Founded in 1997, Al-Balqa Applied University (BAU) has rapidly grown into a network of 13 public university campuses across Jordan that educate a population of 43,000 students, serving close to its full capacity of 45,000. The university’s success, BAU President Abdullah Zoubi explained to us at the university’s main campus in Salt, is thanks to BAU’s heterodox approach – emphasizing job-worthy skilling over pure academia. Their initiative, Zoubi tells us through his bright grin, is the first of its kind in Jordan.
How is BAU different from other Jordanian universities?
We’re involved with higher education, but we separate ourselves with our technical and vocational programs. This is where we excel. BAU is moving from purely academic education to an emphasis on finding jobs for students. This is why we are completely focused on building partnerships with the private sector.
What relationships have you built with the private sector so far?
We’ve signed work-placement agreements with 27 companies in Jordan, including the Amman Chamber of Industry, Arab Potash, Orange and Zain. According to these agreements, if students meet a certain benchmark they will be prioritized during job selection. These companies are also going to open their workshops and labs for our student for training, and Zain and Orange will be building incubators.
Has this been done before?
This agreement is unique to Jordan. There is a large skill mismatch in our economy because students tend to focus more on academic studies, and we’re trying to correct this. In February, 3,234 students were enrolled in vocational and technical programs, and 2,089 of these students can now get a seat in any university. This means that people now believe they need a job, not just a certificate to put on the wall.
What if students still seek to get that degree for their wall, too?
We open a new road for them. Through our applied studies programs, students can finish with two degrees: an associate’s degree for a technical or applied field, and a bachelor’s degree. So far, we have graduated 70 students with a bachelor’s degree through this program.
What feedback have you received from the private sector?
To start this initiative off, we originally asked the private sector what they need from the education sector and future graduates. All of them told us they need skills, particularly language, software, specialized technical and practical training. This is why responded by changing our technical education program to be focused more on the skills. We have since accommodated more specific requests: The Mechanical Association has asked us to prepare 3,000 jobs in heavy welding skills over the next two years.
What international partnerships does BAU have?
We are part of the Erasmus Mundus network, and today we host a number of international students. BAU is partnered with the French National Association for Adult Vocational Training, and we will start three programs in September based on French models. For South Korea, we established a Communications Information Center for training people to build knowledge with that market. We’ve also recently signed a student exchange agreement with Turkey for training our students in the industrial sector.
What can foreign companies get out of a partnership with BAU?
Foreign investors need skilled labor. We are the only university that is preparing technicians across such a wide number of fields. Today, we are opening new specializations, and we’ve got new technical laboratories designed to meet the international market needs. For example, we have a cyber security center with around 100 students. This year, we will also open webpage engineering and virtual reality centers.
How do you think BAU is contributing to the future of Jordan?
BAU will not only help the education sector in Jordan, but also the economy. We have around 850,000 foreign nationals working as technicians in Jordan. BAU wants to make Jordanians more competitive to compete with this foreign talent so that Jordan may continue to be a stable country with stable politics and open-minded people.