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Jordan reins in private sector

Jordan's Higher Education Ministry has been inundated with bids to set up private universities. Of 24 applications received last year, four were given permission to proceed - three of them graduate schools - bringing the number of Jordanian private universities to 14.

To ensure that these institutions do not focus too heavily on subjects that are in demand among wealthy students, Jordan's higher education council has stipulated that universities must also offer undergraduate courses.

It wants to encourage private universities to offer courses in marine and broad-based medical sciences to diversify the country's economy. With no statistics on the number of students enrolled in specific subjects, the ministry is working with the UN Development Programme on a study to better co-ordinate the needs of the market and graduating students.

"We are seriously working on this, as everyone is studying IT, engineering and medicine," Raghad Fariz, a senior ministry official, said. "We have too many doctors and engineers."

Under reforms being pushed by the World Bank, Jordan's accreditation council, which oversees the private higher education sector, will be independent of the ministry and supervise both university sectors.

Part of the challenge has been ensuring that private universities do not dilute teaching quality with excess intakes. According to Mr Fariz, the council has penalised private universities with fines of 50,000 dinars (£38,000) for enrolling too many students.

Meanwhile, the rise of the private sector, which also runs programmes in co-operation with non-education companies, is forcing the public sector of Jordanian higher education to become more commercially aware.

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