Row over university admissions in Jordan

Entrance to the University of Jordan in Amman

A session of Jordan's parliament was suspended amid uproar on Tuesday as dozens of MPs demanded the sacking of Labib Khadra, the higher education minister. The MPs were accusing the government of trying to abolish an "exception" system which allows thousands of students to gain university places even if they have lower exam scores than other applicants.

Twenty per cent of places are reserved for sons and daughters of the military and 5% for the children of teachers, but the protesting MPs were mainly concerned with protecting places allocated to Jordan's tribes.

In June, the minister said he wanted to raise the required attainment score for university admission and also criticised the tribal exceptions as unfair. In an interview with the government news agency, Petra, he said:

"Let us take the tribal list, for example, we will consider the highest and lowest scores [of students applying for the same subject]. It is not fair for a student whose [score] is 67 per cent to get a seat to study English literature, while a student with 79 per cent cannot compete for such a seat under the regular competition system."

There are also claims that most of the students involved in violence at state universities have been admitted through the exception system.

The exception system was designed, at least in part, to help the disadvantaged. Ten per cent of university places are allocated to students from schools classified as "underprivileged"; there are 350 places for students from Palestinian refugee camps and 15 places for the children of fallen soldiers.

The "tribal exception list", established by royal decree, was originally intended as a temporary measure to help students from rural areas and the badia (arid regions) but according to the minister it is now being abused. The current tribal exception list includes schools in very vibrant areas at the heart of some major cities, he told a news conference yesterday. Even so, he insisted the ministry has "neither the willingness nor the authority" to abolish tribal exceptions altogether, though he has previously spoken of wanting to "streamline" the system.

The overall proportion of "exception" students at Jordanian universities is unclear. One report puts it at 38% in state universities while another puts it much higher, at almost 70%.

According to the ministry, there were 313,500 students at public and private universities in Jordan during the last academic year – 55,000 over capacity.
Posted by Brian Whitaker
Thursday, 13 August 2015