Unemployment crisis is putting pressure on Jordan's national security in several directions, turning the goal of containing unemployment into a cross-government priority, for which meetings and forums were held, strategies were announced, and plans- that in part carried a theoretical change in the methodology of treatment, were announced.
However, such plans and strategies remained with no comprehensive implementation, making the goal of "linking the outputs of the educational process to the needs of the labor market" pending until further notice. Achieving this goal is not a single procedural step, rather, it is the cumulative processes fruit of a process on a national scale.
This National Policy Paper assumes that the "rigidity" of study plans for university majors widens the gap with the needs of the "dynamic" labor market, and that the similarity of study plans, between different Jordanian universities, produced similar graduates with undifferentiated skills, parallel to the different needs of the labor market.
This paper compared the study plans for two stagnant disciplines – Political Science and Economics – at four major universities: the University of Jordan, Yarmouk University, the Hashemite University, and Mutah University. The paper concluded that there is a similarity that amounts to a match between these plans.
Based on this perception, the paper made preliminary recommendations, that could overcome university stagnation, the same treatment that could be applied to most disciplines and educational programs, so as not to fall into recession as well.
Launching a post-secondary education modernization workshop would enhance the chances of achieving the objectives of the tripartite modernization committees (political, economic, and administrative), for comprehensive modernization needs a culture, that assimilate and apply such culture, in addition to theoretical and practical skills, consistent with the twenty-first century.
Hardly a week would pass without a statement from an official, describing the gap in the educational process outputs with the requirements of the labor market, ranging from the (stagnant/full) majors, from which the records of the Civil Service Commission are teeming with tens of thousands of applicants, or that the (not stagnant/full) majors, with the graduates not having sufficient skills that respond to the real work environment.
This gap is accompanied by an unemployment crisis that casts a shadow on the entire Jordanian national security because of its social, psychological, and security repercussions. Unemployment rate in the first quarter of 2022 was about 23%, while the global unemployment rate for the previous year was about 6.5%. Jordan's position in the 21st place globally, as the most unemployed country, demonstrates how deep this crisis is.
Of course, Jordan's geopolitical reality is putting pressure on the labor market, in terms of successive migrations from neighboring countries in search of security, and in terms of the repercussions of the security situation collapse in neighboring countries on the smooth flow of exports and imports, besides the repercussions of channeling the government spending for defensive purposes.
However, over-blaming the geopolitical reality for the unemployment crisis may prevent the crisis from being accurately diagnosed, and thus not effective solutions, that mitigate unemployment severity, would not be created. It is necessary to be aware that the low competitiveness of the Jordanian graduate regionally, and the weak attractiveness of the investment environment in Jordan, are among the main factors that weaken the opportunities of the Jordanian job seeker abroad, and also the ability of the state to attract investments operating the labor force.
The tripartite modernization workshops (political, economic, and administrative) in addition to the Law on the Regulation of the Investment Environment, had intensified the elitist dialogues on the economy and attracting capital. But the competitiveness of the Jordanian graduates, and ways to update the outputs of the educational process, did not receive any direct attention.
This process – modernizing the outputs of the educational process – may have been redundant in the past decade with committees, strategies, and executive plans, aimed at raising its quality and improving its reality. But these steps have remained without practical implementation with tangible impact.
In its first section, this paper provides a look at the educational process reality, based on previously announced strategies, such as Jordan's Vision 2025, the National Employment Strategy, and the National Strategy for Human Resources Development, in addition to the two strategic plans of the Ministry of Higher Education for the years 2019-2021 and 2022-2024.
The second section of this paper addresses the situation of stagnant majors in the Civil Service Commission chancery, providing practical measures that can be taken to instill dynamism in the rigidity of their study plans, which should be taken proactively for all university majors, so that they would not turn into stagnant majors that may become a burden on the graduate, the economy, and the state.
