I don't pretend its easy to fix this situation, but lets at least start by having some fact-based open discussions (itself a rarity in the region). A good start seems to be a recent academic paper on the very subject presented at the 53rd Annual Conference of the Comparative and International Education Society.
"Private higher education in Oman: The dilemma of quality"[emphasis by UD]
Paper presented at the annual meeting of the 53rd Annual Conference of the Comparative and International Education Society, Francis Marion Hotel, Charleston, South Carolina, Mar 22, 2009
by David Chapman, Thuwayba Al Barwani and Hana Ameen.
While Oman is an oil-dependent economy, oil production is on the decline and reserves could be largely depleted within the next 10-15 years. Anticipating that an alternative economy will require an educated citizenry, the government has invested heavily in expanding its higher education system, largely by aggressively promoting and subsidizing private higher education as a way to reduce the enrollment pressure on public institutions and alleviate the associated fiscal pressures on government. However Omani colleges already produce more college graduates annually than there are jobs available in the country, an oversupply projected to worsen as college participation rates increase.
The expectation is that graduates will find work outside Oman. Yet there is widespread concern that the quality of private higher education is low and graduates may not be competitive for jobs abroad. Grounded in Kingdon’s (2003) multiple streams model of the policy formulation process, this study investigated the extent college educators and government leaders share an understanding of the problems now facing private higher education in Oman and agree on appropriate strategy for addressing these problems. Findings are based on a mixed-methods study of 252 college instructors and 56 government officials and private sector employers.
Seems pretty optimistic to me. Most of graduates don't even cut it in local businesses.
I also know the recent (now removed) interview and some of the comments to that post were printed out, scanned, and emailed to all the members of the Government's heavy-hitting Oman Accreditation Council. So they can't say they weren't aware of the problem.
Who are those officially responsible for the clearly sub-standard state of our Higher Education? Why the Board of the Oman Accreditation Council! They are:
Photo: Chairman of the Oman Accrediation Council.
Dr Hamed Al-Dhahab, Chairman, OAC
HE Dr Rawya Saud Al-Busaidia, Minister of Higher Education.
Dr Muneer Al-Muskary, Modern College of Business and Science.
Dr Abdullah Al-Lamki, Deputy Managing Director and Technical Director, P.D.O.
Eng Ali Al-Mahrouqi, Executive Director, National Office of Engineering.
Dr Amer Al-Rawas, Managing Director, Oman Mobile Telecommunications Company LLC.
Prof Ala’aldin Al-Hussaini, Professor, Faculty of Medicine, SQU.
Dr Hilal Al-Nabhani, Assistant Professor, College of Education, SQU.
Dr Sana Al-Buloshi, Director, Technical Office for Research & Development, Ministry of Education.
Dr Adil AbdulAziz Al-Kindy, Managing Director, Oman Refinery Company LLC.
Dr. Talib Issa Al Salmi (Board Secretary), DG Private Universities and Colleges, MoHE.
I must point out that these men and women are very well respected and honorable people, and the OAC seems to have all its procedures, policies, guidelines and external reviewers in order. It all looks great.
But clearly, this isn't working. Without compliance to all these good intentions, it's a waste of time. Perhaps worse than being a sham, it conceals the underlying malaise. When it seems common knowledge that in many cases lecturers write the very papers they grade for their students, tell them the answers to examination questions, or that students are passed through fraudulent means, by definition there is something fundamentally wrong with what these people claim to be doing. It's results that count, not procedures and good intentions.
I also enjoyed the recent comment that highlighted the really, really terrible English on the official home page of the Ministry of Higher Education. Perhaps someone is just taking the piss...
The Ministry of Higher Education has been trying for the last 4 or 5 years to establish a "Muscat University". At the begining they tried to create this university by merging 4 local colleges: Modern College, Mazoon College, Oman Medical College and Caledonian College. The carrot that was shown to these colleges was RO 17 million in grant money, ++. Though all of them have very poor standards, and a diverse shareholding, they were encouraged to come together to get that 17 million.
However, Galfar wanted the largest share of the dosh as they have 2 of the colleges (Oman Medical College and Caledonian). The others then realised that if 65% went to Galfar and also management control, they would be left with peanuts and the discussion collapsed, and with it Plan A for Muscat University.
But wait. 17 million rials you say?
Now, two groups have come togther to see if they can establish a "Muscat University" from scratch and grab that soft money: Bahwan and The Oman Chamber of Commerce (oh, there are rumours that mega-influential Zawawi Trading or Omzest would also plunge in too). Apparently the Chamber of Commerce is conducting a feasibility study right now. But I'm told the Director of General of the Chamber of Commerce wanted to bring in a partner university that could deliver nice pre-cooked but, most importantly, piss easy courses which Omanis could actually do despite a poor high school education, and therefore make sure of big pass rates, so the coalition have spurned the advances of higher quality university partners.
Once again, we will get another third class tertiary institution which will be no different from most of the existing ones. After all, business is business. And the Chairman of the Chamber of Commerce is a good businessman.
Why bother producing decent graduates AND having to fail people (uncomfortable, after all, and in the short term v. bad for business), plus deal with having to pay more for high quality staff and courses, at the expense of profits, when the Government will force businesses to hire anyone you give a useless degree to anyway? (and give you the 17 million either way).
And what student would want to suffer by paying to work hard with the risk of failing?
Makes sense. After all, the big businessmen can afford to send their kids to proper Universities overseas; and the big boys and girls in the Ministries get their kids scholarships paid for by the Government. Perhaps the members of the OAC should be made to send their own children to the Universities and Colleges they are accountable for?
Lets finish this depressing tale with a joke (as borrowed from this weeks' Economist):
"What do you say to a recent graduate of SQU*?"
"A double cream decafe frappachino please."
(* Note: SQU can be replaced with any Omani University of your choice)