Comprehensive reforms and comparative advantage to provide solid base for Jordan's education system


Jordan benefits from a well-developed, advanced education system, with literacy rates among the highest in the region, enrolment in the K-12 and post-secondary levels rising, and a large, diverse population of graduate students and researchers. However, the system is simultaneously dealing with rapid population growth and rising demand for post-secondary degrees, which has strained public universities, while a mismatch between academic development and labour market demands has created a shortage of skilled tradesmen. Jordan’s basic education system is also managing a large population of Syrian refugee students who have come to the kingdom since 2011.

Ongoing fiscal rationalisation programmes limit the government’s ability to adequately finance the needs of a rising student population, while donor disbursement realisation has consistently fallen short of commitments, leading the government to launch a bold mid-term development strategy in 2016. Emphasising reform across all levels of education, the strategy promotes private sector participation in planned infrastructure and capacity upgrades, with the government expected to pursue many of its mid-term education targets under public-private partnerships (PPPs).

Sector Structure

In its 2015 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement reported that Jordan’s education system stands as an example of progressive change that many of its regional neighbours can emulate, benefitting from core principles of centralised planning and monitoring, but decentralised administration.

The Ministry of Education (MoE) oversees the public basic education system, with divisions for monitoring, finance and inspection. The inspection department conducts regular audits of the school system. The MoE also provides student textbooks and teacher manuals, while the Board of Education determines the public school curriculum, which is distributed by the MoE.

The Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research (MHESR) was established in 1985 and assumed supervision responsibilities for the Higher Education Council, Higher Committee for Scientific Research and the Accreditation Council with the promulgation of the Higher Education Law No. 41 of 2001. The MHESR is responsible for formulating policies, coordinating with higher education institutions for consultation and research, accrediting foreign higher education institutions that operate in Jordan and setting the eligibility rules for scholarships.

Technical and vocational education and training is delivered through three channels: secondary vocational education in four streams – industrial, agricultural, hospitality and home economics – community college training, and non-formalised and vocational training offered by the Vocational Training Corporation. This state-owned entity offers 69 training programmes at 42 affiliated institutions.


Education was allocated 12.2% of current budgetary spending in 2017 and 9.3% of capital expenditure, according to the Ministry of Finance (MoF). Neither the MoE nor MHESR publish detailed annual spending data, but MoF figures show that central government spending on education has risen gradually since 2013, even as its share of GDP has not.

Total education outlays stood at JD943.4m ($1.3bn) in 2013, or 4% of GDP that year, rising to JD1.01bn ($1.4bn) in 2014 – also 4% of GDP – and then to JD1.042bn ($1.5bn) in 2015 (3.9% of GDP) and JD1.044 ($1.5bn) in 2016 (3.9% of GDP). Spending generally benefits publicly-funded schools, where the Department of Statistics (DoS) reports that 74% of Jordan’s student population is enrolled.

Basic Education 

Jordan’s basic education system comprises a non-compulsory, two-year kindergarten cycle beginning at age four and a 10-year compulsory cycle of grades 1 to 10 for students aged six to 16. From grades 8 to 10 students are tracked for different types for secondary education, with an optional cycle comprising grades 11 and 12. At this level, students undertake one of two streams based on aptitude: comprehensive education, which includes specialised academic subjects and finishes with the General Secondary Education Certificate Examination, known as Tawjihi; or the applied secondary stream, which provides students with vocational education and training to enable immediate labour market participation following graduation. Classes are taught in Arabic, although English-language provision is common in both public and private schools. The academic year runs from September to June.

Literacy & Attainment 

Educational indicators are mixed, and while literacy rates are high, educational attainment remains low among the adult population. According to the DoS, the literacy rate for people aged 15 years and older stood at 93.2% in 2016, split between 90% for females and 96.5% for males. Basic education attainment among the same population stood at 45.3% that year, with 50% of female and 40.6% of male students having finished the basic level. Secondary education attainment for the group was 15.8% in 2016, with 16.2% of females and 15.5% of males having finished grades 1 to 12.

The DoS reports that enrolment in basic education has risen steadily since the 2013/14 academic year, growing from 1.51m that year to hit 1.55m in 2014/15 and 1.59m in 2015/16. Secondary school enrolment has trended in the opposite direction, however, with enrolment falling from 215,300 in 2013/14 to 201,800 in 2014/15 and 189,200 in 2015/16, for a net gain of roughly 55,000 primary and secondary students between the 2013/14 and 2015/16 academic years.

Syrian Students 

The population of Syrian refugee students enrolled in the Jordanian education system has also grown substantially since the Syrian civil war began in 2011. Jordan hosted 657,000 registered refugees as of mid-2017, but authorities estimate a total of 1.3m Syrians have come to the kingdom since 2011.

