Investing in Higher Education: A deal gone bad? [Archives:2008/1171/Business & Economy]

July 10 2008

By: YemenTimes Staff
The third five-year strategic development plan of Yemen puts great emphasis on the improvements in education, and how important it is to make substantial investments in the availability and quality of education if this strategic plan is to succeed. The reference to education is not limited to theoretical development plans and strategies but it is an integral part of any political discourse referring to a brighter future for the Yemeni people.

As translated into the national budget, investment in education has substantially increased as a percentage increasing from 10.2% in 2002 to 14.17% in 2006, similarly, 18% of all new infrastructure investments were in the education sector, in terms of construction of schools and colleges as well as training staff, equipment, and other educational investments. However, the increased investments, especially for primary education, are still short of the need according to a recent UN survey, which indicates that Yemen needs all the help the international community can offer in order to achieve the millennium challenge goal and diminish illiteracy, and reduce the gender gap in school enrollment.

But where does higher education fall into all this? The five-year plan puts an emphasis on the construction of new colleges and facilities, establishment of two new universities, but puts very little emphasis on catching up with the rest of the world on the most advanced learning techniques and updating curricula, resulting in severe hardships and shocks for university graduates when they join the job market. Official statistics indicate that there are over 200,000 university graduates who are either unemployed seeking employment or underemployed, while a total of 11,157 university graduates were able to find jobs during 2007. In this report, YemenTimes examines further that is needed for improving investments in Higher Education from the university lecturers and students as well.

There are eight public universities in Yemen, hosting 87 facilities out of which 50 are theoretical and 37 are technical, providing diplomas, degrees, and post-graduate certifications, graduating around 25,000 students every academic year, out of which 33 % are female graduates.

Professors vs. Students vs. Employers

University professors indicate that learning is the student's primal responsibility, and a significant amount of this learning should be self-driven by students, with a little guidance from their professors, says Dr. AbdulRahim Al-Shawri, professor in the faculty of media, adding that students complain they their academic studies do not qualify them for the job market, but during the course of the study, students are not concerns with getting qualified for the job market, but their primal concern is how to get a higher grade in their exams.

Further reiterates Dr. Abdulaziz Al-Sho'aibi, dean of the faculty of commerce, stating that if the student is to succeed in his life he has to depend on his own effort, not the professor's teaching effort, and a student must prepare himself for the role he is going to take thereafter, and students simply do not have that sort of vision.

But students have a very different perspective on the subject matter, believing that their enrollment in academic education is the means to employment and a better life, says Mohammed Al-Hadhri, student in the faculty of arts: “It isn't my fault that the curricula is not relevant or the professors cannot relate to the job market, when I am here to learn about a specific subject, there shouldn't be a very huge gap between what we study in the university and what is out there, this makes enrolling in university a waste of time and a very questionable step”.

Huda Al-Sarri, student in the faculty of engineering, says that university education teaches you only the basics of science that is usualy not relevant in the job market, you no longer need to know algebra to perform math, a calculator and a computer will do that for you, but I spent a year learning stuff I know I will never use on the job market.

Hazim Saleh agrees adding: “university degrees should be result focused, and this learning process should aim at qualifying students to be able to join the job market, not teach things that are no longer relevant, just because it is in the curricula or the professor knows a great deal about it in the 70s, why must we?”

AbdulRab Salman, pharmaceutical student, disagrees, stating that in his major the job market only requires one to know the names of the brands of the drugs, and is far behind what is taught in the university, therefore energetic and creative students are crushed by the realities of the job market and are over qualified for retailing drugs per their commercial names.

Afra Azan, who work in an employment agency, states that there is huge difficulty for students to exhibit their uniqueness from others, especially since grades are not much of a determining factor given experience with high scoring students who do not well with employers. A university should produce sophisticated humans, not glossy certificates, and unfortunately this is what I see.

AbdulBari Rajeh, a human resources manager in a local industrial company, says that resumes and qualifications are very misleading, employers seek staff who have experience, as experienced staff do not need much training and are more mature to deal with, comparing to fresh graduates who think that their qualifications are worth while.

What needs to be done?

If the government's vision is to succeed, a fundamental change in how higher education is conceptualized, administered and implemented should take place, students feel frustrated as their results of their education disappoints their expectations, while professors believe that students are not doing their proper role in the educational process, while employers continue to seek able staff and they are not getting that from the current educational process.