Universities in Yemen: Too many students and unqualified graduates Is it Time to Scrap University Education? [Archives:2001/17/Reportage]

April 23 2001

Imad Alsaqqaf
& Farooq Al-kamali
Yemen Times

With the birth of Sana’a University in 1978, university education began in Yemen. The beginning had been with the three colleges: Education and Shari’a and Law. In 1982, faculties of medical and engineering were added.
In the South, university education started with the opening of Aden University in September 1975.
Following the Unity, five other universities were opened in Taiz, Hadramout, Ibb, Dhamar and Hodeidah. Five other national and private universities have also sprung up.
The setting up of these institutions of higher learning was an inevitable step to absorb the huge numbers of secondary school graduates who have no alternative other than joining a university. For technical and vocational education polytechnics are prevalent in the country.
The disproportionate swelling of university students, led to a wrong conceptualization of university education. While students of these institutions were previously seekers of knowledge in all seriousness, the present generation of students understand university education as a cosmetic luxury. Consequently, education has undergone a deplorable devaluation. This degeneration is the result of the thoughtless policies which do not prepare graduates for labor market requirements. Both sectors, public and private, therefore, find these graduates unsuitable for employment.
Yemeni Universities and the role of enlightenment
Unfortunately universities in Yemen are but concrete jungles; centers of corruption, providing substandard instruction and signing contracts with unqualified instructors. Thirty-nine years have elapsed since the revolution, out of which thirty years have passed since the opening of Sana’a University. But still our universities are teaching theoretical inputs that are far from reality.
And while there is development in universities’ infrastructure, text-books and teaching methods continue to be traditional and outdated. Most of the teaching staff are expatriates.
Thus, in such a deteriorating scenario, can we expect a better future for our students?
Is it realistic to dream of real development and a strong economic boost while our universities remain weak and the graduates they produce are below standard?
Can we adjust ourselves to globalization and the data-revolution when our universities lack minimal modern technical devices and resources?
Yemen Times, in a bid to assess the current educational ecology in the universities and explore possible ways of their improvement, met a section of university students, rectors and instructors.
Students’ perceptions about the Education
Farouk Asami sees the state and private universities as nothing but institutions to fill street with illiterate masses who have certificates but no real education. He adds: “The out-dated syllabus of the universities, primitive methods and lack of concern for scientific and technical education, are some of the major reasons behind the low-standard in our universities.” Asami believes: “The recruitment of the professors is based on low-wage and financial considerations, neglecting important factors such as professional qualification, experience and morals – things which lead to a unhealthy academic climate. Instructors blackmail students forcing them to buy the handouts prepared by them and even behave immorally with them.”Fadel Anahari says: “As a university student, I have some points which in my view serve to dilute our educational standards. First the absence of set text-books offers opportunities for instructors to force the handouts, which is meant to create good returns for both: instructors and the publishers. Second: the absence of extracurricular activities. The fees collected from the students for cultural activities are diverted to cover framed expenses of universities’ executives. Third: political-parties’ interference is contributing to lower universities’ levels. To eradicate these problems, steps such as: signing contracts with real qualified instructors, the immediate implementation of the University Text-Book Project, support for the activities for which fees have been paid by students, banning political disputes on campuses and, positive cooperation from the government leading to higher university – level education should be taken urgently.
Contrary to the previous views, Difa’ Saleh Naji, a female student says: “Students are to blame for the present situation. They are not hard workers, neglect research and reading.” She adds: “the weak student’ casual visit to libraries reflect their callousness to enhance their academic standards.”Tair Qasem Al-Khowbani, however, feels: “Bribery and nepotism prevalent in the university, has resulted in passing careless students, while other hard working and meritorious students obtain grades lower than their level.”Zaher Tawfiq Assakaf, says: “Reasons behind the low standard of university education may be the unclear policies of acceptance of secondary school graduates, the low-level of instructors, weak materials which are incompatible with the actual needs, absence of scientific and academic seminars and scarcity or non availability of reference materials, as well as a lack of library facilities.” Zaher adds: “I would like to emphasize that corruption and bribery has led to weakening of our higher educational institutions.”

