Jobless PhD-holders threaten to go on hunger strike

June 2, 2000

More than 200 unemployed PhD-holders have held a protest outside the office of the Jordanian prime minister for more than a month.

They say they will go on hunger strike soon if there is no government response to their demand for jobs.

Seated in the shade of a makeshift tent at a busy intersection beside the prime minister's office, Tareq, one of the protesters, said: "I want to be an academic. I studied for eight years in the Ukraine, but since I came back to Jordan three years ago, I haven't worked."

He had a Jordanian scholarship to study engineering in the Ukraine, but despite several job interviews at Jordan's universities since his return, he still has not been offered a job. His case is typical of the protesting PhD-holders - many studied in the former Soviet bloc or in developing Asian countries - and now they cannot find work at home. One in three studied abroad on government scholarships.

"We believe the government can solve the problem in the universities," said another graduate from the Ukraine.

"There are 800 foreign lecturers in the universities here. They were hired because they cost less - they don't receive full social benefits, so it's cheaper to hire them - and we believe we should have the jobs they have."

The PhD-holders protest that as well as hiring foreign academics, preference is being given to graduates from the United States and Britain. "There's discrimination here about where you studied," said Ahmed, a 46-year-old law graduate from Moscow.

"I taught in Moscow State University for eight years. I came back here because my family needs me, but after two years, I still don't have a job." Eight out of ten protesters hold PhDs from non-western countries.

In Jordan, contacts with influential people are essential for getting a job. "We have no one to introduce us to the chancellor at the university," said Amer, holder of a PhD in physics from Bombay University. "I've tried three times to get a job at the University of Science and Technology. Only once did I get to the interview stage. There were 33 of us and we had to give presentations. In the end, though, the two jobs went to people who hadn't even taken part in the interview process."

Jihad, one of the protest's leaders, said that at first their campaign had some success. "On the third day, we went to the office of the prime minister. He said we have the right to a job and promised to put some pressure on the Council of Higher Education. But he also pointed out that he could not do much more because the universities in Jordan are independent."

But since then, the mood has become more pessimistic. The summer heat is tiring the protesters and their hunger strike keeps being postponed.

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