BEIRUT: Ask Lebanese children what they want to be when they grow up, and chances are you’ll get one of three responses: doctor, engineer or business owner. But pry a little more, and you might get something else like crime scene investigator, fashion designer or even something more practical that fits with Lebanon’s future needs like water development manager or gas and oil engineer.
Over the past few years, Lebanese universities have begun offering new degrees for students interested in pursuing a job beyond the standard fare, as well as courses that would normally only be available abroad.
These include degrees in fashion, forensic science, environmental science, landscape architecture, Islamic studies (outside a religious institution), oil and energy, and even American studies.
A couple of years ago, the Lebanese American University even began holding wine, spirits and cigar courses, although these are not official degrees.
“People in Lebanon are afraid of venturing into new programs because they’re afraid they won’t find work,” says Myrna Semaan, former dean of the faculty of applied sciences at the American University of Science and Technology.
The university debuted a major in water resources and geoenvironmental sciences a couple of years ago with the idea the idea that it would be a growing field in a region where desertification is a rapidly growing problem.
“Their skills will be needed, and when that happens these jobs should be filled by skilled people.”
Although the university hasn’t yet gotten the enrollment numbers it hoped for, the majors are attracting serious students, one of whom is already doing her master’s abroad in the same subject.
With growing prospects of oil and gas in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, another relatively new major to emerge in Lebanon in preparation for future job prospects is petroleum studies. The American University of Beirut, Universite St. Joseph and Beirut Arab University all have their own versions of the program, each claiming to be unique in its own way.
AUB’s program offers courses in upstream exploration, St. Joseph combines business and petroleum studies and BAU offers petroleum engineering.
“This is the future of Lebanon. We need hundreds of engineers to work in the field,” says Fadi Geara, dean of the faculty of engineering at USJ.
The university appears to be looking even further into the future with its new master’s degree in renewable energy.
Also looking to fill a growing demand – perhaps not in the job market but certainly among students – is the Lebanese American University’s fashion design program it began a couple of years ago, following a similar program already up and running at Notre Dame University-Louaize.
One unique degree that will be debuting at AUB this year is a master’s in Islamic studies, which the university claims will be a different approach to a traditional field of study.
“There will be a more critical approach in the context of history and philosophy,” says AUB associate provost, Nesreen Ghaddar.
“It will be a more liberal way of questioning and answering – different from religious institutions.”
But no doubt the most exciting new degree to emerge in Lebanon in recent years is that of forensic science at the American University of Science and Technology last year. As one of the few degrees of its kind in the region, the program is attracting top talent from both Lebanon and abroad.
“The program is extremely popular and the majority of students applying for admission to the faculty of health sciences list forensic science as their first option,” says Zouhair Attieh, dean of the faculty of health sciences at AUST.
In fact, he says, “The demand is so high ... we had to instate strict admission requirements and aspiring students would have to complete a number of credits with a competitive GPA before being admitted to the program.”
He adds: “Considerable interest has been voiced by law enforcement agencies in Lebanon and regional countries as very few programs of this sort exist in the Arab world.
“We expect an influx of students from various Arab countries to join this degree once the volatile security situation in Lebanon improves.”
In a period of less than five years, Lebanon has gone from a country that has provided a solid education for conventional career paths to a place where people with more unusual goals can explore their interests – and maybe even find a fulfilling job.
But these seemingly daring fields of study don’t even come close in eccentricity to some of the degrees now offered at universities in the United States: cannabis cultivation, fermentation sciences, turfgrass science, snow science, theme-park engineering and bowling industry management.
There might still be room in Lebanon for more unusual academic endeavors. As Semaan points out, “The market is already saturated with conventional degrees.”