New horizons for technical education in Jordan

Mashhoor Al-Refai
Mashhoor Al-Refai is president of Princess Sumaya University for Technology. (Photo: Jordan News)
His Majesty King Abdullah II recently announced that the government's priority this year would be to focus on combating unemployment and providing sustainable job opportunities, with the need to continue developing an environment for vocational training and technical education, equipping young people with the skills needed to meet the requirements of the labor market, and changing the culture associated with vocational jobs. اضافة اعلان

His Majesty also indicated that the demand for technical education and vocational training is still below the desired levels. From this crucial and articulated point in particular, and based on what we have grown to expect from His Majesty the King, in terms of his great and continuing interest in higher and technical education in particular, and his tireless concern with ways to develop it, I will address the possible advancements that our country needs in the foundation, structure and philosophy of technical education.

At a time when the developed world has witnessed a shift toward vocational and technical education, most Arab countries unfortunately suffer from low demand for this type of education. The percentage of those enrolled on such a pathway, among the total registered in higher education in the Arab world, ranges between 10 percent and 35 percent. That is, the pyramid is inverted, and thus the labor market faces a clear inflation in the number of university graduates from non-vocational academic programs, and suffers from a significant shortage of technicians and those trained in vocational jobs.

During successive governments, the need for an advanced system for vocational and technical education and training has been a topic of discussion, due to its importance in master plans such as “Jordan Vision 2025” and the National Employment Strategy. Although progress has been made in this field over the past years, societal perceptions of this type of education among students and their families still prevail, as this path is seen as a second-class option for students.

We live in the era of science and technology, and information revolution, which dominates people’s minds and lives. Consequently, we see students gravitate toward what is practical and what can achieve tangible benefits for them. This discourages students from studying some disciplines they believe will be of no benefit to them in the labor market.

It is clear that technical education in Jordan has not yet reached the required level, its steps are still faltering despite the multiplicity of bodies concerned with this field, and the outputs are still unable to achieve the goals and ambitions for which these institutions were established. There is a lack of clarity on the relationship between technical education and vocational training, and an absence of integration formulas between them. Likewise, women were not given the opportunity to participate in technical education and the path was not laid open for them, especially in vocational occupations that suit their preferences and abilities.

Above all, we need to develop and implement a comprehensive and integrated strategy to harmonize and keep pace between educational outputs and the needs of the labor market by choosing programs that follow developments in the labor market in accordance with the skills of the 21st century and the Fourth Industrial Revolution. This can be aided by supporting partnerships between the public and private sectors, avoiding repetition in majors, freezing admission to saturated and stagnant majors, and establishing advisory councils and committees in universities in which representatives from the private sector participate.

Universities need to play a key role in nurturing gifted students and enhancing their talents in research and innovation through fruitful partnership programs, offering training on the latest technologies and artificial intelligence innovations, and benefiting from global experiences.

Due to the importance of this matter, which, once addressed, will serve to reduce poverty and unemployment, and increase economic growth, it is necessary to work on developing a practical, non-theoretical strategy to establish and develop technical education in its correct form, and to benefit from global experiences in this field.

We are working on a real assessment of the current technical education situation in universities and community colleges, so that we can develop plans and curricula to meet market requirements. All of this requires us to start rehabilitating and training a highly competent workforce, preparing programs according to international standards, and developing a plan to increase the percentage of students admitted to technical specialties in universities by 5 percent annually. It is also necessary to reduce the number of students admitted to humanities faculties and to close some stagnant majors.

We must also encourage public and private universities to develop quality technical education programs, with the involvement of the private sector and according to its needs. A further step is to conclude cooperation agreements with the Jordan Industrial Estates Company, to strengthen the link between universities and the industry sector, and allocate incentives and grants for outstanding students to join these programs in order to raise the competency and quality of technical education graduates.

All of the above requires us to coordinate with the Civil Service Bureau to amend legislation in a way that guarantees the granting of equitable job privileges to graduates of technical and vocational education, and to streamline the outputs of higher education with the needs of the labor market.

Since some of the existing specializations are not compatible with the labor market, it has become necessary for graduates to prepare themselves well for the requirements of an occupation that may differ from their academic studies. This occupation may make certain demands on them, the most important of which are practical training, use of technology, and mastery of the English language, as these conditions have become necessities in order for the graduate to make a smooth transition to working life.

In this aspect, as is well known, academic institutions in the industrialized countries always seek to conclude partnerships and twinning agreements with the private sector and the industrial manufacturing sector, so that specializations, especially engineering ones, are offered according to the needs of this active market. Thus, these disciplines serve as incubators for the industry sector, meaning that the industrial sector participates in the preparation of study plans.

The writer is president of Princess Sumaya University for Technology.

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