Wednesday, June 9, 2010

University of Jordan and JUST

June 2, we toured the University of Jordan in Amman, and the Jordan University of Science and Technology (JUST) in the city of Irbid. These universities provided us with a glimpse of the challenges confronting Jordanian academics.
Our new hotel was located in Amman, the capital of Jordan. This would be the last hotel before leaving the country. The morning of Wednesday June 2, we departed for Jordan University, located in West Amman. The Dean, Vice Dean, and various faculty heads of engineering welcomed our visit with Turkish coffee and tea. They regretted that we had given them so little time to prepare for our visit - the organizer of the visit had only informed both parties the day before - but they managed to dig up previous presentations about the various engineering faculties offered at the university. After listening to the mechanical and computer engineering faculty heads talk about their respective departments, the floor was opened for questions. The heads were interested in hearing about what we had done so far and where we had gone. They were a bit dismayed to hear that we were only spending three days in Jordan, compared with the two weeks spent in Israel, indicating that we were not giving Jordanian universities equal consideration. We also engaged in a political discussion regarding America's role in Jordan's scientific advancement. The heads maintained that if America and the international community gave Jordan as much money as they do Israel, Jordanian universities would be doing cutting edge engineering and scientific research as well. Professor Marshak assured the heads that our visit was crucial in establishing a channel of communication between our two universities for future collaboration, thus combining and expanding both universities' international networks.

We were then given a tour of the industrial engineering labs by the department head. Much of the lab equipment resembled that of a machine shop, complete with milling machines, drill presses, metal lathes, welding stations, and so on. We entered a lab containing equipment donated by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in 1992. It became clear at this point that the lack of funding allocated to the University of Jordan pushed them to use outdated equipment for research (in at least one of their departments).

After our tour, we ate lunch at a campus cafeteria with some of the department heads. Some of the table conversation took on a political flavor with topics focusing on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, particularly emphasizing Israel's occupation of Palestine, the Gaza flotilla raid, prospective conflict resolutions, and how the conflict affects science and technology in Israel and Arab countries.

When we had finished our 'light hearted' table conversation, we headed 70 km North to the Jordan University of Science and Technology (JUST), located in the city of Irbid. There we were once again welcomed with Turkish coffee and tea. Our host this time was the President of JUST, Wajih Owais. He began by introducing himself and explaining a little about the history and various faculties of JUST. State-supported and known as one of the best universities in Jordan, JUST is home to twelve different faculties ranging from nursing to information technology. The engineering faculty is ABET accredited, and is the largest and oldest faculty at the university, offering eight different engineering disciplines.

Once the President had finished with his introductory remarks, we began to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of Jordanian universities. During this discussion, we became aware of a phenomenon known in Jordan as the 'brain drain', which is the tendency for the best and brightest Jordanians to leave the country in favor of positions at American or European universities and labs. President Owais thinks that this may be a major factor contributing to Jordan's lagging technological and scientific progress, relative to America and Europe.

It is also interesting to note that 70% of the students at JUST, and 80% at the University of Jordan, are women. When asked about these numbers, President Owais said that for a long time women in Jordan, and other Arab countries, were oppressed and denied the right to attend college. Now, however, Jordanian universities encourage more women to attend, and many families are now sending their daughters to college instead of their sons (partially because uneducated men can find better paying jobs than uneducated women in Jordan).

We wrapped up our discussion and headed back to our hotel in Amman with a more intelligible understanding of the challenges confronting Jordanian academics.

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