BEIRUT–Graduate studies here have rapidly expanded in the past ten years, with 165 master’s degree and doctoral programs in Lebanon in a variety of specialties. But the rapid expansion leaves some observers wondering about program quality.
About 10 out of the 41 licensed universities in the country provide advanced degrees. “Graduate programs are only available in large and old universities,” said Ahmad Jamal, general director of Higher Education in the Ministry of Education & Higher Education, in Lebanon.
Some disciplines are particularly popular such as business management, science, computer, engineering, arts and humanities. “Of course there is a shortage in some disciplines,” Jamal said pointing to some medical and scientific specialties that need large budgets.
The expansion of the programs follows some earlier shrinkage. “After the Lebanese war, we had to shut down some programs for some disciplines,” said Rabih Talhouk, head of graduate studies at the American University of Beirut. Starting the programs back up took some institutions some time, as they needed to get programs accredited. “We have resubmitted some of these disciplines only six years ago, it needs time because all our specialties are registered in New York.”
The American University of Beirut is a frequent center of attraction for students who wish to pursue higher studies. According to Talhouk, the University has about 1,300 postgraduate students. “Providing postgraduate studies for all disciplines is very expensive, especially for the disciplines which require practical training,” he said.
Lebanese University, the only public university in the country, also offers a variety of graduate programs.” Five years ago the university adopted the European system known as LMD, or license, master’s and doctorate, said Joseph Shreim, an advisor to the university’s president. He said the university is eager to meet the needs of the labor market. “These studies open wider doors to work today,” he said.
But the relationship between graduate studies and the labor market in Lebanon – and probably in most Arab countries – is also debatable.
“Most of postgraduate theses do not address the labor market,” Jamal said. “Master’s degrees are designed more to prepare students for scientific research for the next doctoral phase,” he said.
The theses that are written are kept in students’ and professors’ drawers instead of being held in university libraries and posted on websites to form a data base for students and researchers, he said.
“These works should be accessible to other researchers in the same institution or across institutions, locally, regionally, and even internationally,” said Karma El Hassan, director of institutional research at the American University of Beirut, adding that this requires a serious archiving system that is “unfortunately not available in most Lebanese universities.”
Observers also suggest that Lebanese universities shouldn’t all be running their programs alone. “We need more cooperation between universities,” said Jamal, saying that smaller institutions with limited money and a small staff could work in joint programs with larger institutions.
Henry Aluwayt, the vice president of academic affairs at the University of St. Joseph, said that advanced degrees do give students an edge in the job market, in part due to the large supply of students with just bachelor degrees.
New, more specialized disciplines have emerged in Lebanon, as they have elsewhere, including traffic-safety administration, museum management and oil and gas engineering.
“We look forward to meet the needs of the Arab and Gulf markets not just the Lebanese one,” Aluwayt said.
The Francophone university has begun recently using the English language in some of its graduate programs to keep up with market trends. “Our eye is always on the labor market,” he said.
But other than accreditation done outside the country, Lebanon has no real system of quality assurance for the graduate programs. Solutions for that, like for many other problems, are largely on hold in this largely politically deadlocked country.