SILVER LININGUniversities everywhere! [Archives:2008/1166/Opinion]

June 23 2008

Dr. Mohammed Al-Qadhi
Last Monday, President Ali Abdullah Saleh issued a decree establishing five new universities in Hajja, al Baidha, Abyan al Dhale and Lahj. Some might consider the decision as strategic and has a noble objective. But, in my point of view, it is really unwise and does not serve the need of the people and development at large.

We already have eight universities. And it seems it is becoming a fashion for whenever the president visits any governorate, he gives promises and instructions to set up a university. This is very much wrong.

Most of the existing universities are duplicating each other in terms of the specializations and the courses they offer. You find a faculty of medicine in all these universities; the same applies to faculties of education etc.

I believe in order to strengthen the market-oriented education, we need universities that offer courses that match with the labor market need. In other words, we can have two to three main universities and the rest should be specialized schools offering courses that go in line with the need of the surrounding environment and the available resources. There should be, for instance, a marine science school in Hodiedah and Aden which make use of the sea there. Similarly, there should be an agriculture school in Ibb and Thamar. This does not necessarily mean preventing such governorates from running their own universities. It rather means that each of such school should be distinguished in and focus on a particular science and can be thus a hub for students from all over the country. We do not necessarily need a university in each town and each village.

I doubt the president consulted the leadership of the ministry of higher education before taking the decision to establish five new universities all at once. Do we have the resources to operate these universities? Of course, we do not. And is there a vision for how these universities will function? I doubt.

Such a policy of operating universities in each governorate definitely means wasting resources for the budget that can be channeled to running three or four universities efficiently will be distributed among the rest of the universities. Consequently, this means weak institutions with less facilities and the result is a weak and unprofessional output that does not address the society welfare. In addition, bringing universities and colleges to each village turn such institutions into primary schools which make students lose enthusiasm about higher education.

Another issue is that the donors who are supporting education in Yemen will think the government is not serious about promoting education quality and thus might stop funding the programs they have now with the ministry of higher education.

Educational institutions should be established on ground of the need for them rather than political whims meant to appease a particular Sheikh or group.

I believe the president can take decisions about anything but not the education. If education is politicized and falls under the whims of politicians, the consequence is certainly catastrophic.

Dr. Mohammed Al-Qadhi ([email protected]) is a Yemeni journalist and columnist.