference in London, what reforms will the Kingdom prioritize?

Following the conference in London, the ministry is working hand in hand with universities to develop strategies needed to flourish internationally in the areas of research, transnational education, student recruitment, and mobility. The ministry is involved in different bilateral agreements aiming at building research teams between scholars in Jordanian higher education institutions and internationally recognized and highly ranked foreign universities. In addition, the ministry has developed regulations encouraging twinning between local and international academic programs and hosting international programs. As for student recruitment and mobility, current and potential bilateral agreements focus clearly on student exchange and mobility. Added to this, we are working hard to reinstate the role of technical education in the future of Jordan. Skilled graduates are a prerequisite for development. Our new regulations encourage students to choose the technical pathway in their university studies. Scholarships and funds are incentives granted to technical specialties students. The higher education council has paved the way for the private sector to establish technical colleges that would infuse technology into education.