The Future of Yemen’s Higher Education and Skills Training The Value in the NGO Higher Education Conference [Archives:2000/24/Culture]

June 12 2000

Abdullah A. Fadil
Lecturer of Management & Labour Relation in Canada
Consultant in International Development

The organizers of the NGO Higher Education Conference have set out for themselves and the conference a few modest yet ambitious goals and objectives:
– Improve the Higher Education System in Yemen, and formulate admission polices, according to labor market needs and the country’s human development strategy.
– Upgrade curricula and teaching methods of Sciences and technology.
– Increase women’s enrollment and participation in Higher Education.
– Enhance the meaning of the Technical and Vocational Training.
– Introduce financial alternatives to support Higher Education programs such as private Distance Education and Open Flexible education.
– Adopt and spread the concepts of Human Rights and Democracy through Higher Education programs.
These are lofty ideas, yet the fact that serious discussions are taking place points to the resoluteness of Yemenis to move forward in bettering their society. The first four of these objectives could be achieved in short to mid term time frames. The last two are in the long term range. Nonetheless, if these goals are to come to fruition, priorities will have to be decided. However, the commitment and the participation of leaders from all walks of life will be the key ingredient to any success. These leaders have to be on board and must be made to realize the importance of heavy investment in education and in expanded enrollment of studies of both genders and the link of these factors to the future economic growth and prosperity of Yemen.
Strengthening Higher Education:
University education in Yemen should remain wedded to what universities were intended to be, that is a place where long term views of development, research and soul searching take place. If universities are made to respond to the vagaries of the markets, then would we ever have graduates of arts, poetry, literature, anthropology and so forth? The self-evident question is not because there are no apparent demands from the market for these fields. Yet these areas of study are fundamental to the fabric of the Yemeni society and to its ability to know and learn from its history so as to shape it and protect it for future generations. Opening new universities and consequently spreading thin resources even more thinly may not be a desirable goal. Strengthening these already existing seven public universities and providing the needed infrastructure for the private ones while allowing for different universities to specialize in different areas may be a viable solution. I would not go so far as to put a moratorium on opening new universities, but quality rather than quantity should be the guiding principle. Some fields in university studies can also be made to respond to labor market demand but on a more long-term basis. The emphasized role of universities ought to remain twofold. In the short-run, universities should provide the necessary intellectual and analytical rigor required for a meaningful contribution to society. In the long-run, research should be the focal point of university’s existence.
However, vocational, technical, as well colleges should be made to respond to the immediate needs and demands of the labor market. In this regard the involvement of the private sector is a key ingredient. The establishment of nation-wide public Technical Community Colleges would be one such response. Hence, a parallel University/College system which allows students to choose depending on their preferences and abilities seems to be in order. Private colleges should only fill any gap left by the publicly funded ones. With the economic means of most Yemenis, accessibility to higher education will prove to be a deciding factor for many.
Moreover, more and more women have also to be incorporated in the technical and vocational areas. To date, most Yemeni women graduates, regardless of area of study, hope to become at best executive secretaries. Why should the literacy rate of Yemeni women (illiteracy of women hovering around 70-80%) increase if they are ever doomed to being secretaries? The talents of Yemeni women can be better utilized by appreciating their expertise and capability of bearing responsibilities according to their education, skills, knowledge, ability, and dedication and not by the sole criterion of gender.
Benefits for Democracy and Human Rights:
Most rich countries are democratic and most democracies are rich. This clich becomes even more true if we say that, most skilled nations are not only rich but also democratic. As people develop better skills, their earning potential increases. With higher incomes people will demand better education, health, and transparency of governmental institutions, namely more democratic institutions and society. Good examples of where this has taken place are the cases of South Korea and Indonesia. Of course, this pattern was long established in all of the now industrialized countries.
Bright Future Ahead:
Before Singapore became a small rich and highly skilled island, it was simply an underdeveloped, ‘backward’, and agrarian society. Within thirty years Singapore has become an economy and a nation to be reckoned with because leaders of that country have realized the importance of investing in education and technical skills training. The example of countries that fit this profile is numerous, including most of the so-called Asian Tiger countries. Yemen has always been a country that relied on its human rather natural resources. Investing in higher education and skills training will be the ticket to Yemen’s future economic growth and social and political stability. It may not be far fetched to imagine that foreign investment will come to seek skilled, strategically located, and equally important, cheap source of labor where a major part of the region’s products and eventually services can be produced ..i.e. a hub of Arabian peninsula where Yemen becomes within the next 20 years a Low Skilled Equilibrium country, where products of lower quality and lower cost are produced. This within itself will be a giant step forward and a bit ambitious, but nonetheless achievable.