Interview with Bushra Akileh, Jordanian student HERE

Bushra Akileh is a sixth year Pharm.D student at the University of Jordan. She is a student representative on the Jordanian HERE team and has also recently been nominated as a SPHERE advisory group member. Her undergraduate research interests were in the fields of pharmaceutics and biotechnology and she has worked on several research projects and published a scientific paper in a peer reviewed journal. Bushra has participated in several national and international events organized by Erasmus+ concerning higher education. 

How did it come about that you were nominated to be a HERE for Jordan?

Bushra Akileh (BA): I was in my fourth year when I saw the call for a student HERE. As I am always interested in extracurricular activities and participated in and organized many educational events in my university, I found myself very interested in this position. I saw the call for a student HERE on the Jordanian Erasmus+ Facebook page. I applied for the position and was among the shortlisted students. I was then interviewed by the NEO director and a project officer and thankfully I was informed a few weeks later that I was accepted to be the new Jordanian student HERE.
What have you understood your role to be in the national HERE Team?

BA: My understanding on the general role of HERE is that they are mainly to aid in the process of higher education reform in addition to adopting good practices in various HE fields that can be applied in our country. Regarding the student HERE, I believe that the main role is to reflect students’ perspectives in different aspects since students are the cornerstone for the HE process. Student HERE could also suggest topics to be focused on and discussed given that students may have different perspectives.
Of the HERE events or TAM that you have attended so far, have you found them interesting and useful? What have been some specific messages that you have taken away from these events, which you think are particularly important for higher education in Jordan?

BA: Yes, I found them very useful. I realized the importance of applying innovative ways of teaching which focus more on research and enhance students’ critical thinking skills instead of traditional ways of teaching.  I have learned about good practices from other countries during the Research-based teaching seminar in Montenegro in 2018.  I also understood the necessity of having organized, written procedures for HE institutions’ different processes, such as acceptance criteria, students and staff mobility and accreditation systems. These were shown as clearly designed flow charts in Coimbra University during the Joint degrees study visit that I attended.
I also learned about the structure of diploma supplements from a national TAM and now understand their importance in recognition of students’ qualifications and achievements.
Based on these take-aways, do you have any concrete ideas of what should be changed in Jordanian legislation for higher education? What could subsequently be changed at the level of university management, when it comes to say, encouraging professors to engage in research-based teaching or, maybe, developing procedures and quality assurance mechanisms for international cooperation?
BA: I believe the first step to encourage research-based teaching is to set clear legislation stating that students’ research and research skills should be incorporated into all levels of study. This then needs to be followed up at the university management level and should be subjected to quality assurance processes. Regarding procedures in universities, Jordanian universities could make their procedures and mechanisms for applying for mobility opportunities, for example, clearer and their processes for recognition and accreditation more transparent and visible to students.
What are the biggest challenges in higher education in Jordan right now, in your opinion?

BA: In my opinion, I see limited financial resources as an obstacle for HE progress. As a country of limited resources, there is not enough funding, especially for scientific research. There are great ideas and numerous qualifications but facilities are not meeting the needs and demands.
Another challenge is the rapidly increasing numbers of students. As HE institutions’ have limited capacities, it is sometimes challenging to keep the same quality while the number of students grow.
Are students actively engaged at the university level in university governance, quality and decision making? How can this be better improved or streamlined?

BA: I would say yes, up to a certain level. Students’ councils and students’ representatives always have the right to discuss decisions. They have a role in making some of the new decisions by taking a part in deans’ and faculties’ council meetings. However, some decisions are difficult to discuss with the students, mainly decisions related to financial issues. I believe this can be streamlined by engaging the students in all decision-making meetings at all levels without exceptions and always taking the students’ opinion into consideration.
What main messages would you give to other student HERE, to help them make the best out of their positions?
BA: Students should actively participate in the different events to make the best out of this privileged position. Students must be initiators  and  express and share their ideas without fear; even if you are not sure if your ideas are applicable or not, it’s always fine to share them and learn. Moreover, students should focus and listen well to the talks during the events since this is a great opportunity to learn from experts about different higher education concepts.