Jordan’s academic institutions are facing an unprecedented problem – thanks to affirmative action, students from the periphery of the country who would not have otherwise had the opportunity to attend university are there. However, they are bringing tribal disputes and violence with them.
As a result, education officials are threatening to end affirmative action, which would bring dire results for the future.
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Three universities saw violent events, thought to be related to tribal disputes, at the end of March. The University of Jordan sent a student to the emergency room after being stabbed in the neck; Al-Bayt University students wound up in a violent fight due to a tribal conflict; and at Mutah University students rioted and set fire to a police car over student council elections.
Jordanian officials are concerned that the uptick in violence will damage its reputation as a regional leader in higher education and prevent it from reaching its higher goals of become an international example. Already the nation has nearly 30,000 international students, but the position is threatened.
In 2012, 600 students from Saudi Arabia left Mutah University due to violence. Higher Education Minister Amin Mahmoud estimated that roughly 5,000 potential students from the Gulf have chosen to study elsewhere, putting university budgets at risk due to lower revenues from tuition.
While other Arab countries have seen riots and protests at universities over social policies, Jordan is unique for its tribal violence. Oftentimes, the violence is sparked by disputes over women – someone’s relative talking to men from another tribe, being accused of dating men from other tribes, and so on.
However, another aspect is that tribal leaders can often influence admissions processes at universities and administrative decisions within those universities. Many accuse the student council elections at Mutah in particular of being a show of tribal control, and in 2010 and 2011 the student union reported that students were prevented from voting based on their belonging to some tribes.
The problem in Jordan is worsening, and until tribal disputes on campus are calmed, the country faces a real risk of decline in its higher education.