Universities in the Middle East and North Africa are being undermined by a mismatch between educational attainment and the job market, a study by the World Bank says.
The study, which analyses education at all levels in the region, warns that the "relationship between education and economic growth has remained weak, the divide between education and employment has not been bridged, and the quality of education continues to be disappointing".
In higher education, the absence of a clear link between earning power and education is cited as a key problem.
This contributes to the region's unusually even income distribution, the report says, but is also a hindrance to universities.
The World Bank's Michal J. Rutkowski told The Chronicle of Higher Education: "What is happening in the region is that universities and higher education institutions are producing graduates who aren't finding jobs. The key issue is the dominance in the labour market of the civil service, which tends to be very large and to offer salaries above the market level."
This dominance of the public sector poses additional problems for universities as they attempt to set the curriculum to prepare their students for the world of work.
"They want to know what skills will be in demand in the future, and they simply don't know," Dr Rutkowski said.
The World Bank report covers a region stretching from Morocco in the west to Iraq in the east, including Iran, the West Bank and Gaza, but not Israel.
It identifies disparities in education between countries, describing Jordan and Kuwait, for example, as success stories, and Iraq and Morocco, among others, as having very basic education systems.
However, it also points to similarities, highlighting that the populations in the region are among the youngest and fastest growing in the world, adding to the pressure on systems struggling to meet modern economic demands.
The report says the region "has among the largest 0 to 14 and 15 to 24-year-old cohorts in the world". It stresses: "This youth bulge will substantially affect demand for education. Presently, the bulk of this cohort is at the age of secondary and higher education, the least developed components of education systems in most of these countries.
"Over the next 30 years ... the tertiary education population will more than double."
Dr Rutkowski said universities in the region also had to seek more private funding, although he noted that this was an issue for institutions in other parts of the world, too.
He said: "This is a broader challenge for the whole world, to recognise that higher education has significant public benefits, but also significant private benefits, and because of that, financing should be a mix of public and private."
The report concludes that better incentives and more public accountability will be key to resolving problems facing education at all levels in the Middle East and North Africa.