Educational Strategies and Problems of Application
The Public Sector Modernization Committee recommended the creation of the Ministry of Education and Human Resources Development, in order to serve as the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Higher Education, and the Vocational Training Institution. Such merger mimics what has been the focus of two strategies, adopted by the State in the past decade: the National Employment Strategy 2011-2020 and the National Strategy for Human Resources Development 2016-2025.
Although these two strategies together consist of a total of 544 pages about he same goal: to improve educational and training resources so that they would suit the requirements of the labor market, in a manner that is positively reflected on the Jordanian economy, but the two studies were not been followed by an implementation plan with specific objectives and time frames.
This is evident through the continuity of recommendations without implementation and, if implemented, will be without measurement. These strategies have not served as a higher reference for administrative and technical processes related to school, post-secondary education, and training.
For example, the National Strategy for Human Resources Development (page 44) recommended a review of the majors and programs offered in public universities, the matter that was not achieved in a way that leads to diversity and specialization in university programs. This resulted a huge number of graduates who have received the same method of education for the same study plans, leading to classify the majors into stagnant, that its graduates are in a chronic unemployment, such as economics and political science.
The second section of this paper, entitled "Stagnant Majors", will address, for example, the causes that led to their stagnation, and ways to revive them.
The strategy also recommended the establishment of a fund for innovation and development in higher education. There is no evidence of the establishment of such fund or increasing the support for the purposes of conducting scientific research, as scientific research is still trapped in the logic of the sixties; the early stage in the establishment of Jordanian universities, when it was reduced to a means of academic and career promotion. It is safest to view the scientific research in the twenty-first century as an economic and intellectual lever for the state in all its pillars.
Spending on scientific research in Jordan barely reaches 0.3% of GDP, which is low compared to Middle Eastern countries, such as the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Turkey, where their spending on Research and Development (R&D) respectively: 1.4%, 1.0%, 1.1%. Israel tops the global ranking with 4.9 percent spending, to meet its military, technological and economic needs.
The strategy also included a description of two challenges whose mitigation still awaits a well-defined implementation plan:
First: The number of jobs created is not commensurate with the educational levels, as diploma graduates have a better chance of getting a better job than bachelor's graduates. Even if the number of university jobs created is higher, but they do not cover the large number of graduates, compared to diploma graduates.
Second: The problems of indebtedness and governance that thwart the modernization intentions of university presidents, if any. The strategy attributed this problem to low public funding, mismanagement, and unjustified recruitment in administrative functions, where the ratio of administrative staff to academics is 1:7, while the global average is 3:1.
As for governance, universities and the Ministry of Higher Education are still looking for a balance between the independency, that enables them to innovate and formulate the necessary plans and programs on the one hand, the specific standards and requirements of higher education and the accreditation body, so that the quality of education would not decline, on the other hand.
In parallel with the two strategies – National Employment and National Human Resources Development – each prepared by a technical team under royal guidance, the Ministry of Higher Education periodically issues a strategic plan every three years, modernizing it on its website without the content is updated enough. The 2019-2021 strategy included an analysis based on the "SWOC" model to identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and challenges in the internal and external environments of the Ministry.
The internal environment was analyzed according to the "Mckinsey7S" model, and the external environment was analyzed according to the "PESTILL" model. This paper does not intend to get into the analysis of the two environments' details, nonetheless it is enough to point out that the details of the models in the 2019-2021 strategy are very similar to the new strategy 2022-2024, without the current strategy being theoretically and practically related to the previous strategy.
The course of progress in addressing past weaknesses, and how to continue to address them, is not clarified in the current strategy, and more importantly – and perhaps more shocking – is that such strategy only mentions Coronavirus once, reviewing it in the points of strengths of the item "Taking the Necessary Measures in Light of the Pandemic" - page 13.
In practice, higher education institutions around the world – ministries, universities and colleges – updated their approach, by taking advantage of the pandemic experience, balancing the requirements of educational quality with the physical student's attendance at the institution, and adopting the "Hybrid Learning" method.
