Hadramout University says no to Syrian education system [Archives:2006/975/Reportage]

August 24 2006

Interview by: Sa'eed Al-Batati
How do you find the university after assuming the post of the rector?

At the outset, no one denies the effort of the university's former leadership, but the task set before us is to develop what is available and suggest solutions to any persistent problems.

People who ran the university before us had pursued the Syrian system of teaching that is maintaining the Arabic Language and making it one of the primary subjects even in scientific specializations. The Syrian system of schooling tends to translate the scientific materials from other languages into Arabic, as the Syrians don't have their own scientific syllabuses.

When we evaluated the educational process at the university, we found that students, particularly those enrolled in the Faculty of Engineering, were studying poor courses in Arabic. We paid closer attention to assessing the university syllabuses and examining their convenience with real-life situation, as soon as we took office in September 2003. We then issued decisions on generalizing the learning of English to help students obtain information from their real sources better than having an access to information via translated books.

How do you assess the university education throughout Yemen?

I think the university education in the country started to improve after excluding political activities from university platforms.

Hadramout University is the first one to cancel the Faculty of Education. Can you say why?

Let me tell you that we did not cancel faculties of education; rather we developed them in a way that links the university with market demands. This view was not confined to education faculties, but it included all educational and scientific faculties as the curricula were evaluated, in addition to other educational means.

Before its development, Faculty of Education was a mixture of arts and science as well as other educational subjects such as teaching methodology, psychology and other subjects. Unfortunately, these subjects were taught at the cost of the primary subjects. When these subjects are mixed together, they make the student graduate after four years while he is not qualified enough to teach the primary subjects.

The first step we made was to divide the faculty of education into two faculties, faculty of arts and faculty of science. Later on, we built up the curriculum and students can get a B.A or B.Sc, thus enabling them to work in their own field with high competence. Those wishing to join the education sector have to attend courses for an additional year in order to study requirements for primary subjects such as methods and psychology. These qualified graduates will replace those coming from abroad. This project was adopted by other universities and this is what we pride.

When meeting with a number of Medicine and Engineering students, most of them expressed dissatisfaction with the practical side on the part of students enrolled at the faculty of petroleum engineering who did not work with oil though they belong to a governorate rich with in oil. How do you comment on this?

What is said about the lack of practice in the university is not correct. Now, we have labs worth $ 2.3 million. They are among the most advanced labs. We bought the same equipment available at European universities. Additionally, we adopted strong curricula in English and brought teachers with rare specializations. All these things cost a great deal.

It is true that we have trouble in how to make teachers adapt to using English as the media of instruction. Yet, we believe they can surmount these difficulties via contact with other teachers. Any one paying a visit to the Faculty of Engineering now is due to appreciate the way things go on.

Hadramout University is one of the rich universities and the luckiest among Yemeni universities in terms of receiving government support and having a board of trustees including prominent businesspersons. Is this information correct?

Hadramout University is not rich, but as the university was established, people believed that it is the richest one. The university's budget is small compared to Sana'a University where the paid-seat program contributes more than YR 1 billion to its budget per year. If I had this money, I would have made Hadramout University one of the best educational institutions. We cannot deny the role played by the council of trustees in supporting the university, but what does matter is how to establish relations with others.

What are the difficulties facing the academic work at the university?

There are difficulties facing each project. At Hadramout University, we have some goals we are working hard to reach. One of the goals is to improve skills of the teaching staff by giving them scholarships to attend programs abroad and let them contact outside professors.

We had been lacking a hospital for the university, but now we were gifted Prince Sultan University Hospital, one of the biggest hospitals throughout the country.

Why doesn't Hadramout University have media and economics faculties and do you have a plan to establish such faculties?

We hope to have all the faculties, but we have priorities in line with our facilities and plan to establish these in light of the economic profit. Any department is established according to the educational planning in the country. As there is a media faculty at Sana'a University, which meets the demands of the country for media graduates, there is no need to establish another media faculty at Hadramout University.

What are the reasons for petroleum companies' refusal to recruit Hadramout University graduates and what solutions do you suggest to prevent reoccurrence of the problem in the future?

We inherited this problem from our successors. The university graduates, particularly those who graduated from the Faculty of Petroleum, were not good in English. Petroleum companies refused to recruit the university graduates under the pretext that they are not good at English and no one could blame them.

We have sought funding resources to retrain these graduates with English. Later on, English teaching institutes opened and invited native speakers to teach. Then, we contacted Americans, British and Canadians and established the Canadian Institute at the university to retrain graduates with English. Realizing the significance of English, we generalized it in all the faculties at the university.

Some Hadramout University students in Malaysia appealed to the Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research to make them equal to students sent by other Yemeni universities in monthly allocations. They say they only get $ 600 per month while other students receive $ 2,000 to 3,000. Is it correct?

The students you are talking about were sent for scholarships via Sheikh Abdullah Ahmad Baqshan and not via the government and there is a difference in terms of allocations between the first group and the second. The government increased salaries recently by 20 percent and it helped raise allocations for its scholars, but this did not happen on the part of scholars sent by Sheikh Baqshan.

What is the women's share of education at Hadramout University and do traditions and habits affect female student's enrolment?

There is no difference between males and females at the university. What was said about traditions and customs is not right and is outdated. Female students enrolled in Hadramout University constitute 40 percent of the overall number of students and I appreciate female students occupying the topmost ranks in their classes.

What are your plans to make Hadramout University a distinctive educational institution?

Teaching in compliance with modern means is the base for improving the performance of the university, coupled with supplying students with modern labs and encouraging teachers to attend educational conferences. We work hard to make education qualitative to help students compete in the labour market in and outside our country. We don't want Hadramout University graduates to be taxi drivers.

What is your advice to students via the Yemen Times?

I want students to devote most of their time to learning and to pay closer attention to their specializations. A student enrolled in the Faculty of Engineering has to devote all his or her effort and so do physicians and other specialists. If you seek success, you have to concentrate on your specialization.

University History

Hadramout University for Science and Technology is a governmental institution, its official inauguration was Feb 8, 1996. Tts faculty of petroleum engineering was opened before other faculties. Now there are 7300 male and female students enrolled in 13 faculties at the university. Ali Hood Baabbad was the rector of the university until 2003 when Ahmad Omar Bamashmous, the current rector, took up the position.