ALGERIA: Students' demands not yet satisfied

The Algerian government has made concessions to student demands following continuing protests including a demonstration in which tens of thousands took to the streets of Algiers despite a ban by the authorities, according to press reports.

Students' grievances mainly concern what they claim is devaluation of their degrees through reform which the government says is beneficial - and the government's partial climbdown has not convinced them all to return to their studies.

On 12 April students went ahead with a demonstration, officially banned, at which, reported La Tribune of Algiers, "about 100,000 students" marched in the capital "despite the impressive security mounted by the authorities". Regretfully the demonstration ended in violence and disorder, with several injured and 'missing', it reported.

Police could not hold back the protesters, who broke through cordons and overturned barricades on their way to the presidential residence, according to Radio France International. Banners proclaimed: 'We want higher grants!' 'No to the devaluation of engineering degrees!' and 'Give us back our university!', reported RFI.

The students' protests are principally against higher education reform which they believe will devalue their qualifications, and lack of government consultation.

The reform is based on the Bologna process, the 'European' system of three, five and eight years' studies known in French as LMD (licence, master, doctorate).

The government introduced it in 2006, but did not provide any linkage with the former system which continues in some universities, creating problems of equivalence between degrees. Of particular concern to many students is the future value of the 'state engineering' degree.

The government maintains the reform is beneficial, but with a quarter of young graduates unemployed it is difficult to convince them, said RFI.

Following the 12 April demonstration and previous student strikes and protests that have shaken higher education in recent months, university heads met to try to find solutions to satisfy students' demands, reported La Tribune.

In response, the government agreed a number of concessions along the lines of their recommendations, said La Tribune. These included priority to introduce links between the old and new higher education systems, and repeal of provisions made in December 2010. It also confirmed the validity of the state engineering diploma and continuation of certain postgraduate courses given under the 'classic' university system for the time being.

President Abdelaziz Bouteflika stressed there would be "permanent dialogue and communication which must accompany the gradual establishment of such an important and vital reform as that concerning the national system of education and university teaching", reported La Tribune.

But, said the paper, these measures, which were among the striking students' demands, were not unanimously accepted. "The majority of students have returned to the lecture halls, but the students of the grandes écoles [selective higher education institutions] are still angry.

"Those who kept up the strike and demonstrated regularly want deep reforms to a university system they call an 'unemployment factory'. The government responses were the most that the system currently operating can provide. The answers awaited by the students on strike need new structural reforms and debates on the educational and economic future of Algeria."

In another report La Tribune said only recommendations from an international commission of experts recently set up by the education ministry could bring calm to the universities, a national conference held in March having failed.

While Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research Rachid Harraoubia and other authorities had said it was necessary to await the commission's outcome, "for [the students] time is pressing and it is necessary to take urgent measures at least to ensure fairness in the sector, a university education of quality and credible degrees".

But the commission's work was complicated, as it had to make the old and the new national systems comparable with those operating throughout the world, said La Tribune.

Also in La Tribune, Samir Azzoug wrote that in spite of some government concessions - which represented only the "drop of water that made the vase overflow" - the students were demanding more. They wanted worthwhile degrees, with defined equivalences; they wanted the choice to take either the classic system or LMD.

LMD, a structure adopted by 'advanced' countries, had been introduced "too brutally". Pilot schemes had led students to say it was too vaguely defined and not enough resources were allocated for its introduction. The future of students studying under the old system was uncertain. LMD was "a product badly presented, and badly sold", said Azzoug.

Azzoug also said students demanded the right to be seen, heard and to take decisions in the university world.

"What they call democratisation of the university includes the right to be involved in the management; that university life should not be decided exclusively by administrators but through dynamic collaboration, dialogue and the democratic choice of representatives of the different bodies that constitute an institution up to the highest levels."

* This article is drawn from local media. University World News cannot vouch for the accuracy of the original report.