Educational institutions did not begin preparing for the next pandemic, by raising the efficiency of the distance education system. It is clear that the current higher education strategy has not addressed any of this.
In theory, a strategy can only be described on a comprehensive plan, set with objectives measured in a clear time frame. Such plan includes a flexible response to the emerging crises and developments, serving as a basic reference for all sub-units, taking into account the competence and independence of these units in the details of implementation, pursuant to the principle of the interdependence of accountability and implementation.
As for vocational training and also the vocational & technical diploma, that some officials are betting on to reduce the unemployment scale, it does not seem to be able to achieve the aspirations, despite the fact that more than 15 years have passed since the issuance of the "National Agenda 2006-2015" and its recommendations for organizing vocational and technical training, but there is no effective progress in terms of the desired goals.
The Government is preparing a draft law, amending the Vocational Training Institution Law, that would amend its name to the "Academy of Vocational Skills" and grant it "more freedom to conclude contracts and establish partnerships with the private sector" and "increase the representation of the private sector on the board of directors, to develop the work of the academy, in a way that contributes to meeting the needs of the labor market for trained labor in all professions".
The following table, taken from page 61 of the National Employment Plan, provides a trajectory of progress in the implementation of the National Agenda, which was then almost 7 years old, pending implementation so far. Perhaps the revised Vocational Skills Academy project is inspired by these recommendations.
The National Strategy for Human Resources Development 2016-2025, in the Department of Vocational and Technical Education and Training, also recommended the establishment of a skills development fund, sponsored by the private sector, similar to the draft law of the Academy.
This phase may be reverted to the 2005 Employment, Vocational, and Technical Education and Training Fund, which remained effective until the passage of the 2009 Income Tax Law, as it abolished the 1% deductible from private sector profits in favor of the Fund, drying up one of its main financial resources.
The National Employment Strategy 2011-2020 accurately diagnosed the environment that expels training and vocational work in Jordan, in addition to the gaps in the public and private sectors. This Strategy concluded that the "culture of shame" is not the obstacle to the demand of Jordanians to work in the private and vocational sector, as portrayed by some officials, as there are objective economic and institutional reasons, that lead the job seeker prefers the public sector over others.
Similarly, regarding the technical and vocational training education institutions, there are shortcomings in the training of private sector companies for their employees, as Research and Development departments are insufficiently effective. Such departments should be self-directed and governmentally-directed, in order to develop training programs and systems that achieve their goals pf employment.
The National Employment Strategy included a graph – No. 36 – showed that Jordan's ranking, among the Arab countries, comes in the list of countries whose companies offer the lowest level of training, with 47% companies that train new employees, and 38% of old employees.
Thus, the university or technician graduates through an old study plan, and then gets employed without finding sufficient training, so that the already fragile educational and training process is interrupted, and the ability of the Jordanian graduate, who has limited experience, to support the competitiveness of the economy, and support its competitiveness in the regional and international labor market, would decrease.
Having reviewed most of the educational and operational strategies and plans, it is noted that there are multiple references and plans, the matter that produced a heterogeneous mixture of work as a single unit, where some details contradict others.
Deep in the debate over educational development, it can be said that there is, sometimes, a kind of politicization and sensitivities, stemming from suspicions that there are intentions behind the announced strategies and plans, especially those related to curriculum modification.
The duality of bureaucratic conservatives and liberal technocrats has also surrounded the educational debate, becoming an inhibitor to the quality of education growth in Jordan, and has lost what is supposed to be a national field of its collective character in terms of goals, objectives, and mechanisms. This imbalance amounts to a division in some cases, as in the development of non-science curricula.
In such regard, whether school and post-secondary education have fallen victim to the rivalry of conservative and liberal schools should be questioned and assessed. Have technocrats really sought, as some conservatives say, to exclude the existing institutions and create new ones that are consistent with their approach? Do conservatives really mind any development in the status quo that is inconsistent with their value and material interests, given that the "new" situation will shake their gains?
