In recent decisions a few months apart, Jordan announced that it would allow new medical colleges to be established at private universities and gradually begin reducing the number of admissions to schools of medicine, dentistry and pharmacy at public universities.
The motives behind those decisions and how they will affect academic quality have become a topic of debate among education leaders and student advocates.
Jordan’s Higher Education Council granted initial licenses to establish three private medical schools and five dentistry colleges, before it decided to reduce the number of admissions to public medical colleges, starting from the next academic year.
Some academics and professionals have complained about high unemployment rates among medical graduates in recent years. The Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, however, declined to comment to Al-Fanar Media on the issue.
Nathir Obeidat, president of the University of Jordan, said determining the number of students admitted to medical schools at Jordan’s private and public universities should not be guided by the kingdom’s needs only, given the large numbers of students who move to study or work in Arab countries, Europe and the United States.
“A large section of Jordanians encourage their children to study medicine. They are forced to enrol them in universities abroad because public universities are unable to absorb them. Therefore, granting licenses to private universities is acceptable, especially if the alternative is for these students to move to study in neighbouring Arab countries.”Nathir Obeidat, President of the University of Jordan
About 35 percent of the University of Jordan’s medical graduates work in Europe and the United States, Obeidat told Al-Fanar Media. Some 138 graduates were accepted to train in their specialties in the United States last year.
“A large number of Jordanians encourage their children to study medicine. They are forced to enrol them in universities abroad because public universities are unable to absorb them,” added Obeidat, who previously served as Jordan’s minister of health. “Therefore, granting licenses to private universities is acceptable, especially if the alternative is for these students to move to study in neighbouring Arab countries.”
Supplying Needed Medical Specialties
Jordan has six public universities with medical colleges: the University of Jordan, the Jordan University of Science and Technology, the Hashemite University, Mutah University, Yarmouk University, and Al-Balqa Applied University.
On the decision’s possible impact on the high unemployment rates in “saturated” medical specialties, Nathir Obeidat said: “There is not a single unemployed physician in the kingdom. There is more demand in the Civil Service Bureau than the needs of the public sector, which negates the issue of unemployment.” The Jordanian Civil Service Bureau is a governmental institution responsible for regulating recruitment in the public sector.
While he said that private universities cannot compete with public colleges in terms of quality of medical education, Obeidat said private universities should be required to to provide training in medical specialties that are underrepresented in the kingdom, and to use their financial capabilities to supply the specialties needed in the labour market.
In a statement earlier this year, Wajih Owais, the minister of higher education, said Jordan sees around 3,000 medical students graduate each year from schools inside and outside the kingdom. Graduates of non-Jordanian universities could face unemployment in the local labour market, he said.
Making Jordan a Medical Study Destination
Mohammed Taleb Obaidat, president of Jadara University, a private university in northern Jordan, supports allowing the establishment of private medical institutions, saying it will improve the quality of graduates and support the economy by absorbing students who would otherwise study abroad.
“Establishing these private colleges would promote educational tourism for students coming to Jordan, as well as absorb Jordanian students who spend millions of dollars to study medicine abroad.”Mohammed Taleb Obaidat President of Jadara University
Private universities have financial and human resources that allow them to attract qualified teaching staff, open quality specialisations, Obaidat said. They also have capabilities to establish a sophisticated infrastructure of facilities and hospitals that will meet the need for medical graduates to keep pace with everything new and obtain quality training at university.
He also believes that this step will create a kind of balance between graduates of public and private medical colleges, and will strengthen Jordan’s position as a destination for medical students from abroad.
“Establishing these private colleges would promote educational tourism for students coming to Jordan, as well as absorb Jordanian students who spend millions of dollars to study medicine abroad,” Obaidat said.
Worries About Academic Quality
A student advocate, however, believes the decisions will harm the interests of public medical schools’ graduates.
Fakher Daas, coordinator of the Thabahtoona campaign for students’ rights, said allowing more colleges to open will lead to a decrease in education standards and output quality.
The decisions’ main goal was “commercial” in the first place, Daas told Al-Fanar Media. He said that the ministry wanted to collect fees from private universities to help bridge the financial deficit facing most public universities.
Similarly, a dean of a medical college at a public university also felt that the decision was linked to financial motives without other considerations.
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The dean, who asked to remain anonymous, told Al-Fanar Media that supporting public medical colleges could be achieved by building teaching hospitals to provide training opportunities for graduates, developing specialisations not available in Jordan, and increasing the number of teachers.
However, the ministry chose the easier option of licensing new private schools in order to bring in more funds under the pretext of supporting medical schools, the dean said. “Such decisions can negatively affect the international reputation of Jordanian physicians in the labour market outside the country,” the dean warned.