JORDAN: Plan to raise bar for university admission

The proportion of Jordan's secondary school graduates to be admitted to university is to be cut by up to a third in an effort to improve the quality of university education and outcomes, under new national reform plans.

Universities will no longer have to accept students just because they have passed secondary school examinations and will be able to set their own admissions criteria and exams.

Jordan's Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research and university presidents have prepared a three-year higher education reform plan covering the years 2012-15 to develop the quality of education and produce graduates who meet market needs and can compete locally, regionally and internationally.

A World Bank report, published in June, indicated that Jordanian higher education needed reform to tackle continuing high graduate unemployment rates, adapt curricula to new school-leavers and adapt admission procedures to the criteria of the knowledge economy.

Under the action plan, outlined in The Jordan Times, the country's 10 public universities will obtain greater independence regarding student admissions. The grade attained in Tawjihi (the general secondary examination) will no longer be the main requirement for admission, which will be supported by pre-admission examinations and interviews.

Each university will tailor its admission criteria and will select students according to their capabilities and their performance during the first year, depending on the subject they are studying.

Some universities have already started implementing the scheme for certain subjects, including veterinary studies, where students were able to submit applications directly to universities and not through the Unified Admission Committee affiliated with the ministry.

Students wishing to study architectural engineering will apply directly to universities from 2012.

The plan also includes raising the minimum admission average gradually in certain majors, to improve higher education outcomes.

According to the plan, the Higher Education Council will authorise only 60% to 70% of Tawjihi graduates at universities instead of the current 90%, with unsuccessful applicants directed to polytechnic studies. Efforts will be made to guarantee the quality of technical education to make this route more appealing.

Community colleges will be classified into two types - academic and technical - which, although financially and administratively independent, will be affiliated with nearby universities that teach the same subjects. The arrangements will be supervised by the ministry, to assist institutions in the initial period.

Wajih Owais, Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research, told The Jordan Times: "Annually, the number of students enrolled in universities increases by 8,000 to10,000, which means we have to open a new university every year to absorb them. Polytechnic studies are the best alternative."

Internationally, Owais noted, around half of secondary school graduates go to universities and the rest go to technical colleges.

As the first step in implementing the plan, draft laws governing higher education such as the Higher Education and Scientific Research Law and the Universities Law, are being reviewed by parliament's education, youth and culture committee.

New legislation should ensure greater independence for universities by providing their boards of trustees with more academic, administrative and financial authority.

The action plan seeks the government's help to pay back all state universities' debts, raise annual support from JD70 million (US$99 million) to JD120 million for a three-year period and increase annual funding for the Student Fund from JD6 million to JD20 million.

King Abdullah II of Jordan directed the government to increase financial support for state universities, as recommended in the action plan, according to The Jordan Times.

Regarding scientific research, the plan called for the establishment of more laboratories and the allocation of 5% of each university's budget for research purposes.

Talal Abu-Ghazaleh, Chairman of the Jordan-based Arab Organisation for Quality Assurance in Education, told University World News the action plan was an "urgent and vital step for reforming education at Jordanian universities and transforming them into regional hubs of excellence as well as valuable resource for business, industry and society".