These questions may be of a socio-political nature, but they are no less important than everything in this paper, as the politicization of the service sphere prevents the upgrading of services, ultimately leading to an increase in public congestion, driven by the decline in the quality of services and the impact of accusations and rumors, that usually accompany politicization.
It is clear from the foregoing that the National Strategy for Human Resources Development 2016-2025 and the National Employment Strategy 2011-2020 provide an accurate diagnosis of the reality of education in Jordan, and how to develop it, in order to achieve the benefit of the national economy from its outputs. The flexible implementation remains waiting for financial allocations and serious will, that does not fear trolls and rumor makers through social media.
Addressing university unemployment is a priority that cannot stand delay, because it has become a major factor threatening Jordan's national security, which requires a modernization cell for higher education, similar to the tripartite modernization committees witnessed by the Kingdom.
Accordingly, in the following section, the paper provides a reading of the stagnant disciplines, for which the Civil Service Commission has stopped receiving new job applications, the matter that can be considered an early alarm to address the structural imbalances in the study plans of the rest of the disciplines, so that they do not turn into stagnant disciplines that do not benefit the production process or the graduates.
Section II: Moving Stagnant Disciplines
In August 2022, the Civil Service Bureau published its annual list of stagnant majors, for which it will not receive new job applications for those who will register in their studies in the next academic year. The Civil Service Commission determines this list based on the percentage of majors' employment in the past ten years; should this percentage be less than 1% - the records of the Civil Service Commission have a large inventory covering several years to come- then the major is classified as stagnant.
Every year the Bureau publishes its list, which usually coincides with the announcement of high school results, there is much talk about the need to change the prevailing culture towards post-secondary school, to adapt to the requirements of the labor market, by moving to the study of technical and vocational education.
The Bureau's archive is filled with a massive number of stagnant and redundant certificates, covering demand in the local labor market for at least 10-15 years to come, according to Civil Service Bureau chief, Sameh al-Nasser, during the announcement of the study of supply and demand reality for 2022, which includes stagnant and redundant disciplines.
In practice, there is no encouragement to study these majors, as all high school graduates and their families are related to graduates from these majors, who have been in unemployment for many years without being able to obtain a job related to their university studies. If there is a related job opportunity, it is often with a limited monthly salary.
Despite the government's repeated calls to direct students to study majors needed by the labor market. Such government calls evidently call to unemployment. However, cohorts of students continue to join these majors, especially the redundant ones, where the percentage of recruitment ranges from (1-4.8) %. The Bureau does not stop accepting graduates of these majors.
This reality requires broadening the debate to the need to radically change stagnant majors, to become compatible with the labor market. This section provides a snapshot that can contribute to enriching an initial debate about moving stagnant disciplines, presents comparative models with global universities, and makes recommendations that can provide partial -but effective- solutions to the university recession crisis.
A Look at Stagnant Majors
While preparing this section, study plans for stagnant majors in the main Jordanian universities were reviewed. These plans are almost identical between the different universities, meaning that the universities' graduate, who received the same knowledge, without any distinction between such graduates.
For procedural control purposes, the topic will highlight the two most prominent stagnant majors: Political Science and Business Economics, at four Jordanian universities: the University of Jordan, the Hashemite University, Yarmouk University, and Mutah University.
In the field of political science major, over the course of its 132 hours of syllabuses, it is noted that the four universities are similar in their study plans, although the name of the major is different, such as the Hashemite University, which offers it under the name of "International Relations and Strategic Studies".
The similarity in the study plans amounts to being identical, if it were not for some minor differences that do not exceed a few hours of study out of 132 hours. For example: the study plan of Yarmouk University includes the field of political systems and institutions by 15 hours, where the university expands slightly (compared to the three universities that study political systems and the Jordanian political system) via adding to two subjects: Public Policy Analysis and Comparative Political Systems.
In its revised plan for political science, the University of Jordan added modern public administration subjects, principles of macroeconomics, and political statistics. The University required field training before graduation. Recommendation paragraph will present a general assessment for the filed training method the University adopted.
