The Director of International Student Affairs at the Jordanian Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, Dr. Fada Al-Tamimi, said that foreign students constituted 14.2 per cent of the total number of students in Jordan in 2016-2017.
Al-Tamimi visited the embassies of China, India, South Korea and Ukraine in order to further recruit foreign students to study at Jordanian universities.
According to Al-Tamimi, the Jordanian government has been making efforts to attract more foreign students to the country, and is seeking cooperation agreements with these countries.
Al-Tamimi pointed out that the international students studying in Jordanian higher education institutions represent 107 nationalities. There is currently 400 Chinese students studying in Jordan.
According to the latest UNESCO's annual reports there are some 700,000 Chinese students, 124,000 South Korean students, 190,000 Indian students and 60,000 Ukrainian students studying outside their countries.
Jordan has one of the fastest growing university systems in the world. Currently 4.6% of the population is enrolled in a higher education program. The system serves over 300,000 students, and there is speculation that this rapid growth will continue over the coming decades. While a welcome trend, the current growth in higher ed is placing a strain on the small country’s education system. Combined with Jordan’s current brain drain, some estimates suggest that to the respond to the nation’s rising educational needs, it will need to recruit up to 6000 academic staff over the coming four years alone. To address the nation’s demand for higher education, eLearning in Jordan continues to grow and so far, evidence suggest that eLearning may be the most viable way forward.
The Development of eLearning in Jordan
In 2007, the Ministry of Higher Education (MoHE) in Jordan established a national eLearning strategy for higher education that sought “to support institutions of higher education in their move towards embedding eLearning appropriately using technology to transform education into a learner centric system that is internationally distinguished in its quality and impact, to foster innovation and excellence in teaching and learning, and to support employability of lifelong learning.” However, as emphasized by Adnan Aoum of Yarmouk University and colleagues in a recently published article in Advances in Social Science, “Efforts to integrate and embrace Technology-enhanced Learning (TeL) in university education over the past decade have been limited in scope and modest in achievements and success, mainly due to cultural and quality assurance issues and considerable technological infrastructure hindrances.” Change now appears likely as officials continue to look beyond their own borders for examples of how to integrate and assess eLearning in Jordan.
Assessment and Accreditation Efforts
A major obstacle facing Jordan in its quest to implement eLearning programs is assessment and accreditation. To respond to the challenge, a consortium of five Jordanian universities along with the Ministry of Higher Education (MoHE) and Higher Education Accreditation and Quality Assurance Commission (HEAC) recently joined forces with several European universities and quality assurance agencies to tackle the problem.
From 2013 to 2016, a project known as “Enhancing Quality of Technology-Enhanced Learning at Jordanian Universities” or EQTeL set out to promote reform and modernization of higher education in Jordan by introducing a national quality assurance system for online learning and improving, developing, and implementing accreditation standards, guidelines, and procedures for quality assurance of such courses on a national level. The long-term goal of EQTel is to develop new standards for online courses and support the professional development of the teaching staff, trainers, evaluators, official accreditation reviewers and higher education public authorities who help oversee such courses.
As part of the EQTeL initiative, three pilot courses were selected, designed and then delivered by several Jordanian universities. Over the course of three semesters, the courses were monitored for quality assurance. Key questions probed included the following: How effective were the instructors teaching the eLearning courses from the perspective of the students in comparison to traditional learning courses?Were there any statistical differences in students’ grades in the eLearning method in comparison with the traditional learning method? And what feedback can be drawn from faculty members, technicians, and students supporting the delivery of the courses? The results were highly encouraging.
eLearning in Jordan Receives High Marks
Over all, as reported by Anoun and colleagues, the pilot study revealed a strong enthusiasm for eLearning among Jordan’s students and faculty. First, as reported, the majority of students liked the courses. Indeed, 65% of students surveyed indicated that they would recommend their eLearning course to another student. Most critiques were technical (e.g., the system was too slow or went down too often) rather than pedagogical. Faculty were also supportive: “All faculty members expressed their satisfaction with the experience especially in terms of the quality of online education in general.” In general, the Jordan study found that eLearning outcomes were not significantly different from outcomes in traditional face-to-face classrooms but that the mode of delivery holds a significant benefit: the ability to reach a large number of students in a rapidly expanding higher education system.
