Home Economics & PolicyComment Deep reforms to ensure the future of Lebanon’s education sector

Deep reforms to ensure the future of Lebanon’s education sector

The risk for a total country paralysis is real until we all join the call to action

by Maxence Duault

With its flying faculty model, ESA Business School (ESA) is an exceptional case in the Lebanese higher education sector. In contrast to many other institutions, resorting to direct fundraising was rarely the approach adopted by the school during the current crisis. The approach was to find the right balance of activities by increasing the school’s capacity in shaping business executives in Lebanon as well as in the whole region.

Today, ESA is doing better but is still on the road to recovery. The effort deployed by its teams is matched only by that of its partners, which made it possible to weather the storm. A return to normal is looming for the end of 2024, but the school cannot recover from yet another jolt in the unprecedented crisis that the country is experiencing.

In 2023, ESA will continue to deploy a hefty plan for converting its activities that focuses on five pillars:

  • The dollarization of all its activities by the end of 2023.
  • The transition in the economic models of SmartESA incubator, ESA research center and the Institute for Finance and Governance.
  • The tracking of development in the region.
  • The increased mobilization of ESA networks around initial fundraisings.
  • The speeding up of financial savings and cost cutting in significant proportions where possible.

However, this plan would be neither meaningful nor effective without a clear positioning and deeply rooted convictions. ESA will never compromise on the quality of its programs and training, nor on its values which guide it and lead it to remain at the service of all and to create partnerships with local and international players for this purpose.

ESA is much more than a business school. It is a sustainable and real ecosystem powered by team spirit, the quality of a service and values of integrity which can foreshadow the future of a dynamic and proactive Lebanon.

Although the roadmap is drafted for the country to achieve this goal, the climb there is steep. Lebanon and its main players should hedge against the danger hovering over the education sector and against improvements or glimmers of hope that would suggest that an in-depth reform would not be necessary. In this context, companies undoubtedly play a key role.

While the education system in Lebanon has made it possible to cushion the blow of the crisis in view of the number of talents trained who showed resourcefulness and resilience, nevertheless it finds itself today at a critical moment and the quality of education is facing a real threat.

Schools and universities will not necessarily disappear from the Lebanese landscape. Like companies that do not go bankrupt for lack of a law on the subject, educational establishments will survive. But let’s not be fooled. If the walls of schools and universities hold up, then safeguarding the high-level teaching body and the quality education that once made Lebanon famous, remains in serious danger. The real risk is the gradual replacement of teachers by untrained professionals from outside the academic sector. Therefore, it could only result in a drastic drop in the education level of schoolchildren and students, let alone the creation of heavy consequences on the future of the country. If there is one priority for Lebanon, it is to safeguard quality education. Let’s all remember Nelson Mandela’s famous saying: “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.”

The business world is faced with countless paradoxes. If the crisis has seen the emergence of a “new rich” driven by more or less formal economic models, the economic health of the country and its living forces remain worrying. Despite everything, as the President of the French-Lebanese Chamber of Commerce, and while being in direct contact with business leaders, I know that confidence is essential for businesses to weather the crisis and reinvent themselves.

This is for several reasons:

  • The ease that the Lebanese have in exporting and creating original business models, as the crisis has reinforced their ability to adapt and stressed the impossibility of remaining inactive regarding the situation.
  • The emergence of new production capacities, whether industrial or agri-food, for example. This is a shy but nevertheless remarkable recovery.
  • The ability of Lebanese talents to export certain requested services, resources and skills that were made less expensive by the crisis.
  • The last point, which is often overlooked is the fact that the majority of Lebanese businesses are family businesses offering the advantage in the context of having personal roots in the country, an ability to accept the crisis and plan an economic rebound on the long run.
  • The combination of family roots and the know-how in exporting gives tools to the private sphere to withstand the crisis.

However, this glimmer of hope could quickly fade without real progress on the subject of regulation. In the continued absence of a state, Lebanon is confronted with the inability of planning coupled with logistical, fiscal, legal and ethical difficulties. Adding to the absence of a course of action to take, is the acceptance of certain practices, like the cash economy or the black market, and the absence of a coordinated and global economic policy generating a significant bonus for the informal economy. The risk of a total paralysis of the country is real, and the poorly coordinated measures taken without a global framework risk generating a widespread collapse of the formal economy and a subsequent inability to connect to the world market.

The country cannot ignore the need for in-depth reforms, and this must be integrated and understood by all. Lebanon absolutely needs leadership. The role of ESA and its General Director is not to determine who should be the leader and how the country should be led, but to fight tirelessly, at its own level, to contribute to breaking out of this slumber in an effective and sustainable manner.

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Maxence Duault

The General Director and Dean of ESA Business School and President of the French-Lebanese Chamber of Commerce

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