ALGERIA: Universities expanding but problems remain

As the new academic year started, La Tribune of Algiers reported on the state of affairs at universities around the country, finding considerable expansion but also instances of overcrowded or sub-standard student housing, inadequate or corrupt management, unsatisfactory transport - and some disruption during the introduction of the Bologna higher education structure.

At Tizi Ouzou, the Bologna process - known in French as LMD (licence-master-doctorate) for the three degree levels of three, five and eight years' higher studies - has been introduced for all university courses except medicine.

Enrolling for doctorates had become a "real obstacle course", said La Tribune, because of lack of high-level teachers, resources and facilities such as laboratories, and problems of validating results and degrees due to the new structure.

But students' biggest problems remained inadequate intercity transport and housing, said La Tribune. There was a lack of thousands of beds in student residences, despite construction of new housing blocks.

At the Centre Universitaire Akli-Mohand-Oulhadj de Bouira, the university was catering for 3,000 new students, and had introduced three new courses for freshers - in human sciences, history and philosophy; science and techniques of physical and sports education; and science and technology specialisation in electrical networks.

A new library would be built with capacity for 6,000 students, and under an expansion scheme which would increase the student population in the area to 22,000 by 2013, a new 55-hectare university sector would be constructed, reported La Tribune.

But students were currently experiencing "inadequate teaching resources" which had led to stoppages, said the paper. Meanwhile, a row that started over lack of bread in the university restaurant had resulted in a fight between students, broken windows and police intervention, despite the director going out to buy more bread.

At Aïn Defla, the Centre Universitaire of Khemis Miliana was in full expansion with increased numbers of students and new courses, which "guaranteed a variety of LMD university studies", said La Tribune.

Despite four new student residences accommodation was overcrowded, though a new restaurant with 800 places had increased capacity. Twenty-five new buses had been supplied to transport students from their homes in university residences or local towns to the university centre.

At Tlemcen there had been improvements in housing, catering and transport, La Tribune reported. But certain disparities remained, such as lack of internet provision.

La Tribune noted that the country's universities were "often shaken violently, notably by bad management and misappropriation of public funds, as is the case at Tlemcen", where the police had investigated a case of embezzlement.

More student overcrowding was reported at Constantine - this year catering for a total of 34,000 students - because, said La Tribune, many freshers chose to go there for its "attractive university centre" and because of a lack of specialised studies in other areas.

But the swelling student numbers highlighted deficiencies and delays in construction projects, which included a big new university sector in the new town of Ali-Mendjeli. This year a peak had been achieved with sometimes more than five students to a room, said La Tribune.

University operations at Oran had been "corrupted by management scandals", reported La Tribune. New student housing concealed hundreds of faults including cracks, waste water leaking through walls, blocked sewage pipes, and foul smells from the lavatories due to defective plumbing.

Students' associations had found such deficiencies were the common lot of all residences in the region. Eventually senior public service and university managers were questioned by the Oran region's economic and finance brigade, which uncovered "large-scale trafficking" particularly involving catering supplies and building repairs in university housing estates.

"Every year there are billions [of centimes, the Algerian currency] raked in through constructing stadiums, sports halls, empty reading rooms, etc," said La Tribune.

"Internet rooms are assigned to private operators through dubious deals, reading rooms are provided with no books worthy of the name, and the stadiums are nearly all unusable by students in the absence of coordinated and properly thought-through programmes. The university campuses serve only for political and partisan activities."

In contrast to these universities, in the capital Algiers a student from a selective grande école told La Tribune he was satisfied with the conditions: "It's calm, we eat well." The number of students sharing a room was generally down to two or three, "sometimes more but it's not a problem".

Two women students said in their residence they were "sometimes three or four students to a room, five or six, and sometimes seven or eight, but generally it's all right". Residences with most students sharing were the newest, which were more spacious.

Student restaurants were better organised, and queues shorter, than in previous years, partly thanks to magnetic cards, and prices had not risen. But wifi was not available, unlike at the ITFC (formerly the Institut des Techniques Financières et Comptabilité), the two women complained.

The ITFC female students were further 'privileged', with a cybercafé, showers, hammam and even a hairdresser, reported La Tribune.