by Erika Francks, Camille Berry, and Sujude Dalieh
Content warning: Fertility is a sensitive topic and we absolutely do not want to push a “doomsday” outlook on it, but we strongly feel that knowledge is power in understanding your options and keeping them open.
In 1980, my father, at 17, sat in his high school classroom when his national entrance exam (the “Tawjihi”) scores were received. His science stream score was .2 points below his classmate, a girl from a nearby village, placing her as the top-ranked student in his class.
For a week straight, he begged his classmate to switch her seat at the University of Jordan’s College of Medicine with his seat in engineering. After hours of pleading with the girl, using hearsay arguments from aunties who preferred the flexibility that accompanied engineering to the long days spent within a hospital, he was successful. He won the coveted “medicine” seat. And a few immigration processes later, my father spent the past two decades as an ER doctor in the Midwest.
Since his “Tawjihi” year in 1980, Jordan, along with Syria, Egypt, and Palestine, have not changed their “merit”-based determination of the university and subsequent career path of their youth through a singular metric. By using a numbers-only approach, these scores are used to fill “seats”' in the national universities given out by each department and profession. My family recently went through this process again during the 2021 cycle of the “Tawjihi”. My twin cousins had their fates determined as they matched into international relations and translation seats at their local university, a far cry from their passions in nursing and technology
The “seat” approach is a classic example of the scarcity mindset that keeps emerging economies behind regions like the Silicon Valley, where the abundance mindset is ingrained. There have been minor advances as Jordan-based venture fund Silicon Badia secured $50 million in June 2021 and companies like Abwaab secured $20M in fresh capital in November 2021. Yet, the time of exponential change is eminent, as venture capital funding within the MENA region grew four times in August 2021 as new and larger players entered the region, includingSequoia Capital, which conducted its first MENA investment this past summer.
It is no secret that higher education is broken. Students, parents, and employers all see a gap between what students value and need versus what higher education institutions provide. The mismatch of needs with an ever-increasing price tag is ripe for the startup ecosystem’s attempts to mend. The traditional 4-year degree is a broken pathway to the security it once flaunted as its value.
The Problem: outputs of traditional higher education are increasingly underwhelming.