In universities, chance surmounts planning [Archives:2006/994/Reportage]

October 30 2006

Shaima Mahmoud
What indicates a country's progresses toward development and prosperity is a high rate of university graduates, particularly in practical and scientific areas as such majors meet demands of the labour markets. Within the labour markets, graduates can invest their skills and abilities in industry, agriculture and economy.

Training students in university needs to be seen in terms of quantity and quality and the provision of professors within different specializations, the reality of higher studies in this respect doesn't indicate that students are trained in compliance with future plans. Graduates must meet needs and requirements of development.

If the university education reveals that students in human sciences outnumber those in practical areas, the case is similar with those attending M.A and Ph.D. courses. The problem is nobody draws attention to the situation or says not to it, but feeling the necessity of surmounting the situation can create balance between graduates in both areas.

Yemen doesn't live in seclusion from the Arab World. It suffers the same education-related problems experienced in other Arab countries. But in Yemen situations look worse as a study prepared by Dr. Abdullah Al-Dhaifani, a professor at Taiz University, argues that interaction of higher education with the surrounding environment is weak.

Al-Dhaifani says higher education in Yemen is in seclusion from the community requirements of development and the changing environment. He says such educational institutions have no real role in serving development and the society.

The educational expert, Al-Dhaifani, presented his study at a symposium on economic and social reform and development in Yemen, which was organized by the Arab Center for Strategic Studies and the UN Economic and Social Committee for West Asia in Beirut.

Al-Dhaibani pointed out the large numbers of students enrolled in government and private universities in Yemen, but in contrast with the population these numbers are not high as there are only 50 students per 100,000 potential students, according to numbers released in 1990. But in 1998, the rate of university students rose to 800 per 100,000.

The university professors added that in 2002 and 2003, students enrolled in government and private universities numbered up to 193,242 of whom 181,350 students are enrolled in government universities and 11.892 students in private universities. According to Al-Dhaibani, students enrolled in universities constitute only 21 percent of male population and 6 percent of female population.

He indicated that 5.9 percent of male population and 1.1 percent of female at age 21 – 44 continue the postgraduate studies. University students constitute less than 2.3 percent of population in their twenties.

The researcher confirmed that the number of university graduates increased over time, but only a few of them can find jobs, and this affects the plan of administrative and financial reform and causes problems to the Yemeni society. He remarked that the number of university graduates rose from 2100 in 1990 to 20,000 in 1999 and the number is expected to reach 150,000 by 2015.

For his part, Dr. Ahmad Al-Kibsi, Vice Rector of Sana'a University for Academic Affairs, states that there is high tendency toward human sciences, saying “I think this phenomenon has to be limited and that students should be encouraged to join the modern and scientific areas such as computer, information technology.”

The problem is the Yemeni students avoid learning a foreign language and this is a point of weakness on the part of students, he added.

“Those who escape learning the foreign language prefer to study in Arab universities than universities in the U.S., Britain, German and France,” said Al-Kibsi.

According to Al-Kibsi, the problem is not due to a lack of qualified teachers.

“For us, Sana'a University has qualified teaching staff and facilities, but it lacks high tendency of learners toward majors needed by development and the society. We have a surplus of students attending courses on Islamic Education, Law, Literature and Economics,” Al-Kibsi stated. “I think the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, with its new leadership, has new policies to make education outputs cope with demands of the time.”

Asked whether the labour market suffer the lack of graduates specializing in scientific and practical areas, Al-Kibsi explained: “It is a mistake if you say that there is no labour markets for practical colleges' graduates, and therefore graduates of these colleges favor working in neighboring countries.”

Dr. Tawfiq Sefyan, Vice Rector of Sana'a University for Higher Studies and Scientific Research, says, “Yemen, with its population estimated at 20 million, there are only seven government universities and eight private universities. If we compare this number to the number of universities in western countries like Germany, France or Britain, with its 65 million strong population, one can find that there are more than one hundred universities in average in each of these countries, in addition to two fold this number of higher institutes. Such numbers of high educational institutions cannot meet the rising demand of population in these countries, either in human sciences or practical areas.”

“In Yemen, it is strange to see people complaining that the country is fed up with graduates specializing in human studies, however we hire teachers in these majors from abroad. Let us correct the concept; if we continue graduating students in these majors for 20 years, this is impossible to meet the growing demand of learners,” Sefyan continued. “We at Sana'a University never receive applications for Ph D courses in many faculties because we lack professors to supervise students. The Department of Islamic Studies, which, some say, is overloaded with students, lacks the required number of teaching staff.”

Sefyan added, “Really, we need large numbers of qualified professors to teach in different specializations; theoretical and practical.”

But the problem might also be a lack of enthusiam by all parties. Abdullah Al-Zawm, Professor of French Language at the Faculty of Arts, thinks students are the source of the issues.

“The new students each year don't seem to be as enthusiastic as students of the former batches, and the fact is attributed to new approaches to knowledge other than the university studies such as the Internet and media. Information has become available in different means other than the university education,” he said.

According to Al-Zawm, the university was thought as a new horizon to get rid of the routine of schools and students joining the university hope to enter a new phase in their lives. Applicants usually join the faculty selected by their relatives and friends and not the ones that suit them, and after a while it becomes clear that some students can't succeed in their studies.

As most of the university faculties rely on the theoretical subjects, students graduate from university but still lack the skills required by the labour market.

Ammar Adbuljawad, a first year student at the Faculty of Agriculture, says high school graduates keep think of ways to enter university, particularly those with low scores.

“I haven't thought to joint the Faculty of Agriculture, but it is the chance that forced me to apply for this faculty,” he said.

Some students planned on which faculty and major to take, but sometimes it doesn't work. Abdullah Al-Faqeeh, a graduate from the Faculty of Arts, could not get a job and this forced him to continue his postgraduate studies. “Really, I did not think enough at the time of enrolling in the university, as thinking of the future kills human beings, particularly in the shadow of current conditions, and therefore we see those who graduated before us staying idle without any work.”

Amani Yahya agrees with Al-Faqeeh. She graduated from the Laboratory Department, the Faculty of Medicine.

“Had I but thought shortly in what will happen after graduation, I wouldn't have joined the Laboratory Department. I studied for four years to seek a job that suits me for another four years. Now, I don't know what to do,” she explains.

Dr. Walayah Qaied, human resource expert, pointed out that students have to be aware of the majors needed by the labour market. With regard to this, there are two points, the first of which is that the school plays a good role in spreading awareness of students about the real-life situations and the demands of the labour market. The school should guide students to the required specializations. The other point is shared by the Ministry of Education and the labour market, as there should be planning and mutual coordination between both parties.

Qaied emphasizes the necessity of planning in the lives of youth, as the goals of youth have to be reached in favor of the society. Youths have to be encouraged to formulate their own goals, in addition to the plans that help them reach these goals.