This case does not differ in the major of Business Economics, as Jordan and Mutah Universities have identical plans to some extent. The only relative difference is in Yarmouk University, which lists its major under the name of Financial and Business Economics, and adds in the field of compulsory majors that subjects thereof are concerned with financial economics, such as portfolios, cash, financial analysis, stock exchanges, and investment.
All of this shows that Jordanian universities have not developed their educational structure to adapt to the bifurcation in disciplines, such as politics and economics, that are related to the individual's daily life. It also shows that the Jordanian universities kept their educational plans below the level of practical progress achieved.
It is true that these plans have been modified and additions were added thereto, but they have remained general majors, although the labor market became more selective in the search for sub-majors whose graduates possess "technical skills" rather than searching for theoretical knowledge, isolated from the applied aspect.
The faculties of top 500 universities in the world constantly modify their study plans and educational procedures, such universities even play a key role in the developments taking place, through providing the labor market with the necessary applied knowledge. These universities do not only present the latest theories and methods, but also engage, as an academic body, with the major's reality.
What helps such universities is branching into sub-disciplines, which necessarily entails having academics who are able to add knowledge to the totality of what is already accumulated. This addition turns into policies, innovations, or services, which means that the university becomes part of the economy.
According to the Economic Impact Report by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) released in December 2015, the Institute's alumni founded 32,000 effective companies – still existing at the report's release date– employing 4.6 million people and injecting $1.9 trillion in annual revenue, which exceeds India's GDP, the tenth largest country in the 2013 global ranking.
Academic institutions are not supposed to be isolated islands in their theoretical frameworks, rather, these frameworks should play a role in leading development and innovation, not merely be a presentation tool for the totality of theoretical knowledge in the field of major.
In addition to the engagement of international universities with real-world issues, their study plans have branched out and became distinctive; their graduate is convincing to the labor market. For example: the British University of Warwick, ranked 78th globally - according to The Times University Rankings - offers in undergraduate programs 10 sub-majors that integrate politics and the rest of the fields, such as international relations, sociology, philosophy, law, and sustainable global development, in addition to the availability of advanced disciplines classified as regional studies, such as China, Latin America, and European countries.
Georgetown University, ranked 130th globally, by the same Ranking, offers its students the opportunity to study majors in public policy and political economy.
Some of the plans for the majors of political science, in Jordanian universities, offer subjects from other fields, such as economics, society, law, and administration. But these subjects are usually taught to students from a general perspective, or from the perspective of those fields, while the global trend is to mix these fields with the basic field, in order to build an objective logic for students, capable of dealing with practical and complex situations.
This brief policy paper provides a diagnosis of stagnant rigidity. From this diagnosis, the following recommendations may contribute to move stagnant majors:
First: Diversity and Majors
Study plans in Jordanian universities can be rebuilt to be distinctive, whereby qualified students with diverse knowledge may graduate. This workshop of building should not be random, rather, it should be made upon to a study of the major’s reality in each university, as well as upon the qualifications of the faculty members, so that a study plan can be prepared in each university in a manner that is radically different from the other universities.
The similar major of political science, in Jordanian universities, can be branched out in universities into political economics, public political administration, international relations, international and non-governmental organizations, and terrorism studies.
The latter, "Studies of Terrorism", is absent in the study plans of the four universities reviewed in this paper. A specialized subject, concerned with the study of terrorism, was not noticed, despite the sensitivity of Jordan's location, situated in an environment that is usual to be ravaged by waves of terrorism.
Of course, making a qualitative leap in the study plans is not easy; it needs several stages, the most important of which is the availability of a teaching staff capable of adapting to specialized sub-plans.
