Underfunding behind tuition hikes, protests at universities in Jordan

Published March 31st, 2016 - 05:00 GMT
Students have protested the recent tuition hikes at the University of Jordan, the country's flagship public university. (File photo)
Students have protested the recent tuition hikes at the University of Jordan, the country's flagship public university. (File photo)

The lack of government financial support to public universities is to blame for the high costs of higher education in Jordan, according to experts.  

Despite their disagreement with the parallel programme as a fair and efficient system to accept students at universities, they agreed it is the “best option on the table”, in light of the “very little and shrinking” financial support the government provides to public universities.

MP Mohammad Al Haj, head of the Lower House Educational Committee, said the government’s support to the 10 public universities was limited to $80 million in 2015, adding that the Lower House managed to increase the allocation to $100 million in 2016, including $28 million set aside for student funds.

“Yet this is still not enough to improve the economic performance of public universities,” he told The Jordan Times over the phone on Monday.

Also, he said that the “large” number of scholarships and grants given to a wide array of students who do not pay any of the educational fees “burdens” the budgets of universities.

Universities, therefore, increase tuition fees to make up for the lack of governmental support.

The lawmaker said fees of the regular programmes in public universities are “very reasonable”, but students accepted through the parallel programme pay “too much”.

He cited a study that shows that around 75 percent of Jordanian families are financially incapable of paying for the university tuition for more than one of their children, a matter that obliges many students to work while studying.

Um Rashid, a mother of five, said she and her husband had to sell her jewellery in order to secure the university education of their first two daughters, who later worked and helped in paying tuition fees for the other three.

“Almost half of our household income is allocated for university education,” she told The Jordan Times recently over the phone, adding that they had no easier way to do it as a middle class family with limited income.  

Mohammad Masri, a third year university student, said he has been working at a fast food restaurant near his university in order to pay for his education and daily expenses.

“It is difficult for a young man like me to ask my retired father to pay for my university education,” he said, adding that many of his friends and colleagues at university work and study at the same time.

Haj also called on the government to treat private universities on equal footing with their public peers regarding quality standards, electricity tariffs and income tax, noting that private universities accommodate a large number of students and must not be victims of “over-regulation”.    

To address the issue, he said universities located in investment-friendly areas should take part in managing some investment projects to generate income, calling for partnerships with the private sector in joint projects and scientific research.

Adnan Badran, chairman of the University of Jordan's Board of Trustees, told Jordan TV recently that the parallel programme is “unfair and unconstitutional”.

He added in the interview that universities are compelled to use this system to offset their financial shortfalls.

University administrations struggle with a “difficult equation”, trying to strike a balance between generating income from tuition fees and paying “rewarding” salaries to faculty members, in light of competitive offers they receive from universities in Gulf Arab countries, said Higher Education Ministry Secretary General Hani Dmour.

He noted that fees of the regular programmes have not witnessed remarkable increases over the past 30 years, adding that around 70 per cent of students enrolled in public universities benefit from scholarships offered either by the army or the Education Ministry.

The problem lays in the fact that students pay less than 30 per cent of the cost of their education, thus universities have to make up for the remaining 70 per cent through self-funding, grants or donations,” he told The Jordan Times Monday over phone.

He noted that the ministry wishes that the parallel programme does not exist in the first place, but under certain circumstances, many students prefer it. 

He gave an example of 2,000 students who were accepted last year through the regular programme at Al Hussein Bin Talal University in Maan, with a fully covered education in order to encourage students to study in remote governorates to boost the development process there. A total of 1,400 students refused to accept that opportunity, and many of these registered in the parallel programme in universities close to their residences.

Commenting on the chances universities have for investments, Dmour said regulations do not ban universities from creating partnerships with the private sector or implement investment projects.

However, the budget woes remain a serious hindrance before completing such ambitious plans, according to the official.

Meanwhile, Dmour called on the private sector to redirect corporate social responsibility programmes towards supporting financially challenged students, invest in their education and provide them with jobs after graduation.

By Dana al Emam

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