Five-year national strategy for the development of Higher Education in Yemen:Reform Higher Education: A must for a better future [Archives:2006/969/Reportage]

August 3 2006

By: Walid Al-Saqaf
It was no surprise to many in the educational sector to see Yemen rank in the 151st position of the United Nations 2005 Human Development Report, with a Human Development Index value of 0.489. The report has named Yemen the 'worst performer in Arab States' and attributed this to several factors, led by its inability to properly develop on its educational cadres, students, and institutions. The report ranked Yemen below Djibouti in terms of expenditures on public education, echoing the calls by educational experts to revitalize and focus more on the education sector.

Among Arab countries, Yemen's educational standards, including in university level, have slipped dramatically in recent years. With extremely poor wages to staffers, and poorly equipped libraries and facilities, Yemen's public universities have been literally kicking out the best of its cadres, who found better refuge and opportunities in neighboring and developed countries.

The trend has been continuing and have cost Yemen's higher education sector a lot in recent years. However, noticeable consideration and attention seems to have been given to reforming this sector by the recently appointed Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research Saleh ba Surrah to stop the deterioration and start a mission to reverse this trend.

The Five-year National Strategy for the Development of Higher Education in Yemen, which was released late last year, indicated that major reforms need to be applied to the higher education sector to achieve a better future for the country by qualifying badly needed human development resources.

The strategy acknowledges that Yemen's scarce financial resources have slowed down the rate of development in this sector. However it also mentions that funds that have been utilized for some aspects could have been better used to develop human skill and vital resources. “Certainly, there is substantial new building. Indeed, the availability of resources for new building contrasts to some extent with provision for equipment and to improve existing capacity – for example for things like staff development or for library books.” the strategy said.

There were four key objectives mentioned by the strategy:

1- To establish at national and institutional level a governance system that ensures accountability and transparency in decision-making and implementation

2- To link the higher education sector development with the labour market requests for higher education, thereby promoting diversification of the structures and programmes of higher education institutions, vertically and horizontally, and stimulating equity of access

3- Provide additional resources [Government and non-Governmental] with a concentration on enhancing higher educations' capacity for increasing self-financing and creating partnerships with the private sector to finance and develop higher education institutions

4- Improving the quality of teaching and learning, research and services to enable higher education institutions to produce, adapt and disseminate knowledge for the use of solving society problems

According to the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, those key objectives were based on the needs to create a “dynamic, efficient and high quality higher education system.” It noted that urgent action towards this end is needed especially as “the number of secondary school graduates will increase by possibly four or five times in the next two decades, and the higher education system will need to expand to meet this additional demand.”

The Ministry noted that it is the Yemeni Government that has triggered action to enhance the higher education system, which “will lead the nation's development – economically, culturally, morally and socially.” It affirms that “the higher education system is in urgent need of renewal and updating.” and at present it suffers from “a number of weaknesses”.

The problems:

The strategy summarized the problems within the current higher education system. It said Yemen allocates a relatively good percentage of it's GDP to higher education, yet that is not reflected in higher educational standards due to fund mismanagement. Furthermore, the country is not benefiting from the highly qualified manpower that it has.

The report added that there are far fewer numbers of staffers compared to student in Yemeni universities, leading to a poor pedagogy and outcomes.

Despite increases in spending on higher education, much of the plant and equipment is very poor and out of date. Resources are being allocated and used sub-optimally, mainly because the governance arrangements are unsatisfactory.

Monopoly by the Ministry of Finance has restrained the ability of public education institutes to use their funds according to their needs. The Finance Minister is the ultimate controller of the funds allocated for the public higher education sector. The Ministry of Higher Education is somewhat paralyzed when it comes to taking decisions on finances, let alone the universities themselves.

According to the report, there is no single or even coordinating responsibility for planning tertiary education among different governmental bodies. Furthermore, university leaders and individual members of staff do not feel empowered and committed and are usually not found accountable and responsive to the needs of Yemeni society.

The fact that over the years, other 'higher' governmental entities are in control of funds and take important decisions, universities were unable to develop the skills and knowledge necessary for effective self-management because they have always been manipulated and used by other powerful elements within the government.

The out-dated curricula in public universities have resulted in having graduates suffer high unemployment and hence preventing the economy from benefiting from the investment that is made in higher education.

Among the problems faced, the report said, is the fact that Community Colleges and Technical Institutes, which are relatively cheap and provide courses of great relevance to the employment market, account for a very small proportion of the student body.

Lax monitoring and lack of communication with private universities has discouraged them from developing and expanding in a way that is beneficial to the state. Private universities lack proper scrutiny to abide by rigorous quality and accreditation standards.

The report noted that among the challenges facing the higher education sector is the lack of a tradition of research or community service in Yemeni higher education.