About 19% of the registered Syrian refugees in Jordan are between five and 11 years old. In a January 2017 plan to handle the inflow, authorities stated that a total of 170,000 Syrian refugee children were enrolled in formal education in the kingdom, although UNICEF figures from April 2017 show that this figure is likely closer to 125,000, with the agency reporting that 40,210 Syrian children in Jordan have no access to education. The WZB Berlin Social Science Centre estimates that 79,425 Syrian students are not enrolled in school in Jordan, and that the net long-term economic benefits of providing formal education to these students – and thus facilitating their participation in the local labour market – amount to $167.55m.

In addition, in a 2016 report published by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Arab Renaissance for Democracy and Development (ARDD), a regionally focused non-governmental organisation, researchers found that 225,000 Syrian children had come to Jordan since 2011 – other estimates put this figure as high as 400,000 – leading classroom overcrowding to increase from 36% over capacity to 46% between 2011 and 2015.


Having a large number of students to serve has driven a rising proportion of schools to adopt a double-shift method that teaches Jordanian students in the morning and Syrian students in the afternoon. The number of schools employing double-shift teaching doubled between 2011 and 2015 to reach 98. In August 2017 regional media reported that the number of schools using the double-shift method had doubled again – in just one year – to 200 in 2016.

According to the ARDD, overcrowded classrooms is the primary concern for educational stakeholders in the northern Mafraq Governorate, but the Syrian crisis is not the sole cause of the problem. The US Agency for International Development reports that student populations are unevenly distributed across the kingdom: 11% of Jordanian students occupy 43% of schools, while the remaining 89% are enrolled in 57% of schools, with densely populated urban areas frequently suffering from overcrowding even without the additional Syrian population.

Student-teacher Ratio 

Overcrowding is nevertheless most severe in northern areas with a large refugee population. The ARDD reports that the number of students per classroom in Mafraq often tops 40 children, against the MoE’s limit of 25, while double-shift classrooms often exceed 60 students.

DoS statistics paint a somewhat different picture, with the body reporting that there were an average of 24.9 students per classroom in the 2015/16 academic year, against 24.8 and 25.3 in 2013/14 and 2014/15, respectively. The number of basic education teachers rose from 85,300 in 2013/14 to 95,300 in 2015/16, while the number of secondary education teachers fell from 23,000 in 2013/14 and 29,300 in 2014/15 to 17,700 in 2015/16. The student-teacher ratio in basic education fell from 17.8:1 in 2013/14 to 16.7:1 in 2015/16, while the student-teacher ratio at the secondary level rose from 9.4:1 to 10.7:1 over the same period, according to the DoS.

The education sector was the third-largest employer in the kingdom in 2016, according to the Central Bank of Jordan, accounting for 11.5% of the total workforce after 15.4% in wholesale and retail trade, and 26.1% in the public sector. However, this percentage was a five-year low, with education’s share of the total workforce standing at 12.6% in 2012, 12.1% in 2013, 11.9% in 2014 and 12.4% in 2015.

Declining Outcomes 

A lack of training and certification mechanisms for teachers is another concern, with the MHESR reporting in 2016 that only 43% of public teachers and 29% of private teachers have received training in the past two years. A further 28% of public teachers and 44% of private teachers did not receive any induction training before they started teaching, while only 25% received pre-service training for longer than two months. Although non-profit initiatives have introduced local training schemes, these have reached less than 5% of teachers in the kingdom.

This has affected learning outcomes over recent years, with Jordan recording successive deterioration in grade 4 and grade 8 maths and science results on the 2011 and 2015 TIMSS, falling from one of the highest-ranked Arab countries on the survey to one of the lowest. Only 41% of students who sat for the Tawjihi exam passed in 2015 and gender disparity persists, with 31% of boys achieving proficiency in reading at the upper secondary level, compared to 68% of girls.

Infrastructure Deficit 

Compounding these issues, the ARDD report found that 28% of schools require physical upgrades, with the need being greatest at rented schools. Field inspection visits determined that most offer limited recreational areas and are not protected by fences or gates. In November 2016 the Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation reported that most rented schools do not attract the same donor and government attention as standard schools, with many characterised by poor infrastructure and a lack of sufficient support staff.

Teachers surveyed for the ARDD report also pointed to outdated health clinics, IT and science labs, libraries and sports fields, with limited availability of equipment including heating devices, computers and stationary. According to the report, 86% of Jordanian parents surveyed ranked improvements to physical facilities as the top priority in bettering the learning environment.

