CMI Letter #11, October 2011
Financial viability and excellence for higher education in the MENA area
The World Bank, the French Development Agency (AFD) and the Marseille Center for Mediterranean Integration (CMI) have published a study on the financing and the level of higher education in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).
It is a topic being discussed the world over, but the vocal protests of youths during the Arab Spring need addressing right away in the MENA countries as they make their transition to democracy. The study published by the World Bank, the French Development Agency (AFD) and the Marseille Center for Mediterranean Integration (CMI) on the financing and the level of higher education in the Middle East and North Africa could not have come at a better time.
The study finds that most degrees currently awarded in the MENA area are in human sciences. When they finish their studies, graduates tend to look for administration jobs, which "limits [their] entrepreneurial spirit and means they spend a lot of time out of work".
The study adds: "Subjects that could contribute more to economic growth have many fewer students in MENA countries than in fast-growing economies and highly developed countries." Only 8% of students in the MENA area are budding engineers, compared with a third in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan when those economies were still developing.
On top of this lack of employable resources, there is a lack of investment in the private sector and strict employment regulations - all barriers to young graduates getting jobs.
There has been progress since the turn of the millennium, but these young graduates still make up a small proportion of the population. "In 2010, 20% of the Irish population aged 25 or over had a higher-education degree, compared with less than 10% in the MENA area as a whole," the report reveals. Some of the figures are: 6.5% in Jordan, 6% in Morocco, 4.5% in Bahrain and 2.3% in Syria. The rate is 12.8% in France, according to the report.
How can countries make their higher-education system more financially viable without compromising excellence? The report highlights different strategies for improvement, aiming both to get more people into higher education and to make the necessary investments in maintaining a sufficient quality of education. It is obvious, the report's authors claim, that "higher education needs to find new sources of financing" and countries will have to make some "difficult political decisions".