Second: Electives Review
The study plans for most majors include 5 general elective majors from different faculties, in addition to 7 mandatory college subjects. Students of majors consider these subjects as " rate- rising" that are not important, the matter that is often true according to the study plans published on the university's website. These subjects constitute 36 hours – at a university that constitutes 33 hours – out of 132 hours, or 27.2%, and require a while academic year with three semesters, 15 hours in each of the first and second semesters, and 6 hours in the summer.
From this point of view, it is possible to consider reducing the "rate-raising" subjects. But this reduction may affect the university's revenues. To increase the unemployment rate (the student is not classified as unemployed). Thus, to increase the useful knowledge a student receives, ineffective materials can be eliminated and materials that are in line with emerging fields such as artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, Big Data, risk management, and climate change can be added.
It is worth mentioning that international universities have added subspecialties that integrate the general specialization and each of these fields, producing a bachelor's graduate who is aware of the basics of what he will be introduced to in practice. it is even necessary to the theoretical dimension it to project such challenges on every basic filed thereof.
Third: Sandwich Course
This means that the university requires its students to have a work experience in a company. Recently, the University of Jordan added the mandatory field training to the political science plan, but this addition was of an empty content as it did not provide real work experience; the student does not write to private employment bodies, and does not present himself to these bodies, that is: the student does not live realistic working conditions.
Students are distributed to several government agencies, contracted with the university for this purpose, such as the Ministry of Political Development, the House of Representatives, and the Independent Electoral Commission. In this sense, field training does not achieve the experience refinement.
The German Jordanian University is probably the only one in Jordan to implement a "sandwich course" because it requires one or two semester of work in an actual work environment, often in Germany. Such dynamic method of education is positively reflected on the German Jordanian University's graduates in obtaining job opportunities. According to the German Jordanian University rector, Dr. Alaa Al-Din Al-Halhouli, the employment rate of the German Jordanian University graduates, in the first year of graduation, is 96%. This announcement came in April 2022, during a ceremony on signing a memorandum of understanding between the German Jordanian University and Huawei, to establish the Huawei Academy of Information Technology.
Fourth: Partnership with the Private Sector
Universities suffer a budget deficit that forces them to take loans, the matter which constrains expenditures for development purposes, as universities can barely secure current expenses, such as salaries and electricity costs.
Many international universities are involved in agreements with research departments in major companies. These agreements provide a source of income for universities, that enable them to develop themselves and improve their students.
Such agreements do not exist in Jordan. The financial relationship of universities with the private sector is limited to donations by some companies. Instead of getting the benefit of such donation for research purposes, that generate income for the university and provide the company with research solutions, these donations are usually directed to construct an auditorium or improving a facility.
Modernizing Accreditation and Quality Assurance Commission for Higher Education Institutions and Guaranteeing their Quality.
None of the recommendations will be effective unless they are institutionalized through the Accreditation and Quality Assurance Commission institutions, which is competent to grant approval for the creation of departments in universities, and grant a license to build post-secondary education institutions.
The Authority requires unified general requirements that have not been updated. These requirements. It appeared, after reviewing them on the Authority's website that such requirements are rigid and inflexible, and lead to a state of similarity in majors between the different Jordanian universities.
Standardization is certainly important for the purposes of institutional discipline, but when did the last "update" occur on the Authority's work? Arte their standards and requirements compatible with the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and with what the labor market require of skills and tools of understanding?
Any specialized professional evaluation will likely lead to the fact that the respective body, responsible for monitoring the compliance of educational institutions with quality indicators, will needs a "modernization cell" that augments its strength aspects, and draws a road map for the Jordanian universities, similar to the political, economic, and administrative modernization committees.
The axes and objectives of these three authorities missed the allocation of items for the situation in universities, and also ways to update them - with the exception of the special consultations that included universities' rectors, to discuss the organization of students' practice of party work - which calls for the question of how to implement the programs emanating from these authorities, without a supportive academic environment. Modernizing needs a culture that absorbs and applies it, and practical and theoretical skills consistent with the twenty-first century. This modernization is not only limited to stagnant majors, but is also a necessity for all majors and programs in Jordan.