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Arab University Admissions System Is Unfair and Needs Updating, Academics Say

As Arab universities begin sorting students’ requests to enrol in various programmes, several academics are calling for changes in a university admissions system that determines what students may study mainly on the basis of their grades on high school exit exams.

Critics say the admissions system, known in some countries as “coordination”, is unfair because it creates social, economic, and psychological pressures on students and their families, and because it fails to take into account job prospects in disciplines that are “saturated” in terms of labour market demand but still attract high enrolments for societal reasons.

An Unfair Reliance on Grades

Mohammed Taleb Obaidat, president of Jadara University, a private institution in Jordan, is one of several Arab educators who spoke to Al-Fanar Media about problems with such admissions systems.

Relying on high school exit exams as the chief criterion for sorting students into universities and fields of study is “unfair,” he said, because it ignores new scientific developments in university admissions, which are now more linked to the degree’s compatibility with students’ personalities.

“Many students enroll in ‘saturated’ majors because of their reputation and prestige, such as engineering and medicine in Jordan, for example. This leads to high unemployment rates.”

Mohammed Taleb Obaidat President of Jadara University, in Jordan.

“Many students enrol in ‘saturated’ majors because of their reputation and prestige, such as engineering and medicine in Jordan, for example,” he said. “This leads to high unemployment rates. In addition, many students fail to complete their studies and need to join another college.”

Official data indicate a high unemployment rate (40 percent) among Jordanian engineering graduates in recent years, which has led to union demands to reduce the number of students admitted to engineering programs.

Negative Effects on Economies

Ibrahim Al-Hamoud, a professor of public law at Kuwait University, thinks that the admission system is behind a decline in graduates’ educational standards at universities in the Gulf countries. This is negatively reflected on these countries’ economies, forcing them to fill the gap in the labour market by hiring foreign employees, he said.

Al-Hamoud, who is the former head of the Association of Faculty Members at Kuwait University, said the state, not universities, is responsible for the admission policies’ design. Changing admission regulations would require new legislation, he said.

He added that the current admission system causes many students to base their choices on prevailing trends in society without considering a discipline’s future prospects.

“They are affected by their families’ desires, and the societal view of a certain major without considerations for the future, or if that job matches their personalities,” Al-Hamoud said.

Labour Market Needs

Nabil El Kadhi, a Tunisian academic and former president of Khwarizmi International College, in the United Arab Emirates, said the choice of a university major is a sensitive topic that should consider both the students’ personalities and the needs of the labour market.

Creating such a system would require more cooperation between universities and high schools, El Kadhi said, to help students identify majors that suit their preferences and abilities and to better prepare them for university studies. He explained that teaching methods at universities are completely different from those at schools.

El-Kadhi thinks that a good university admission system would use multiple methods. Students’ grades on high school exams would help discover their excellence in certain subjects and direct them to specific colleges. Further assessments after a preparatory period would help determine their readiness for education at these colleges. Occupational interest surveys and personality tests would also help students identify the majors that are best suited to them.

Based on his 13 years of academic experience at several Gulf universities, El-Kadhi said that the sole reliance on the current admission system leads students to make “inappropriate” choices that don’t match their abilities or personalities.

Alternative Admission Systems 

“The current admission system, based on grades as the only criterion, does not help students reach the right decision in a completely different learning and labour market landscape.”

El Kadhi thinNabil El Kadhi A former president of Khwarizmi International College, in the United Arab Emiratesks there should be more flexibility in the university admissions process and different ways of linking a student’s admission with a particular university programme.

“The current admission system, based on grades as the only criterion, does not help students reach the right decision in a completely different learning and labour market landscape,” he said. Today’s labour market needs graduates who are able “to seek innovation, defy difficulties, and adapt to the unknown, more than applying models that they have studied in their universities,” he said.

El Kadhi worked as a professor of computer science at Epitech, a French foundation for computer engineering studies. He said he worked on changing admission requirements there to discover more about students’ willingness to deal with the university’s educational systems and their ability to withstand pressures.

El Kadhi said he had proposed changes in the admission regulations at Arab universities too, but admissions policies were under the control of supervisory authorities and universities could not change them on their own.

‘A Real Injustice’

Obaidat, of Jadara University, suggested that students should undergo a preparatory year before choosing a major. This would help them identify the subjects that suit their academic qualifications and their readiness for the major they wish to study, he said.

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He also suggested additional measures beyond school exam grades, such as abilities and skills tests and oral interviews, to assess students’ personalities and ways of thinking.

“Adopting the high school diploma as the only university admission criterion is a real injustice to students,” said Obaidat. “The time has come to introduce new admission systems, especially in light of the great changes in the labour market and the newly emerging university majors.”

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