Parallel system students: making legitimate demands or just seeking another thing to protest?
The system adopted gives admittance to students with lower than acceptable grades by allowing them to enroll on the condition that they will study—often at a high cost—with private instructors until graduation.
“The purpose behind the adoption of the parallel system in Yemen was to increase universities income,” Taher Al-Ahdel, a professor of Education Foundations at the University of Sana'a, said. “However, an unintended consequence of this system has been a deterioration of academic and educational quality.”
He added, “Public universities in Yemen do not need the parallel system because there are many private universities where students with lower grades and deeper pockets can apply. Therefore, it’s perfectly acceptable for students enrolled in public institutions to demand a decrease in tuition costs, though calling for the complete abolition of fees is unrealistic.”
If the administration decides to end the parallel system, Al-Ahdel said there are many different alternatives, including increasing class capacities to accommodate more students. Or, it could reconsider school admission criteria, namely the grades required for enrollment. Another option is establishing institutes for vocational training.
In an interview with Editor-in-Chief of Yemen Times Nadia Al-Saqqaf, published April 23, Minister of Higher Education Dr. Yahiya Al-Shaibi said, “The higher education ministry submitted a study on the parallel system to the High Council for Education on this issue. In turn, the council created a committee to look into the matter and to decide whether to shut down the system entirely, or to simply place tighter restrictions on enrollment.”
The Yemen Times contacted Dr. Ali Qasim, deputy of the minister of higher education, who said the committee is still studying the matter and will ultimately decide with regard to the parallel system.
Parallel students at campuses nationwide protested last year, urging the government to cancel the yearly parallel system fees.
Ahmed Al-Sabahi, a sophomore at the Media College at Sana'a University, said the parallel system is not legal according to the Yemeni law, which stipulates that education is free for everyone. Article 54 of the Yemeni Constitution stipulates that education is accessible to all Yemenis, and it is guaranteed by the state.
Al-Sabahi said the parallel system is an example of corruption at public universities, and its adoption is an attempt to extort money from students under the pretext of augmenting university budgets.
“We (parallel system students) call for the end of this system and integration of the two systems, namely the regular and parallel,” Al-Sabahi said. “We want to know where the money that the students paid is. Has the university taken advantage of it?”
In the wake of last year’s protests, the Students' Union in Yemen has staged demonstrations calling for the cancellation of the fees. They issued a statement to express their disapproval with the system.
According to the union, the money taken from students causes a disruption in social peace because it triggers youth hostility toward the state.
Student fees could amount to millions of riyals per year, particularly in the medicine and dental colleges. For example, a parallel system university student enrolled at the College of Medicine pays about $3,000 per year in tuition costs. However, a student enrolled in the College of Education pays less than $300. The money received is controlled by the University Presidency, under the pretext it is used to develop the university infrastructure, according to the Students’ Union.
Parallel system students whose grades resort them to this kind of education now feel discontent with the system's policies. However, they should take into consideration that sweeping changes do not happen in the blink of an eye. While it’s always good to point out inherently corrupt or unworkable practices, it is unreasonable to believe that the two systems absolutely have to be integrated at this particular moment.
Dr. Al-Ahdel emphasized that the government should take into account the demands of the parallel system students.
“However, there is an obvious difference between the regular and parallel students,” he said. “The latter ought to heed that fact instead of sparking demonstrations and protests which create chaos on campuses.”