The Perspective of the University
Dr. Saleh Ali Basura, Aden University Rector, said: “First, thanks to Yemen Times for their attention to the dilemmas facing higher education and trying to find remedies for them. Regarding university education, there is no deterioration, a word which I dislike to use and would rather substitute with “decline”; this word can be used to describe graduates. Lack of specialization in theoretical knowledge or acquired skills during theoretical and practical studies.” Mr. Basura added: “decline of theoretical and practical standard is, also, an issue that can’t be generalized. There are graduates whose academic levels are equivalent to, or even higher than graduates from advanced foreign universities. These cases are certainly few. But in general, the standards are low and there are many reasons behind this” Dr. Basura listing reasons, said: “First, the numbers of students accepted in university are huge. In comparison, the resources available at the universities are limited in terms of lecture halls, libraries, labs., workshops, and instructors. Such a situation affects the resultant quality of the students’ acquisition of knowledge. In the absence of poly-technic institutions, universities have no option than to resort to adhoc means to solve a social commitment, instead of their playing expected roles as institutions for preparing a qualified work-force. Second, most of the universities’ requirements have become out-of-date. Workshops, labs and, sometimes, the chemical substances are non existent. The libraries are poor, information or data nets are limited and expensive. Therefore, higher scientific and technical education has become theoretical. Thus, graduates are ill-equipped with knowledge for skilled work.”Third, the human and social science students, have increasingly focused on theoretical knowledge. Few of these send their students for practical exposure at out-of-campus institutions. Certainly, this affects negatively the graduates’ standards. Of course, universities have been trying to follow system of need-based education but have received lukewarm response from the public and private organizations to absorb these students as trainees. Forth, there exists a general weakness in the educational standards of the secondary schools graduates who indulge in cheating to pass the exam. There are students whose grades are high in the secondary schools certificates, but they fail when sitting for the Acceptance Exams. Failures, sometimes, reach 50% of the total accepted students. Cheats are the consequences of a weak syllabus, teachers, huge numbers of students and an unholy alliance between the school and the parents. Fifth, some of the instructors are incapable of communicating effectively. They lack teacher training. Others do not develop their knowledge or up-date it. Therefore, they repeat their out-of-date materials delivered to students. A third group found among instructors are preoccupied with their own business or engaged in teaching at other national colleges. Sixth, the poor living conditions also contribute to students’ academic standards. Some parents fail to offer fundamental requirements of their children because of financial reasons. There are students who are unable to pay for the handouts, not to mention references, computer use.. etc. Seventh, pressure from official and personal mediations to accept some of the students who had very low grades in their secondary school certificates. Other forms of mediations do work to exert pressure on the colleges to re-enroll failure cases or those terminated.”How to achieve better results?
The above reasons, therefore, partially or generally, lead to the weak and low outputs in higher education. Though the state universities attempt to remedy part of the problems, they are naturally unable to deal with all of the others. It is necessary to present a vision and program to modernize this type of education in which other institutions involved should take part, such as Ministry of Education, Planning, Finance, civil services and the private sector.
Adequate funding constitutes the crux of the problem which would go a long way to solve educational problems, It can provide technical institutes for the society, improve conditions of buildings, labs, workshops, libraries and supply data-net equipment. Finance, too would facilitate the process of instructors’ objective evaluations. Offering good payments, making available funds for the needy and meritorious students are some other measures which need to be taken.
Students are to Blame
According to Dr. Abdulla Almujahed, Rector of Dhamar University, students are the main cause for weakening of the higher education. He says: “University education has recently registered remarkable improvement. Our university, which was opened four years ago, has been able to provide syllabuses, professional and permanent instructors, keeping in view the equation between academic studies and employment market.
“Students are only interested in obtaining certificates, high grades and others seek, through certificates, only better living conditions. However, since students constitute the ‘raw-material’ of universities they need to be provided with basic amenities. Efforts should be made to improve needy students’ living conditions. This can be achieved by arranging specific financial-aids. There are many students who do not attend lectures because they are employed. High percentages among the ones who are enrolled are ignorant; some even wrongly write their names in addition to the absolutely illegible hand-writing. Such students, I believe, ought to attend remedial-training camps. Most of our students come from the country-side and reside in “shops”; and suffer adverse psychological effects that are reflected in their assimilation abilities.
