Economic Update

Jordan’s reputation for political and social stability has led to a rise in the number of international students choosing the Kingdom for their university education despite concerns over regional unrest. This trend is strengthening Jordan’s efforts to carve out a niche for itself as a regional education hub and could also help the country to tackle its growing budget deficit.

The president of German Jordanian University (GJU), Labib Khadra, told OBG that Jordan’s success in attracting increased numbers of foreign students was down to its educational institutions ticking all the right boxes.

“The Jordanian education sector has an excellent reputation for providing high-quality schooling in a stable environment at low cost, which is one major reason why more international students have begun selecting the Kingdom as their preferred study destination,” he said.

According to government figures, more than 29,000 non-Jordanians studied at the country’s universities during the 2010/11 academic year, accounting for around 12% of total enrolment. Approximately 25,360 of these students were undergraduates, with the remaining 3668 registered in graduate programmes. The figure marks a rise of 9000 on the number of international students attending Jordan’s universities in the mid-2000s. Palestine, Saudi Arabia and Iraq top the list in sending students to the Kingdom.

Jordan hopes that the revenue generated by rising international enrolment will support long-term growth in the domestic economy. Foreign students already spend around JD222m ($312.5m) in Jordan per year, which the Kingdom hopes will rise to JD929m ($1.31bn) by 2020.

Mindful of the important role education could play in the country’s development, the government has already introduced incentives to attract more international students, such as extending the residency permits of non-Jordanian students and reducing minimum admission standards for foreigners. In addition, education officials are stepping up international cooperation efforts by collaborating with universities and government officials overseas to introduce information-sharing initiatives and exchanges for students and professors.

With its 11 medical schools and eight pharmaceutical colleges already a key draw for foreign students, Jordan is also looking to expand its education sector by driving growth in science and technology. A number of key projects are already under way, including an “innovation cluster” for information and communication technologies (ICT) in the southern coastal city of Aqaba. Jordan is also spearheading the Arab States Research and Education Network (ASREN), an initiative to create a regional network of online databases to support research and collaboration.

Jordan’s bid to expand its education sector is not without challenges, however. As the government continues to tighten its belt on public spending, more private sector investment will be needed to maintain the Kingdom’s status as an established destination for education.

The lack of job prospects for graduates from Jordan’s universities also risks stifling growth in education, with figures showing that around 70% of university students in Jordan fail to find employment within the first year of graduating. The trend is blamed on a mismatch between curricular focus and the needs of the job market, together with a lack of work-readiness preparation at school.

Encouraging public universities to collaborate with the private sector, such as in the case of the Talal Abu Ghazaleh Graduate School of Business, which is part of GJU, is increasingly viewed as a possible solution to this problem, though admittedly only for local students as international students are not as likely to look for work in the Kingdom after graduation. The collaborative effort between GJU and the Arab group of professional service firms, Talal Abu Ghazaleh Organisation (TAG-Org), is one of several initiatives proving popular with students.

“Because they tend to offer fully accredited programmes conducted in the English language, private schools in Jordan are especially attractive for foreign students and scholars,” the president of Petra University, Adnan Badran, told OBG.

Maintaining Jordan’s political and social stability will also be crucial to improving the education sector. Indeed, the government is acutely aware of the need to prevent unrest at universities while also demonstrating tolerance. Achieving this balance is likely to be an important factor in the Kingdom’s efforts to expand its education sector and strengthen its reputation as a popular place of study for foreign students.