We spoke to Dr Ahmad Jammal, Director General – Higher Education, Ministry of
Education and Higher Education in Lebanon, to get first hand insight into the higher education sector in his country, as well as find out what initiatives the government has put in place to develop the sector further.
1. In your opinion, what are the main priorities in developing the Higher Education sector?
Higher education should be more responsive to its society’s needs in terms of general strategies, socio-economic development and inclusive growth. Efforts should be exerted in designing programmes, trainings and services to guarantee more relevance and to address the issue of employability. Creativity and transferability of knowledge remain at the heart of the higher education mission; however, social dimension and relationship with the society should be among the main priorities of higher education.
To achieve this mission of higher education, it is very important to take actions at the level of higher education institutions especially:
- Developing a quality culture at all levels of the institutions
- Train the staff on new pedagogy and introduce the new technology in education
- Reinforcing the collaboration at national and regional levels between the institutions and the labor market in issues related to learning outcomes and to research needs in the local context.
- Favoring the development of international networks concerning the exchange of programs and staff and to develop common research programs.
- Foreseeing procedures and actions in civic engagement
2. The region’s higher education sector is maturing and moving towards increasing research output. What needs to be done to promote the growth of research and ensure quality in the work produced?
Given the high cost of research and the limited resources provided, federation of efforts should be made at national and regional levels. Cooperation with the industry and the public sector are vital to fund research and enhance its relevance. Definition of priorities in research activities at the regional level is vital.
- Elaborating research strategies adapted to the local and regional needs is an added value to promote research activities.
- Developing task-forces at local and regional levels in the different fields of research helps to promote and ensure the quality of the produced work.
- Developing software to verify the authenticity of research production in Arabic language is important to fight Plagiarism.
- Reinforcing the collaboration between the research centres & the regional associations to exchange knowledge is a way to ensure quality. As an example: SHAMAA network that disseminates research production in Education and exchange research activities at the regional level ( ).
3. What programmes or forums do you have in place to bridge the gap between the market and universities?
Cooperation between academia and socio-economic stakeholders at the national and regional levels is a priority in the national strategy for Higher Education. In this regard we have put in place an action plan to reinforce this cooperation through many activities:
- Collaboration with the Industrial Research Institute (IRI) to promote the industrial development of students projects, especially in technology. A yearly competition is organised between projects from different institutions.
- Disseminate the entrepreneurial concepts in the Lebanese HEIs (for undergraduate and postgraduate students including doctoral studies). A national Forum is created for this purpose including the Ministry of HE, the IRI, the NCSR (National Council for Scientific Research), the Association of Industrials in Lebanon and other stakeholders.
- Encourage institutions to develop common programs with industrials & Labour market (Training, Coop programs, etc.)
Many projects supported by the EU Tempus programme have helped in reinforcing cooperation between academia and socio-economic stakeholders at the national and regional levels. We can mention the following projects starting from the most recent ones in which this gap bridging is more visible:
- ADIP: Distance learning and pedagogical innovation,
- SEMSEM: Services for Employability and Mobility in the form of Students’ Internships at Enterprises in Mashrek/Maghreb (MENA-Middle East & North Africa),
- OSSCOM: Partnership with Enterprises towards Building Open Source Software Communities and Rejuvenation of Technical Education and Innovation,
- PACOME: Partnership for Competences and Employment,
- EU-MILL: Euro-Mediterranean Integration through Lifelong Learning,
- IDEAL: Innovation and Development of Academic-Industry Partnerships through Efficient Research Administration in Lebanon,
- PROGREEN: Joint/Dual Professional Graduate Diploma and Professional Degree in Green Technologies,
- OIPULES: Orientation and Professional Insertion in the universities of Lebanon, Egypt and Syria,
- SF-HEAT: A Sustainable Framework for Higher Education in Aeronautical Technologies,
- ASPIRE: Achieving Sustainable Programmes in Regeneration and Entrepreneurship: Jordan, Lebanon and Occupied Palestinian Territories,
- DEFI: Develop Employability in Engineering,
- UNCHAIN: University Chair on Innovation.
4. What has been your experience with online education and how do you see this trend changing the higher education landscape?
Full Online education is not recognized officially in Lebanon for many reasons:
- There is no need for this kind of education in this small country where we have enough institutions on the Lebanese territory to deliver teaching everywhere with about 165 programs. In addition, these institutions have the capacity to welcome more students from inside and outside Lebanon.
- There are no standards and indicators till now to assure the quality of on-line programs.
- The local experience (AOU, AUB, etc.) proves that it is necessary to conduct on-campus programs in many cases for undergraduate students and sometimes for graduate students.
- There is a problem to assure that students have acquired the necessary skills and competencies.
- There is a problem to assure the qualified staff prepared to work with the new technologies of education. In addition, resources as plat-form for on-line education must be in place.
On the other hand, the Lebanese legislation treats openly with the hybrid education systems if it is based on quality standards and indicators. We encourage online education for long life learning (Example: Green Engineering program common between AUB, LAU and AUC). We encourage also the introduction of technology in education. The programs of the AOU in Lebanon are blended with about 50% of the program delivered using technology in education (CDs, Videos, Online, etc.).
I believe that certainly this trend begins to change the higher education landscape. We must take this trend in consideration and prepare our institutions and our legislations to integrate it. In Lebanon, we launched in mid- 2014 a national debate about this type of education and we created a taskforce of specialists to develop a national strategy and a framework for the recognition of on-line and other forms of technology based education.
We are working on the promotion of networks between Lebanese and European universities to create common digital programs because we believe that this action is the best methodology in digital learning.
The Lebanese universities are experimenting online education. As we may have different levels of integration of online education in technology-based teaching and technology-enhanced learning, the Blended learning formula is the most used in Lebanon.
Actually, we are convinced that some courses could be delivered on-line (this depends of the nature of these courses) but a percentage of the program has to be done inside the campus and especially the exams and assessments.
We are aware that Blended, Flexible and Online learning may represent a part of the answer to the demand of tomorrow, and we are aware that a credential process is emerging. (Qualifications… National Qualification Framework…) and Learning and qualifications are highlighted more and more.
Some Lebanese Faculty members and university leaders believe that “the technologies selected will determine the quality of learning and the scope of teaching practices”.
5. Ensuring long-term financial stability in a tertiary market is increasingly difficult in all regions. What practices should institutions employ to mitigate risks while matching the service growth needs of the market?
Two different possible sources ensure the financial stability in the higher education sector.
First, the government where the financial support is more and more decreasing, due to the big burden of such support, and the economic difficulties that these governments are facing. Governments should be convinced of the role that the higher education can play in the socio-economic development and in this regard, they should ensure enough support to the sector and make this support a part of their national strategies.
Second, the private higher education sector will also have to face the financial challenges. It should ensure that the quality of the offerings meets the expectations of the students’ parents and that they are worth what it is being paid.
Globally speaking, public and private sector should not rely on one source of funding whether this sources is the government or the students’ fees. Diversifying the sources of funding is strategically the best way for gaining stability in the funding process.
6. What does the future of Higher Education in the region look like to you?
One cannot separate the higher education sector from the political developments in the region. In countries like Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen, the effect of the political instability has been very high. Other countries like Egypt, Lebanon, and Tunisia have been less impacted by the events they have gone through.
The future of higher education in the region will much depend on the political development in the respective countries. If the region is going to pass through a disintegration phase, then the future of higher education would be gloomy and the sector should play an important role in the reconstruction effort and the rehabilitation of all kind of damages.