With all of those problems in mind, the Ministry decided to propose a complete 5-year strategy to resolve those issues one by one with the assistance of the international donor community and stakeholders within the country.

The vision:

After assessing the situation on the ground and identifying the problems, the strategy proposes a complete master-plan. It calls it “a vision and mission for the development of higher education in Yemen” and the Ministry of Education believes that the strategy has set up realistic objectives and actions that will enable these to be achieved.

The Ministry hopes the actual implementation of the plan could start in two years. “However, the actions are prioritized according to whether their implementation should begin immediately, within 18 months, or within two years,” the report said.

The most pressing issues that need to be given highest priority, the report noted, is the issue of 'reform of governance and autonomy'. ” without this, other reforms are unlikely to be effective.” it said. The second and third priorities concern investment and quality assurance, which are not less important, according to the strategy, but can only be implemented once the autonomy condition is met.

It is not always the issue of money the strategy affirms in various parts of its report. In fact, the Ministry believes that some measures proposed “will save money”. The proposal for systematic renewal of the laboratory and equipment infrastructure, as well as the proposal for improvements in the staff:student ratio will require continuing capital and recurrent investment. However, there will still be need for a significant injection of capital funds for other projects.

It is in this scope that donor assistance, according to the report, is most likely to be forthcoming “for limited investment in specific, self-contained, projects, and particularly projects of a capital nature”.

The Ministry hopes that its present analysis should help convince donors to give grants in support of the projects proposed. “Beyond that, most of the cost of these proposals will fall to the public purse, and to income that universities can raise for themselves, including from student fees.” the report added.

The strategy proposes steps to do the following:

– To expand access to universities and other higher education institutions, particularly in the age group (19-23) from the current 13% to 16% during the third five-year plan and to reach 35% by the year 2025.

– To improve the quality of the graduates of universities and other higher education institutions with particular emphasis on acquiring breadth and depth of knowledge, problem-solving skills, critical and creative thinking, communication skills in both Arabic and English, lifelong learning, IT skills, and proactive participation in achieving their personal and national aspirations.

– To develop and strengthen the policy-making, planning, coordination, and monitoring capabilities of the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research to supervise and guide the continuous development of higher education institutions in the Republic of Yemen.

– To develop universities and other higher education institutions vertically and horizontally, initiate or open new disciplines, and diversify programs that meet local, national, and regional labor market needs.

– To improve the effectiveness and efficiency of higher education institutions to enable them to rationalize the use of the available resources, and enhance the added-value of higher education.

– To prepare future faculty members (junior teaching staff) to meet the quality improvement and expansion needs of Yemeni universities in leading or prestigious universities to ensure the quality of teaching, learning, and research and competitiveness in Yemeni universities according to international standards in the age of globalization.

– To implement the current design of the national and institutional ICT high-speed network and provide all its infrastructure needs as well as its human resources needs for all universities and other higher education institutions to enable them to keep up with international developments in the areas of teaching, learning, research, governance, and service, including distance and electronic learning.

– To establish the national academic accreditation and quality assurance councils to assess and evaluate all universities and other higher education institutions, and ensure the quality and excellence of both public and private institutions according to international standards.

– To enhance the institutional capacity of higher education institutions to govern, and provide high quality programs on permanent bases so as to meet the sustainable development needs of the country, and to keep-up with the accelerating developments in higher education at the international level.

– To provide the necessary resources for the universities' and other higher education institutions' infrastructure to enable them to provide access to teaching, learning, and scientific research according to the current and the future needs of the society.

– To restructure universities and other higher education institutions to promote diversification of programs and institutions, and reduce un-necessary duplications in accordance with the higher education sector vision, and with the country's developmental needs.

– To diversify the sources of funding of all universities and other higher education institutions, including private institutions, and encourage them to increase their self-supporting funds, and involve the private sector in funding and developing them.

– To build and enhance the institutionalization of a democratic culture in universities and other higher education institutions to strengthen national unity, and to participate in building a unified democratic Yemen, that stands on the Islamic creed, and its higher values of justice, good, equality, and tolerance.

– To strengthen coordination and collaboration between and within universities and other higher education institutions to maximize the integration at the sector level, and to enhance its added -value to society as a whole.

– To develop a well-rounded and integrated personality in students that is strongly linked to Yemeni society and its Arabic-Islamic culture, which is able to meet positively the challenges of globalization in the twenty-first century.

– To institutionalize strong university-based research in the country that tackles the country's developmental needs, and lays the basis for productive partnership between universities, government, and the private sector in accelerating the development of the country in the various fields.

The Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research has noted that it is only through dedicated efforts by those responsible in the different governmental bodies that the strategy could come into life. The ambitious strategy is the first of its kind and observers believe that if it succeeds, it could well be a model for similar strategies for various other public sectors that need an overhaul.