Limited Facilities and lack of encouragement for Scientific Research
Dr. Salem Awad Mouda, Deputy President of Hadramout University for Sciences and Technology said: “First, we must not forget how different fields are affected due to our backwardness which our 26th September Revolution had inherited. Happily, Yemen had Sana’a University in the beginning of the seventies. This was followed by wide expansion in higher education during the nineties and after the Unity. There were 15 universities, out of which 7 were sponsored by the State. Groups of graduates were supplied to the job market, while all university requirements were limited. Eventually, negative effects affected the higher education system and some of the graduates were unable to perform satisfactorily in their jobs. Basically, the pre-university level of education with its various dilemmas, resulted in providing weak outputs to higher education. To be fair, we ought to mention how new universities, including Hadramout University for Sciences and Technology, attempt to develop non-stereo-type higher education. These adopted methods, and instructional objectives, satisfy economic and social needs of the society and the employment market. We still look forward to evaluating these strategies.”
Dr. Salem added: “Broadly speaking, there are some flaws in the higher education systems, accentuated by the limitation in terms of a lack of trained instructors and improved methodology of teaching. This has crated serious educational handicaps. We ought to point out that the expansion of national universities has effected some of the state universities such as Sana’a and Aden universities. Some of these negative effects relate to obtaining a qualified cadre of teaching staff, up-to-date labs. Libraries ..etc. These national institutions were not established in accordance with the required conditions, let alone their low acceptance of grades of college entrants.”Dr. Kasim Barih, President of Hodeidah University said: “Lack of proportion between huge numbers of students and limited instructors adversely affects the situation. Moreover, our facilities are limited. Therefore, there is a low-level of achievement among students.”Dr. Barih added: “I don’t agree with you that there is a deterioration in higher education. Though the development is limited, higher education progresses. There is an improvement in teaching methods and establishment of laboratories. But to generalize, Yemen’s universities still lack better skills in fields of academic development and curriculum planning, where dependence on expatriate instructors’ experiences is still observed.”And about how to improve the performance of the higher education sector, Professor Aljoufi commented: “The revised Yemeni university regulations provided for a building to house a special unit for academic development. Moreover, it was stipulated that the Supreme Universities Council would coordinate efforts to maintain the performance standard among the universities as well as identify potential problems.”Dr. Ali Mohamed Almikhlafi, Deputy President for Academic Affairs – Taiz University, said: “Thank you for your concern towards this subject that is of utmost importance and which deserves official and social consideration. I consider the following to be the most potent reasons leading to deterioration of higher education; the pre-university education by unqualified teachers, especially those graduating from Institutes which were previously called Teachers Institutes, as well as the parents and their focused attention on obtaining the certificates, regardless of how these were obtained. Entrance to universities with low-standards is a matter which forces university executives to take the realities of the situation into consideration and be reconciled to the steady ‘lowering’ of the instructional standard. Moreover, the absence of other curricular and extra curricular components such as cultural and sports activities, seminars, and conferences adds to the malady. Instructors find themselves doing jobs similar to intermediate and secondary schools. Students do not attend the libraries; and depend on reading instructors’ handouts only. Certainly, instructors have their share of problems. They are to orient and direct their students towards libraries, references and research work. The three parties: university executives, instructors and students seem to be irresponsible. They neglect utilizing the present facilities available to them. Last but not least, absence of a proper educational planning system is playing havoc with the future careers of our students.
Expenditure Volume
Statistics offered by Dr Ahmed Ali Al-Haj point to an increase in university education expenditure, from around half billion rials in 1960 to nine billion rials in 1998. Nevertheless, investment in university education did not achieve the benefits expected from it because it has qualified a labor force that is not needed by the market nor for development programes. Thus this has put heavy burdens on development process, causing many obstacles that has weakened the process of development itself. It has also aggravated the crisis of unemployment.