The Jordanian cabinet approved the mandating reasons of the draft by-law of the Jordanian universities' ranking system, designed to enable the Higher Education Council to ensure a higher quality of education.
The universities will be ranked according to specific criteria, including scientific research and publications, the number of faculty members and enrolled students, in addition to the ratio of foreign students to the total number of students, among others, according to Higher Education Minister Adel Tweisi.
"The main aim of the by-law is to motivate universities to improve their programmes and educational outcomes. Having a local ranking system for higher educational institutions will also enhance their competitiveness in international rankings," he told The Jordan Times on Wednesday.
Tweisi noted that the by-law draft will soon be referred to the Legislation and Opinion Bureau, expecting it be applied as of next month.
On the other hand, at least one public university president criticised the ranking system as being "unfair", saying it cannot be applied to the vast majority of universities.
"The ranking criteria are unfair to most universities, especially those located in remote areas. For example, evaluating a university based on the number of foreigners is very illogical considering the fact they prefer universities in big cities," said president of Tafileh Technical University, Shteiwi Abdulla.
He added that there are less than 40,000 foreign students in Jordanian universities, with most enrolled in Amman and other main cities.
"The criteria will also assess the quality of professors, which is also unfair because those who are highly qualified serve at the University of Jordan [UJ]. The majority of professors in other universities will never be able to compete," Abdulla charged.
He noted that the number of faculty members at the UJ exceeds 2,000, while there are only 240 at his Tafileh-based university.
However, Tweisi highlighted that the evaluation system will be in the form of ranking rather than listing, which tends to determine the position of a country according to a list.
"The ranking will evaluate each programme offered at a university on its own. This means that Al Hussein Bin Talal University, for instance, might be on top in mining engineering or scientific research," the minister clarified.
Abdulla claimed that such a strategy will "not bode well", saying that competing in international rankings should be the focus of universities.
"International rankings are not partial and enable local universities to compete without favouritism, a thing that is unlikely to be the case in local rankings," he said, citing an Australian ranking that placed the Tafileh Technical University among the top five local universities in terms of technical education.
Other university presidents declined to comment on the issue or were unavailable despite several attempts to reach them by The Jordan Times.
When the World Science Forum kicks off on the shore of the Dead Sea in November, it will be the latest jewel in the crown for one of Jordan’s biggest champions of science. Princess Sumaya bint El Hassan successfully lured the high-profile biennial conference to the Middle East for the first time — part of Jordan’s ongoing push to transform itself into a regional research powerhouse. The country hopes to emphasize the power of science to transcend politics and war in the increasingly volatile Middle East.
It’s a tall order, but there are signs that these efforts are beginning to pay off for Jordan, which created its first national science fund in 2005. In February, the country cemented plans for a reticular-chemistry foundry, the world’s first. And in May, the Middle East’s first synchrotron, SESAME, opened near Amman with the backing of seven nations and the Palestinian Authority.
Jordan’s leaders see science, engineering and technology as an engine of economic growth for their 71-year-old country, which lacks the oil resources of many neighbouring states. The nation’s political stability and central location have aided these ambitions. So has its diplomacy: Jordan is one of the only places in the Middle East where scientists from Israel and Arab countries can meet. “We are all in the region facing issues with energy, water and the environment,” El Hassan says. “A bird with avian flu does not know whether there is a peace accord between Israel and Jordan, it just flies across the border.”
The princess did not set out to be an architect of Jordan’s science ambitions, however. In 1994, her father — the brother of King Hussein — asked the then-24-year-old art-school graduate to lead the board of trustees for an information technology college in Amman (now the Princess Sumaya University for Technology). El Hassan initially declined the job, but relented on the condition that she would first earn a computer-science diploma from the school.
Through that experience, El Hassan says, “I came to see science as a tool for human dignity. I began to see myself as a science enabler.” In 2006, she became president of the Royal Scientific Society, an applied-science institution in Amman that also facilitates research collaborations across Jordan.