Finance Gaps 

At the London Conference to Support Syria and the Region, hosted in February 2016 to address the Syrian refugee crisis, international donors, banks and governments committed to providing $933m in annual education funding to Syrian refugee host countries, of which $250m would go to Jordan. The kingdom stated that $171m of this commitment was outstanding as of September 2016, with $71m to be paid by the end of the year. The organisation Human Rights Watch reported that it was nearly impossible to assess why London pledging goals for Jordan were missed due to gaps in data availability, but that donor funding alone will likely not be enough to reduce barriers to Syrian education in host countries.

Although the MoE receives a relatively large share of total state spending, the government’s ability to bridge budgetary shortfalls has eroded over the last decade, with the fiscal deficit rising to 10.3% of GDP in 2014. Fiscal reform and consolidation programmes have pushed the government to implement spending cuts in recent years. In 2017 the deficit equalled JD750m ($1.1bn) – 2.6% of GDP (see Economy chapter).

Higher Education 

The higher education segment is facing its own set of challenges: rising enrolment, a mismatch between post-secondary specialisations and labour market requirements, and exceedingly high youth and graduate unemployment rates. The development of higher education in Jordan dates back to the 1960s with the establishment of teachers’ colleges across the kingdom and the University of Jordan (UoJ) in 1962, followed by Yarmouk University in 1976. Reforms in 1989 permitted the operation of private universities, with the first of these – Amman University – established in 1990. The kingdom’s network of community colleges operates under the public Al Balqa’ Applied University (BAU).

According to the MHESR, there are 10 public and 21 private universities operating in Jordan, and a total of 300,731 students were enrolled at a post-secondary institution during the 2015/16 academic year.

Public & Private 

Most post-secondary students attend a public university, all of which offer lower tuition fees than their private counterparts. Public post-secondary enrolment stood at 214,546 in the 2015/16 academic year, or 71.3% of the total. The largest public universities by enrolment were UoJ with 44,436 students, Yarmouk University with 35,993 students and BAU with 29,496 students.

Private post-secondary enrolment stood at 78,029 students, or 25.9% of the total, and enrolment at the Arab Open University and World Islamic Science Education University comprised the remaining 2.7%. The three biggest private universities by enrolment were University of Petra with 8663 students, Al Isra University with 8226 students and Al Zaytoonah University of Jordan with 7952 students.

The DoS reports that an estimated 7.5% of the population over 15 years old held an intermediate diploma in 2016 and 15.2% held a bachelors or post-graduate degree. UoJ noted that 30% of Jordanian men and 40% of Jordanian women between 19 and 23 years old were attending university as of 2017.

Graduate Studies 

Jordan benefits from a large population of post-graduate students, including a sizeable number from abroad. A total of 45,994 students were enrolled in a graduate degree programme at a public university during the 2015/16 academic year, equivalent to 21.4% of total public post-secondary enrolment. UoJ accounted for the largest share of public graduate degree students, at 9210, followed by Yarmouk University with 7912 students, BAU with 7082 students and Hashemite University with 6468 students. Graduate degree enrolment at private universities stood at 16,916 in 2015/16, amounting to 26.6% of total graduate enrolment and 21.7% of total private post-secondary enrolment. Graduate degree enrolment was highest at Al Zaytoonah University of Jordan with 1831 students, followed by Zarqa University with 1811 students, Jerash University with 1682 students, Al Isra University with 1602 students and University of Petra with 1441 students.

MHESR data shows that there were 17,086 foreign students enrolled in public universities during the 2015/16 academic year, including 12,282 from other Arab countries. Of this, 3224 students, including 712 PhD students, were enrolled in graduate studies. A further 1141 foreign students were enrolled in graduate studies at private universities in 2015/16.

Capacity Constraints 

Although the MHESR budget rose by 27% in 2013, reaching JD94m ($132.6m) from JD74m ($104.4m) in 2012, spending has since fallen back to 2012 levels despite strong enrolment growth. In a July 2017 interview with local media, Adel Tweissi, the minister of higher education and scientific research, stated that the public university system is currently 17% over capacity, with 48,000 more students enrolled than it is able to handle. Adding to the issue is unstable and limited funding, with the government providing an average annual budget of JD72m ($101.6m) to the entire public university system. Moreover, funding is not disbursed directly to the MHESR, limiting its capacity to manage rising student numbers. This problem is set to become more pressing in the coming years as university enrolment rises – in August 2017 the MHESR said it accepted 38,650 students at its public universities for the 2017/18 academic year, a 46.5% increase over the previous year’s intake of 26,386 students.

Tuition Hikes 

Limited financing for public universities has led them to raise tuition fees, and in August 2017 local media reported that higher charges were excluding lower-income students from post-secondary education and exposing long-standing structural problems of the public university system. The report also noted that fee increases are announced abruptly, as was the case at the University of Science and Technology in Irbid, which doubled master’s degree fees for some specialties at the opening of the 2016/17 academic year, with the cost of specialisations in radiology, hearing and speech sciences, physiotherapy, and network engineering and security rising to JD120 ($169) per hour. Tuition rates for Jordanian citizens in programmes abroad were also increased by 13-40%.

