Higher education in the Arab world focuses on quantity and not on quality, the Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organisation (Alesco) observed in a report presented at the 13th conference of the Ministers of Higher Education, held yesterday at Zayed University.
The report highlighted that Arab countries come short globally in terms of educational, scientific, cultural, and strategic benchmarks. There are 470 universities and educational institutions catering to 400 million people in the Arab world roughly translating into 1.2 institutions for every million people.
In terms of scientific centres, there are 550 such facilities across the Arab world including those in universities. Scientific publications are scarce in the Arab world.
Reluctance to change and innovate, poor organisational frameworks, traditional management systems, financial dependence on governments, lack of autonomy and academic freedom for universities were challenges Alesco identified in a study on higher education in Arab countries. Improving the quality and relevance of education services was deemed crucial to enhancing the learning outcomes.
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"International collaboration and partnerships between universities worldwide, building human capacity and skills, improving management skills and abilities, identifying successful Arab experiences in higher education and sharing expertise are some of the principles needed to revamp higher education in the Arab Word," said Mohammad Al Qodsi, Alesco deputy director-general.
Labour market demand
Steen Jorgensen, sector director for human development in the Middle East and North Africa Region said: "The high unemployment rates, especially among university graduates and the increasing discontent of the region's youth point to the need to bridge the gap between education supply and labour market demand."
"It is essential and urgent to give more systematic attention to the outcomes of higher education and greater emphasis on accountability and incentive systems to improve service delivery," he said.