AMMAN—In a discussion with one of my excellent professors about post-graduate degrees, I told him that as a child I had moved around a lot, and because of that I would rather continue my studies here in Jordan, which has become my home. I did not think that a degree from Jordan would be any different from a degree from any other country.
I was surprised and alarmed by his response. He told me that if I ever wanted to be hired at a public university in Jordan, I would have to get a degree from a university in an English-speaking country, and that otherwise my chances would be very slim. I did not expect such a stark reply, never mind one that would change my plans for at least the next few years.
I went home and looked at the website of my university, which describes itself in its vision statement as “a university excelling in pedagogy, research, innovation and advancing in global standing.”
After searching through its vacancy advertisements to confirm my professor’s advice, I found them explicitly stating that the degree necessary for those positions, in majors such as business, accounting, public administration, business economics, finance, educational sciences, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, and many others, must be earned from a university that is listed among the top 500 universities in the world according to the Times Higher Education, Shanghai, or QS rankings.
I could not, as an enrolled student, help but find this painfully hilarious. With its catchy vision on the first page, the website showed vacancy advertisements, only a few clicks away, that led me to believe that the university itself did not seem to believe its own words!
At first glance, I came up with a lot of reasons for the rationale behind such decisions. I did not want to believe that I and other students are paying huge sums for an education that we cannot build on unless our post-graduate degrees have the label “western” on them.
The justifications I came up with were that the university has the need for someone with adequate English, and a degree from a globally high-ranked university.
But what is “adequate” English? Is it native-speaker English? If it is, then it is important to point out that English has become an international language, with its standards no longer those of its native speakers. The world is now focused on individuals who can produce intelligible, comprehensive English, rather than native-like versions of it.
Another problem with the English proficiency rationale is that many people—including myself—were born in the West, and already have an advanced ability in English. Moreover, many Jordanian-born persons have excellent English skills, thanks to immersion programs and the abundance of English courses.
Staying for three or four years (the average time needed to complete a doctorate in some countries) as an adult is certainly not enough time to attain the proficiency of a native.
So for the university to assume that decent and satisfactory English can only be obtained from an English-speaking or “western” country is not only an irrational belief, but one that has been dismissed long ago by language researchers.
Let us move on to the second possible explanation, which is that the university wants assurance that the applicant holds a reliable and certified degree. If, as the university claims, it has been excelling at “advancing in global standing,” what is the need for a degree outside its own gates? Does it not consider itself to be a reliable place for an education? If so, then why is it charging us ridiculously high amounts of money for a degree? Why is it taking up 1.2 square kilometers (300 acres) of land when the space could be used for something else?
I have tried my best to justify the university’s requirements, but they are just too illogical. What they imply about the institution’s opinion of a Jordanian post-graduate degree can be summed in three words: not good enough.
I personally think that the university should apologize to its students for deceiving us into thinking that it provides us with strong degrees that can help us in the worldwide struggle for employment.
It should also apologize to all the excellent female graduates who come from conservative families and cannot travel alone to continue their studies in a western country.
And a special letter of regret should be sent to the students who cannot afford the cost of living and studying outside Jordan, or who do not have anything to put up as collateral in the event of the university giving them a scholarship to study abroad.
The university will only grant a scholarship for foreign study if the recipient agrees to work for ten years at the University of Jordan upon completion of their degree, or else the asset put up as collateral will be sold. This is why many outstanding students are reluctant to put up a family asset as collateral for fear that they might not succeed in getting the degree, or cannot serve the required period of employment. Moreover, many students do not have anything to offer as collateral in the first place.
Let us also not forget the people with disabilities or other constraints that hinder them from traveling abroad.
Finally, let us remember all those who wanted to take pride in a degree from their own country but have been turned down in favor of graduates from English-speaking countries
Maram Alkayed is a Jordanian-Canadian residing in Amman. She is an undergraduate in applied English at the University of Jordan and a writer for Global Voices.