The country has focused its science efforts on areas that could improve daily life for its citizens, such as energy development. “The country was dependent on oil in Iraq, and then natural gas from Egypt,” says Khaled Toukan, chairman of the Jordan Atomic Energy Commission. “The problem with these sole sources is that we were subjected to political changes, like the US invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of the Egyptian government.” Now, he says, Jordan is looking to exploit its uranium resources to include nuclear power, and it is exploring the potential of solar and wind energy.
The Jordanian government is also looking for ways to cope with one of the lowest levels of water availability in the world — a problem that has intensified with the recent influx of an estimated 1.3 million Syrian refugees. Some help could come from a partnership that the Royal Scientific Society announced in February with the University of California, Berkeley, to build a reticular-chemistry foundry. Reticular chemistry involves making porous crystals. It was pioneered by Jordanian chemist Omar Yaghi, who heads the Berkeley Global Science Institute and has developed materials that can harvest water from the atmosphere.
Still, Jordan faces a long climb to fulfil its scientific ambitions. The country spent just over 0.4% of its gross domestic product (GDP) on research and development in 2011, the latest year for which figures are available. That beats its wealthy neighbour Saudi Arabia (0.07% of GDP), but Jordan lags behind some nearby countries, such as Turkey. And although Jordan nearly doubled its yearly output of scientific publications between 2005 and 2014, from 641 to 1,093, the overall number remains small.
To help build research capacity, the government set up the Jordanian Scientific Research Support Fund in 2005. The fund was initially supported by a law that required all companies in Jordan to pay 1% of their profits into the fund. By 2012, when that statute was overturned, the fund had acquired US$85 million. It is now kept afloat by Jordan’s universities, which must spend 3% of their annual budgets on research or contributions to the fund. Between 2008 and 2016, the foundation gave a total of $35 million to 325 projects, mainly in the medical, pharmaceutical and agricultural sciences.
Abeer Al Bawab, a chemist who in March became director of the fund, is thinking deeply about how to monitor its success. “The oldest university in the country is only 55 years old, and the support fund has just been around for ten years,” she notes. Because Jordan is still building its culture of science, Al Bawab says that metrics such as the rate of scientific publications are not by themselves the best indicators of progress. She hopes to quantify the intersections between academic research, science policy and the private sector.
In the meantime, El Hassan hopes that the World Science Forum will help to raise the profile of science in the eyes of the Jordanian public. “A generation of analytical thinkers and risk takers,” she says, “is something I’d like to see.”
Three Jordanian universities are among the top 28 academic institutions in the Arab world, according to Times Higher Education's ranking for 2017. The findings were published last week in the Times Higher Education's 2017 Arab world university ranking of members of the Arab League, in which three Saudi universities dominated the top three spots.
The three Jordanian universities featured in the rankings are the Jordan University of Science and Technology (8), the University of Jordan (19) and the Hashemite University (23).
In the region, eight Egyptian universities featured in the table, four Saudi institutions which are all ranked in the top 10, while Jordan, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates each have three universities in the rankings.
Higher Education Minister Adel Tweisi commended the ranking results, saying that "it is proof that Jordanian universities are working hard to advance in ranking and education performance.'
The former minister said that the unemployment rate in Jordan is around 30 percent 'and there is a clear gap between what the labour market needs and the type of majors the graduate students hold when they graduate'.
'The rankings of Jordanian universities to me will remain artificial until the Jordanian universities focus on the market's needs to minimise the rate of unemployment,' Khadra stressed.
Jordanian education experts said earlier this year that improving the ranking of Jordanian universities in international rankings requires promoting a culture of applied scientific research at higher education institutions.
Commenting on the performance of Jordanian universities in scientific research, officials and experts have said that the majority of research conducted is theoretical, highlighting the need for applied research that helps achieve development and address issues of national priority.
The experts' comments were made following the disappointing results of a 2016 Shanghai ranking of 500 universities worldwide, which did not include a single Jordanian university.
Others attributed the poor ranking of Jordanian universities in these indexes as the result of failures to address several challenges facing scientific research, including insufficient human resources and funds, as well as legislative impediments.
This is an edited version of an article that has appeared in the Jordan Times. The article was written by Rana Husseini.