IN the peak of winter, Minister of Labor Dr. Ali Al-Ghafees issued a statement on the necessity to curtail admissions in universities to 50 percent. The statement was cold and tasteless. There were no signs indicating that we were on the verge of understanding the scientific and practical requirements of our age.
Several countries, deemed to be at the bottom of the list in terms of development and their economy, understood these exigencies. Within a few years, they were soon leading the way for other countries to follow. This is due to the great importance and care they accorded to higher education, the curricula, scientific research and the intelligentsia. Singapore, Malaysia, Korea, Brazil and India fall in that category.
These countries are now self-reliant. They have their own industries and national incomes after turning their people to be creative and productive, thanks to the system of general education and higher education in these countries.
The people — both guardians and students — were looking forward to a different kind of statement. But, instead, they heard what was worse than the earlier ones. Such statements do not even measure up to the level of the situation during the era of Dr. Al-Ghafees’ predecessors in any way. Thy laid the truly strong foundations for university education and opened new vistas. They knew and understood the necessity to have diversity in higher education. Therefore, many universities were established with an abundance of specializations.
Those who were surprised by this statement did not understand what the new minister really meant by his less ambitious outlook on university education than that of young students, who were yearning to study in universities and even enroll in postgraduate studies.
It is in these fields that peoples of the world are vying with each another. The more students are enrolled in these universities and the more diverse their scientific specializations, the prouder the people are of these institutions. Everyday some new specialization is added to the list of those that meet the labor market requirements in these countries.
Ambitious countries create a new specialization every day and set up new lecture halls for university education. But in our case, we have ministers who are fed up with the vastness of our universities. They want a cut in their premises. This is at a time when they should have conducted scientific studies on how to make the optimum use of the available space. They should expand the existing area in tandem with the needs of the time and the requirements of the labor market.
However, if by his strange remark, Dr. Al-Ghafees deems technical and vocational training to be an alternative to university education and a requirement for those who do not get admission in universities, then he should tell us. It is he who administered the system of technical and vocational education for many years. What has technical and vocational education provided to the labor market? The labor market is still overburdened with expatriate workers and those who have cover-up businesses (tassatur). These expatriate workers have forced themselves into the labor market.
What I know is that except for the graduates of technical colleges and vocational institutes, who have been employed by major companies and retrained in the jobs they need, this kind of education is suffering from a state of disorientation in terms of its plans, magnitude and the fate of its male and female graduates.
Therefore, I think it is very easy to come up with a number of justifications and statements on cutting down admission in universities because of budgetary constraints. The second objective is to get rid of the people’s complaints that these universities are not admitting their sons and daughters. It should be understood that such a measure is an indication of chronic myopia in our education and labor systems. It also indicates that today’s ministers are looking for “pillows to rest their heads on”.
Development requires an earnest effort and continuous attention. But for those who believe it suffices to reform the labor sectors by curtailing admission in universities instead of expanding in enrolling students and improving the standard of education, should realize they are mistaken. This can be likened to avoiding a difficult road that will take him to his goal. Instead he chooses an easy way. This is the mistake per se, if you want to look at it from a personal or developmental angle.