These tuition rises are especially problematic as Jordan does not have a government or university loan programme for students, while bank loans must be repaid within four years – considerably shorter than repayment periods in other countries. Although the government offers limited financing through a Student Support Fund, and children of university employees and disabled students benefit from discounted tuition, options are limited for many Jordanian students.


With challenges mounting at the basic and post-secondary levels, the government and Jordan’s National Centre for Human Resource Development unveiled a bold mid-term evolution and reform agenda that was adopted by the Cabinet in September 2016: the National Strategy for Human Resources Development (NSHRD).

Running until 2025, the plan aims to reform the education sector, expand capacity and reduce graduate unemployment with reforms focusing on four themes: quality, accountability, innovation and mindset. Most importantly for private investors, the plan also notes that government and donor funding sources may not be sustainable to deliver all planned reforms, and identifies opportunities for PPPs in each segment of the education sector – from early childhood education (ECE) through to technical and vocational education and training (TVET). The strategy also sets near- and mid-term development targets for each level.

Early Support

ECE goals include attaining 100% enrolment in kindergarten and 35% enrolment in preschool by 2025, as well as providing pre-service training for 75% of ECE caregivers. The plan notes that government ECE funding is not currently fulfilling preschool needs, and private sector dominance in this segment excludes low-income children from attending preschool and kindergarten. It calls for non-traditional financing methods for the segment, including PPPs, blended financing, social impact investment, subsidy mechanisms and development impact bonds. The NSHRD also recommends a public expenditure review by all relevant ministries to support more strategic deployment of public funds.

In basic education, the NSHRD targets opening 300 new schools for 125,000 extra students by 2021, and 600 new schools for 250,000 extra students by 2025. It also aims to increase the number of teachers who receive over 80 hours of training annually to 50% within five years, and to 75% within 10 years. A further objective is to raise student test scores on the TIMSS to 489 in science and 446 in maths by 2021, and to 509 in science and 466 in maths by 2025. The plan also recommends the MoE introduce a teacher licensing system and reform the admissions process for educational programmes at the university level.

Private investment is emphasised in the basic segment as well, with the strategy calling for increased numbers of high-quality private schools. It recommends that the MoE coordinate with the Higher Council for PPPs to identify financial mechanisms for basic education provision, noting that the central bank is also expected to announce the creation of development bonds, which would offer another finance mechanism for basic education upgrades.

TVET Agenda

Undefined Critical for future human resource development, the NSHRD calls for significant upgrades to the TVET system, with a series of strategic objectives to be carried out through 16 separate projects. These include establishing a National Qualifications Framework to improve accreditation, establishing degree-level TVET programmes and equal pay for TVET graduates, and launching a licensing process for craftsmen and tradesmen.

Attracting private sector participation to offer greater TVET opportunities is heavily emphasised. The NSHRD recommends that the government diversify its sources of TVET funding by encouraging PPPs, as well as improving the distribution of existing funds. It notes that authorities are already piloting new finance models for vocational training, with the Ministry of Labour (MoL) exploring the possibility of developing model skill centres of excellence to offer vocational training under a wider PPP financing framework, which could in turn provide a foundation for future efforts supported by the private sector.

To facilitate future PPPs in TVET, the NSHRD calls on the government to establish a Skills Development Fund led by the private sector, replacing the state’s current Employment, Technical and Vocational Education Training Fund, which is supported by training levies paid by local businesses in key sectors.

Vocational Shift

In June 2016 the MoE and the Vocational Training Corporation signed a cooperation agreement to implement a new applied secondary education programme, which entailed admitting 2000 students to vocational training centres in the 2016/17, academic year, 4000 in 2017/18 and 6000 in 2018/19. The goal is to ease some of the pressure on public universities and support graduate employment prospects.

According to the MoE, participants will receive accreditation from both the MoE and MoL, which will enable them to transition to a planned network of technical colleges. The MoE is also considering offering TVET students monthly financial support of between JD30 ($42) and JD40 ($56) to help cover transportation costs to and from school, as well as free social security and public health coverage. Authorities hope to boost the percentage of secondary school graduates joining vocational education from the 2016 level of 12% to 20% by 2021, and to between 30% and 40% by 2025.


Jordan’s education sector will likely continue to struggle with rising enrolment numbers, overcrowded classrooms and tuition hikes in 2018, although the NSHRD has set the stage for sweeping reforms, leaving the kingdom well positioned to capitalise on its competitive strengths to meet labour market requirements and develop all levels of instruction. Financing remains the most significant challenge facing future expansion, creating abundant opportunities for private sector-supported alternative financing, with PPPs and development bonds set to play an important role in future education delivery.

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