The Middle East and North Africa have large youth populations and growing university participation. But with high unemployment, low female workplace participation and universities focused on STEM and the public sector, is all this human capital being wasted?

For all its political instability, arid climate and dwindling oil reserves, the Middle East and North Africa is often considered to harbour significant economic potential.

Such optimism derives from the region’s relatively large youth population, which is increasingly being educated to a high level. The number of people aged between 15 and 24 in the Mena region has risen by about 60 per cent in the past 30 years, and also grew as a proportion of the overall population, a figure that is regarded as a key marker of development potential.

The growth has levelled off over the past decade, and even begun to decline in some countries – most notably in Iran, the region’s second most populous nation. However, an increasing proportion of young people are accessing higher education. The region’s gross enrolment ratio (GER) – the number of people in tertiary education as a share of all school-leavers – is about 40 per cent: a similar figure to East Asia and way ahead of South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. In Iran and Saudi Arabia, the two Middle Eastern superpowers, the GER is now close to 70 per cent.

Read more : Simon Baker : Times higher Education : 05 March 2020